Last week I was invited to a popup dinner hosted by chef Sophina Uong, who paired with EatFeastly to introduce Wildcat + Charta Uncommon Kitchen, where she is testing out new menu items for an Oakland restaurant project opening early next year. I’ve been a fan of Chef Sophina since I met her at a James Beard dinner at Bridges Restaurant in Danville where her dish was the hands down favorite of the table. I had a fabulous time at this Feastly venue, which is much more intimate than a restaurant because we were served by Chef Sophina and got to hang out with her and her family! It’s located on a quiet street, the unassuming door looked very locked and there was garbage on the ground – like a typical SOMA warehouse; however, it was marked discretely with the EatFeastly logo (a stylized artichoke). We knocked on the door, which opened and we walked into a magical space dominated by one of the longest tables I’ve ever seen.
Here is the menu, 6 courses plus an amuse
We sat at the head of the table, where we could watch the action in the kitchen. Chef Sophina won the title of Chopped Grill Masters Grand Champion on the Food Network this summer, as well as best in show at the SF American Lamb Jamb for the past 4 years, and most recently was the executive chef at Calavera in Oakland where I enjoyed a delicious meal earlier this year. She has more than 20 years experience in the industry working as executive chef, bartender, dishwasher, server, and event planner in some of the best SF Bay Area food establishments: Restaurant Lulu, Absinthe, Citizen Cake, Calavera, Antica Trattoria, Waterbar, Pican, Revival Bar + Kitchen. She and her crew were busy and focused, but she took time out to welcome everyone and introduce some of the dishes they were serving.
We enjoyed refreshing beverages and got to know our neighbors. There was a choice of red, white or sparkling wine, beer, or soda. Chef Sophina introduced her husband aka Wildcat, whose stomach has been subjected with many unusual and fire laden meals over the years. She briefly spoke about the restaurant concept, which is a mashup of Northern Californian, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern flavors, and there are some Asian elements thrown in for good measure.
The first item arrived looking like a beautiful flower, a small fritter made with saltcod brandade, topped with thin slices of radish and sprinkled with shallot powder that really sparked our tastebuds.
At our end of the communal table, I was surrounded by fellow food enthusiasts, Christina from EastBay Dish, Brenda of Bites & Bourbon and Jane aka Fancifuldots. We are the food paparazzi and had fun photographing each other and all the food!
Thin slices of Charred Eggplant scattered over colorful mounds of ricotta flavored with black garlic, pickled cauliflower, toasted almonds, and crunchy crackers made from rye and caraway. This was my favorite dish, I am a sucker for finger foods and this dish had so many intriguing flavor combinations and textures
The next dish was called Tuna Brassicas, was kind of salady, made with black kale, celery to cool the palate, calabrian chile, buttery pine nuts, currant and kohrabi. It was an interesting mixture, sort of a light poke bowl…
Next came wide shallow bowls filled with Freekeh Porridge, topped with chunks of Dungeness crab with roasted oyster mushrooms, Benne seed (similar to sesame), pistachio, tobiko, and sprinkled with snow pea shoots and dusted grated pork snow. Freekeh is a green wheat product that is popular throughout the Middle East. It has a smoky/earthy flavor, the result of the production process, in which durum wheat is harvested while still green and soft, and carefully roasted in the husk over open fires. It was a comforting and sustaining dish that was like a warm hug.
The pork snow is made from dried smoked pork that was grated over everyone’s plate by Chef Sophina and staff, kinda like parmesan but porky.
(Mama’s )Thunder Thighs, the menu calls it good times with hot spicy chicken, that is served over a puddle of creamy tahina and soured cream, topped with thin slices of cucumber and watermelon radish. Sophina knows how to make fried chicken, that is a fact! It had a wonderful, well seasoned crunchy crisp crust and the meat inside was juicy and flavorful. I gnawed my way through each delicious bite, the fresh vegetables and sauce underneath helped tame the spicy kick from the chicken.
Then came the beautiful Braised Lamb, which was absolutely filthy rich, the tender flesh was shredded then shaped into a brick, then charred and topped with pear, butternut, pickled mustard, fingerling, ninja turnip and hickory. At the bottom of the bowl was an intensely flavorful and rich buttery jus that gilded each bite.
Dessert was called We melted some chocolate, a ganache that had a wondrous light texture that defied the rich decadence sprinkled with bits of fresh grapefruit, sunflower seeds, a crumbly sumac meringue, dried pomegranate, cocoa nibs and crunchy bits of grape nuts. We couldn’t stop eating this, full as we were…
Chef Sophina’s daughter Rowan was serving dishes and would also introduce and describe each dish as it was served, and it was delightful to see the playful interaction between the two.
I highly encourage that you attend one of these Wildcat+Charta Uncommon Kitchen popup meals, where you will be served never before encountered taste sensations, cooked and served by badass Chef Sophina and crew. It’s very affordable too and only available for a limited time!
One is scheduled for tonight – Six Course holiday Pop Up $40 in SF