Trying to Review a Restaurant That's Never the Same

Categories: 'Eat'
Vinyl_Wine_Bar_Scene.jpg
Lara Hata
Vinyl Wine Bar: drawing in customers with a low-pitched but persistent buzz.

For this week's restaurant review, I visited two of the more accessible popup restaurants in town: the new residency of 18-month-old EAT Restaurant at the Corner, which hosts a different restaurant every day of the week, and Vinyl Wine Bar's Sunday pasta night.

For as much as popups/nonstaurants/whatever-neologism-you-want-to-insist-is-the-most-appropriate are settling in to San Francisco's restaurant scene, becoming a permanent part of the way we dine out, one thing about them hasn't changed: Trying to define a particular one is like caging a cooking smell. For months, I've waited for the Corner's lineup and vibe to stabilize, only to conclude that it's always going to be shifting. And as I was finishing up the edits to the article, I learned from Vinyl's co-owner, Kris Esqueda, that pasta-night chef Jonathan de Wolf is planning to move to Montana this spring. Pasta night may stick around with another cook; it may be replaced by something else.

Nevertheless, I had some good food at EAT and Vinyl, and more importantly, enjoyed the tension between feeling like I was at a low-key neighborhood place and feeling like I was attending an event.

The visits (plus a few more to both places that I didn't write about) raised some interesting questions: As a host venue, how do you draw customers back for something that is never quite the same? As a once-a-week restaurateur, how do you build a regular clientele -- and consistent food -- once the fad-buzz around popups dies down? I don't know that any of us have thought that part through. Nor, given the nature of the enterprise, that we'll ever have to.

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