November 5, 2015

Popping into Business: Hotelie Entrepreneurship Pop-Up Restaurant

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When I heard there was going to be a pop-up restaurant in Ithaca, I jumped at the opportunity to experience one of these for myself and, of course, to eat good food.

The adventure started when I received an email from Tucker Iida ’16, President of the Cornell Hotel Society, asking if I were available at 5:00 p.m. on October 30th. Aside from the time and place and that I could bring a guest, everything was very cloak and dagger. I wasn’t given the location until 5 hours before the event, so everything else was still shrouded in mystery.

“We aren’t going to get kidnapped or murdered, right?” my friend asked on the way to the location. I wasn’t quite sure of the answer myself. Upon arriving, we noticed the address was the same as the that of Carriage House. They had rented out the second floor of the quaint brunchery (if that isn’t already a word, it should be) and made it their own. White Christmas lights hung from ceiling and wrapped around the supporting beams, giving the room a calming glow. The tables were covered with white cloths and black runners, with potpourri, shiny things and fake berries scattered on top. Each seat had a nametag for the guests who had RSVPed, which made the event feel exclusive yet inviting. Spanish music was playing in the background and I immediately realized what the secret cuisine was. The menu confirmed this, offering pulpo con potatas and albondigas romanesco as appetizers, seafood y chorizo paella as a main course, and deconstructed churro for dessert. The overall atmosphere felt rustic yet quaint, and reminded me of a Spanish restaurant.

Insha Malhotra ’17, the president of the Hotelie Entrepeneurs, told me that they had decided to serve a cuisine that isn’t well represented in Ithaca. “While you can find Mexican food around here, it’s really hard to get a hold of authentic Spanish cuisine,” she explained. “We just wanted to give everyone an experience that they can’t normally get in Ithaca.”

But what exactly was I attending, and why had it been such a mystery? Every year, the Hotelie Entrepreneurs host a pop-up restaurant as a way to gain experience and develop leadership skills. In this setting, they can learn what running a restaurant feels like, how to organize a menu and what foods should be put out at what point of the night. Everything about the event was student-run, from the chefs to the waitresses. The members of the Hotelie Entrepreneurs organized and executed the night like a well-oiled machine. They advertise mostly to students within the Hotel school, though both students and faculty can attend. Spots go quickly, often within a day of availability. I was lucky enough to be a part of such a unique and interesting learning experience.

As the event started, the president stood up and announced that the food was free and they only ask for donations at the end of the night.

Waitresses then proceeded to bring out bruschetta that had been rubbed with garlic and olive oil and topped with tomato and a little sea salt. It was the perfect way to start the night, as it left me craving more.

Next came the pulpo, which in Spanish means octopus. It was served on a bed of arugula, drizzled with lemon and olive oil. The octopus was cooked perfectly and had a slightly smoky taste, although it didn’t taste very fresh (but I mean, where would you find fresh octopus in Ithaca?). The dish also came with lightly salted roasted potatoes, which complimented the peppery arugula.

The Spanish meatball came next, topped with a thin triangle of melted cheese, in a romesco sauce. A romesco sauce is basically a combination of roasted tomatoes and garlic, along with the ever-ubiquitous olive oil, a combination of almonds and hazelnuts and a few different types of chiles and peppers. The sauce originates from northeastern Spain and is usually paired with fish, though in this case, it really brought out the flavor of the meatball. By itself, the meatball was a little bland, but in combination with the cheese and sauce, it tasted like my own mother’s cooking. The comfort of the food really fit in with the rustic atmosphere of the venue. I wished I had been given more, but upon seeing the main course, I realized why I hadn’t been.

The chefs brought out a large paella pan and served it family style for every four people. Paella is traditionally saffron-infused rice with chorizo and a variety of different shellfish (mussels, clams, scallops, shrimp, etc.). This dish is usually cooked in a pan of the same name, Paella. The uniquely wide shape of the pan allows rice to cook evenly and distributes the liquids and flavors equally. The rice was a tiny bit on the salty side, but not beyond my ability to enjoy. Everything was cooked perfectly, from the shrimp to the mussels, and the smokiness really helped bring each part together. I still regretted not eating more, but as time progressed, the waitresses began rolling out dessert.

The deconstructed churro consisted of a spiced chocolate mousse atop graham crackers, with a crema catalana and marcona almond brittle on the side. A crema catalana is the Spanish version of crème brûlée, with very minor differences. This Spanish version didn’t have a caramelized sugar on top, but nonetheless acted as a sweet custard to juxtapose the spicy pudding. This course was by far my favorite part of the night, as each component seemed to bring out the best of the others.

Overall, this was a very positive experience that allowed me, a pre-med biology major, to see what life is like in another school. I was amazed at how much thought and work went into the night and how the Hotelie Entrepreneurs managed to pull it off so seamlessly. I highly recommend that everyone keep an eye out for the event next year and to try to snag a spot. The food and service was on par with a top-notch restaurant, while the atmosphere made me want to stay and eat forever. 10/10, highly recommend, would do again.

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