The culinary scene in Cleveland is something to behold…and devour! And the rest of the country is finally figuring it out. Besides world class chefs (including James Beard Award winners) and destination restaurants, other related businesses are flocking to town to feed us foodies.
Dinner Lab is a pop up restaurant concept offering memberships to diners who want to try innovative food from emerging chefs, or new menu concepts from established ones. The events are hosted in unconventional spaces that exist for a mere 24 hours.
This weekend Dinner Lab officially launched in Cleveland with an event catered by Daniel Espinoza, a chef from Chicago. As a member, I got an email several weeks ago, revealing the date, and the menu title and concept, “Anomar” Modern Mexican Cuisine. I was excited to be a part of the first meal so we immediately bought the max amount of tickets allowed per membership, 4. Then about 48 hours before the meal, the location was revealed.
The host site, smARTspace at 78th, is a mixed use space on Cleveland’s west side, offering up 6,000 sq. ft. of event and exhibit space. It was nice to wander down the hallway, sipping on the signature cocktail of the night, checking out the various displays.
We chose the second seating, so we got to check out the meals of our fellow diners on the other side of the room as we made our way to our communal table.
Now… after all this hype is was finally time to EAT! Out came the first course, an imaginative calamari salad with chorizo. (Here’s the part where I regretfully admit that I forgot to take pictures of the plated food. I was so excited about the meal, that I failed to properly document it. I’ll do better next time! Grateful for my guests who shared their pics)
Second course was a crispy tostada topped with pork. A humble, hearty round two. As we were served, we were also invited to give honest, constructive feedback and reviews of each dish on survey sheets. It’s an integral part of the Dinner Lab experience. I was a tougher critic than the rest of our party. I didn’t care for the consistency of the chorizo in the first course, and thought the tostada could have used a little sauce to top it off But the rest of the meal was a home run!
We had some exceptional fried chicken, served on a cilantro grits for the third course. And the final savory course was my favorite, a generous portion of tender mahi mahi, with a green mole sauce (my favorite component of the whole meal!)
And for dessert, the make-shift kitchen cranked out a dense sponge cake with strawberries, peanuts, and caramel sauce. The meal was also accompanied by three drink pairings, all of which were well-matched.
While my husband and I mostly came to visit with our guests (my brother and his fiance, and a friend Danielle who joined us) the Dinner Lab concept encourages a “community dining”, through their communal tables.
We met a nice couple from Pittsburgh who dined next to us. A Dinner Lab membership allows you to take advantage of events all over the country…which I think is pretty fun. I’d love to wrap an overnight trip around one of these events in the future.
Toward the end of the meal, the chef addressed the crowd as a whole explaining the inspiration for “Anomar,” his grandmother, Ramona. Then after service was over, Espinoza came to visit each table individually, like a newlywed glad-handing guests at his wedding. Espinoza was charming, gracious and attentive. He asked us questions and answered ours.
Front of the house staff told me that initially they’ll be hosting events every month until word gets out and membership builds up. The goal is to offer one every week. Sounds delicious!
I invite you to join me for dinner at the next Dinner Lab event! Click here: Member Invitation and get $20 credit toward your first meal.