In peaceful Santa Monica on Ocean Park Blvd. the culinary project, g a r g a n t u a, a pop-up in LA worthy of Netflix's "Chef's Table", found its temporary home at the charming OP Cafe. In order to manifest the potential of the beautiful landscape that California offers, Chef Nick Barainca took his team into OP Cafe's particularly small kitchen and made a meal that I will surely never forget. When I walked into the transformed cafe adorned with single tea light candles, the stage was set for an innovative 5-course experience. 

coffee, tea, espresso
Anna Roccucci

I had the pleasure of meeting the amicable and truly-inspired Chef Nick and sat at a simply set table that served as a perfect canvas for each course. With a glass of sparkling water, I sat eager and intrigued at how California's bounty would create some of the most beautiful and delicious food I have ever had, truly worthy of Netflix's "Chef's Table". If you've ever binged the mouth-watering series, you may want to follow Chef Nick and his team wherever they may pop-up in LA next to experience the innovation that those featured on "Chef's Table" bring.

First Plate - Green Garlic Bread

Anna Roccucci

Air dried beef and black garlic butter.

This bread, my new favorite garlic bread, was an incredible start to Chef Nick's meal. As I pulled apart the first segment of bread, steam rose from the moist and delicious loaf.

It took twelve weeks to perfectly age the air dried beef that serves as the salt element on top of the bread - some sort of upgraded and elegant bacon (beef) bit I never dreamed could exist. Leak blossoms also adorned the top of the bread that was served with fermented black garlic butter that completed the beautiful marriage of salt and sweetness of the first course - good apart, better together. 

This bread was like nothing I have ever had before, I mean, leak blossoms? Yet Chef Nick accomplished his goal by the first plate, having me entirely convinced that his innovation with natural ingredients was extraordinary. Introducing the unorthodox leak blossoms in the first course proved Chef Nick's appreciation for California's bounty and gave the bread an earthiness that matched the savory green garlic swirled through the dough.

Second Plate - Sprouted Grains and English Peas

vegetable, legume, pea
Anna Roccucci

Verbena, sunflower yogurt, unripe blueberry. 

This dish was presented by Chef Nick, as were all 5 courses, with grace and confidence as he narrated the addition of virgin peanut milk as he poured it onto the dish. Glutinous brown rice was prepared in a way that it became crunchy in texture, like rice cakes, and it sat upon the English peas and sunflower yogurt. The yellow petal garnishing the dish was a reminder that g a r g a n t u a is truly about sourcing ingredients that we would normally overlook.

The dish was served cold which attributed to the dish's innovation. It was something so unfamiliar - cold peas and crunchy brown rice - yet it was so inviting I could not help but to dig my spoon in for more. The most surprising element was the unripe blueberry that provided acid, almost like a vinegar, to the dish proving again that California's natural ingredients can provide more than we know. 

Chef Nick joked, "Not too bad for raw ingredients." Naturally, he was right. Not too bad for a pop-up in LA, either.

Third Plate - Sweet Potato and Kefir Cream

Anna Roccucci

Tangelo, dill pollen, watercress.

Chef Nick presented something entirely innovative and unique that was insanely delicious. The Japanese sweet potatoes were roasted, the skin was removed, deep-fried and laid upon the roasted potatoes. With the skin removed, the potatoes cut with a knife like butter, which is why they give you the only single utensil you need before each course. 

#SpoonTip: Step aside, Lay's, there's a new chip trend in town... or should I say potato skin?

The potatoes were not overly sweet and were so decadent and creamy, like mashed potatoes disguised in their original shape. 

People usually take sustainable food for granted thinking that vegetables and natural foods won't make them full, but believe me. I love cheesy, carb-loaded and filling pizza just as much as the next person, but by the fourth plate of this incredibly fresh and healthy meal, I already felt nourished and satisfied by the vegan dish and looked forward to what was to come. 

Fourth Plate - BBQ Pork and Leek

meat, beef, pork, sausage, barbecue, pepper
Anna Roccucci

Mushroom vinegar, charred onion, aromatics. 

Remember the bit I told you, that they only give the utensils needed before each course? Well, before the pork dish was served, we were only given forks, so I knew I was in for a treat.

The simple and elegant slices of pork sat underneath leak and onion, and the ratio of fat to meat in the pork was perfect. The smoky bbq flavor of the pork was balanced by the bright onion and leek - a wonderful combination. 

My favorite element of the dish, however, had to be the onion broth that was poured over the meat just as the virgin peanut milk was poured over the peas in the second course. I mean really, I would have this onion broth every day if I could because it was that good. The best part was the end of the dish when the meat was already devoured and bits of the pork rub infused what was left of the broth.

Oh, they also make their own kefir lime oil in-house that took an entire year to produce - super casual and so, so delicious. 

Fifth Plate - Strawberry and Caramelized Chocolate

milk, yogurt, banana, strawberry
Anna Roccucci

Frozen shortbread, green strawberry, spruce. 

By the time dessert came around, my brother and I were on the edge of our seats. Chef Nick and his team accommodated my strawberry allergy and served my dessert without them, so I trusted my kin to relay how the sour green and sweet red strawberries affected the dessert. He claims the duel strawberries added sweetness and freshness to the dish, and I take his word for it.

The shortbread pieces were sweet and salty as a perfect shortbread dough should be, and the tangy kefir meringue added such depth to the dish. The spruce cream added velvety texture amongst the crunchy shortbread and delicate meringue. Truly, by the time I ate this dessert, I knew for sure that this pop-up in LA is truly worthy of Netflix's "Chef's Table". 

If this pop-up appears anywhere else, and I mean anywhere, I will book my plane ticket now and follow Chef Nick and his team wherever they go for a clean, fresh and perfectly delicious and satisfying meal. 

10/10, or should I say 5/5?