Nosh

An underground dinner: Oaktown flavor, Napa roots

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At the S+S Gastro Grub pop-up dinner, l to r: Simone Fung, Dave Cruz, Danny Lau and Sebastian Mendieta. All photos: Michael Davidson

By Michael Davidson

Timing is everything for food trends in the Bay Area. This is particularly true for S+S Gastro Grub and its new private tasting room in Oakland. Their first three pop-up dinners on a recent weekend were the culmination of a series of events in the lives of Simone Fung and Sebastian Mendieta (the S and S behind S+S Gastro Grub) and Chef Dave Cruz, formerly of the Thomas Keller-owned Ad Hoc.

The weekend of underground dinners offered the chance to feast on five-course meals served in style prepared by Cruz, who, as tipped by Nosh earlier this month, is planning to open his own place locally, tentatively called Miles Restaurant, just as soon as he finds a good spot.

S+S Gastro Grub started as a catering service two years ago and that is still part of their business. Simone and Sebastian first tried their hands at pop-up dining at Cosecha in Old Oakland. They followed that by serving at two successful Behind the Cart events, another underground dining event. Both soon learned that the commercial kitchen space is never perfectly clean, nor is it necessarily a nice place to bring hungry clients interested in their “Oaktown flava, Napa roots” style food.


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Then, a year ago, a spot opened up in their Oakland loft and they decided to build out their own, private test kitchen for tastings and clients. Getting laid-off was the true kicker for Simone, and both she and Sebastian spent days and nights building out the dream kitchen they wanted. The end result is a beautiful contemporary industrial spot located directly below their home, where the first dinner they held there was named, aptly, Under the Loft.

Also serendipitous was the departure of Chef Dave Cruz from Ad Hoc. The three met after Simone and Sebastian went to a book signing for the new Ad Hoc at Home cookbook.

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The couple soon became friends with both Keller and Cruz. Shortly afterwards they found themselves working alongside Cruz behind two circulators and one Caja China roasting box sous-viding hundreds of eggs and roasting more than 100 bone marrows for a San Francisco Food Bank fundraiser. Perhaps it was inevitable, then, that when Cruz said he would be leaving Ad Hoc and was looking for a new location for a restaurant, a collaboration for the first S+S Gastro Grub dinner was born. The goal was a blend of both of their styles using their favorite local, seasonal ingredients.

The result was a filling and fancy five-course meal served over three beautiful farm tables and one special V.I.P. 650 lbs concrete table. The farm tables had ice-filled troughs in their centered filled with bottles of wine and water. The overall atmosphere brought on ooohhhhs and aaahhhhs even before any food even touched the tables, and the buzz grew to cheers as each course was served and enjoyed over the course of two nights.

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As a scientist, I appreciated the use of beakers for pouring smoked chicken broth over the fresh green vegetable garbure at the table. I practically drooled while contemplating each colorful plate of pork belly with a bright red dollop of tomato marmalade on the plate. Dessert, however, stole the hearts and even some of the sanity of the guests when they finally got to try the special Watsonville strawberry sorbet. I was given a preview quart during an interview two days before the event and, needless to say, it didn’t last the night. One of the key steps to this melty masterpiece was “PACO-ing” the dish using a special piece of kitchen equipment that shaves at 2,000 RPM — another respectable number for a scientist.


The five courses menu:

– Asian greens with spider egg salad & a black garlic vinaigrette –

– Spring vegetable garbure with smoked chicken broth –

– Pork belly with clams and three seasonal beans & tomato marmalade –

– Grilled spider steak served with S+S chard and togarashi potatoes –


– Strawberry sorbet, almond meringue, biscuit crumble, and mint shiso pesto –

I spoke with numerous guests heading out from the dinner and heard nothing but rave reviews. Both meals left everyone with a hunger for more from both of these amazing local Bay Area chefs, and everyone was asking what was next. Cruz mentioned that his hope is to lock down a space for his restaurant soon, while S+S Gastro Grub will continue catering and hosting more tastings and private dinners for clients.

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To find out where S+S Gastro Grub is going to pop up next, join their mailing list, like them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter. S+S Gastro Grub caters parties and dinners and the Under the Loft space is available for hire. 

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