Pop Up: Chef Matt Baldridge

This past weekend I attended a pop-up restaurant at The Menagerie in Pontiac, featuring Chef Matt Baldridge.

I have decided to not base my review on the venue, as they have just recently started hosting pop-ups.  Rather, this will be strictly about the food.  Typically I like to add comments about the atmosphere and the service, but as the venue is not a reflection on the chef, I don’t find it relevant.  Side note, we were in a wine cellar so the pictures have very bad lighting.

There was so much hype surrounding this pop-up as the chef had been featured in Hour magazine, and had built a solid reputation from his previous employment.

Without further adieu, here is my candid opinion on each item.

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Preface: I found out about this event last minute and there were only VIP tickets available for $75 per person, which included a special extra course.

That extra course is shown below: Wagyu beef tartare with a quail egg and local Better Made Chips.

This was lacking…a lot.  It needed more salt, or acid, or spice…just SOMETHING with a kick.  The egg was too well done, and did not complement the beef.  The chips were an interesting Detroit spin, but I wasn’t digging it.

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1st Course: Oyster shooter with pickled grapes, grape pop rocks, dried yuzu and micro greens.

What the FUCK was he thinking!? The concept sounded interesting, but I was SO INCREDIBLY DISAPPOINTED.

Fortunately, I shot it down my throat before the flavors hit.  If that wasn’t the case, I would have spit it all back up.  It was like someone gave me a really really sweet grape candy and mixed in some fishiness.  So wrong.  SOOOOOOOO WRONG. I was thoroughly upset by this because I had given up oysters recently.  I am Buddhist and do not believe in causing harm onto others….and yes, that means ALL beings.  I didn’t learn until last year that oysters are still alive when they are served chilled.  I brought myself to the realization that I could no longer accept being the the bearer of death to oysters, so I vowed not to eat anymore.  I made the exception this ONE time for THIS!? Beyond upsetting.

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2nd Course: Torched goat cheese, fresh figs, arugula, pork rinds, with a bacon shallot vinaigrette.

If you read my previous entries, maybe you remembered that I despise goat cheese.  This actually wasn’t so bad. I wouldn’t have given it a try if I had to order it off a menu, but since I had paid a good amount on my pre fixed meal, I figured it wouldn’t kill me to try it. It was certainly better than the poor excuse for an oyster shooter I had eaten prior. 

I was expecting a char from the “torch”, but received an underwhelming slab of cheese on some veggies….and that bacon shallot vinaigrette?  I didn’t taste it.

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3rd Course: Little neck clams, mussels, pork dashi broth with some tapioca pearls.

This was actually really well done, just a little on the salty side.  Bring me some citrus and maybe a loaf of bread to dip in the broth and it would have been perfect!  

Aside from the saltiness, the tapioca pearls were super starchy and unnecessary.  I could understand wanting to imitate caviar, but it tasted like tiny bits of under cooked rice.

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4th Course: Black cod with lamb neck ragout.

Again, pardon the lack of lighting in my photographs.  

This course was magnificent!  My husband and I, along with some new friends we met at the dinner, all agreed that this was the star of the show.  It stole our hearts.  The cod was the slightest bit overcooked, but it was still flakey and delicious.  The lamb neck ragout was perfectly seasoned, and surprisingly paired perfectly with the fish.  Who would have thought to pair fish and lamb!? It was a spectacle.

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5th Course: Dark Chocolate and Rock & Rye cake with ice cream.

Very moist, succulent, rich cake.  I wish I could have had a nice cup of tea to enjoy it with as it was a little sweet for me, but it was a beautiful dessert to end the meal.

Overall, I think the dishes progressively got better as the night went on.

Some things to consider: I didn’t appreciate the length of time between courses.  The courses were so tiny, and I was hungry immediately after each dish; I wanted a faster service because I was getting irritated with waiting!
I appreciated the seafood theme, but the flavor profiles for each dish were drastically different.
Finally, I am actually really surprised that the chef had only come out twice throughout the night: before and after dinner service.  I would have liked the chef to come out before every course to explain what was to be expected and the thought process behind each dish.

The venue needs some work as far as their wait staff among other things, but I wasn’t turned off to the point where I wouldn’t return.  I will definitely be paying The Menagerie a few more visits…as for Chef Matt Baldridge?

I wasn’t as disappointed as I was in the Sarap pop-up to say the least.

All his dishes were creative and tastey….was it worth the price I paid?
Probably not, because I was still hungry when I left…..hence the following photo: McDonald’s McDoubles that my husband and I had to grab on our way home….

…pretty self explanatory.

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Stay tuned for my next entry, coming this week!

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