Pop-ups are practically a rite of passage to opening a restaurant in San Francisco these days, whether it's to test out concepts, practice dish ideas, or just try something new. Getting in on that action now are chef David Nayfeld and pastry chef Angela Pinkerton, two of the driving forces behind the upcoming Italian restaurant Che Fico. As they wait and plan for Che Fico to open, Nayfeld and Pinkerton — who met working at Eleven Madison Park in New York City — looked for ways to pay the bills, usually through consulting projects and private dinners, and recently settling on the idea to start a pop-up (read more in their words on that decision here).
Called Mission D&A (for David & Angela), the idea is a rotating concept, much like Mina Test Kitchen, that features different cuisines and inspirations every few weeks. "This is our chance to play a little. In a brick and mortar restaurant, you get very few opportunities to go off script and go on a tangent," Nayfeld told Eater. "As people who have come from a very structured background and will be going back into something that’s very structured [Che Fico], this is our chance to do something that's completely different."
Nayfeld and Pinkerton secured a temporary licensing agreement in the old Roosevelt Tamale Parlor space in the Mission, and will start with a Russian concept called Mama Galina's, beginning Tuesday, June 21. The first iteration is inspired by Nayfeld's Russian background and the food his mother (Galina) made for him and his friends. He envisions it as a big party, starting with an aperitif hour, then sitting down to a five-course family-style dinner that includes beverage pairings courtesy of sommelier Peter Weltman (Eleven Madison Park, The Nomad). "It's Lazy Bear-esque, but that's also how all Russian restaurants work. It will be our interpretation of that with traditional dishes like stuffed cabbage, potato salads, smoked, pickled, and preserved foods, while the sweet side will be an array of cakes and confections and treats," Nayfeld said. Tickets are now on sale for $75, and you can see the full menu here.
The duo recruited friend and interior designer Jon de la Cruz (DLC-ID) to design the 35-seat space and website pro bono, something he was excited to do because he grew up two blocks from the space. De la Cruz will be switching up the look slightly with each concept, playing off the open kitchen each time to make it very inclusive and focus on the cooking action. "We want to be part of the meal and not part of the kitchen because the reason people are there is for us to cook for them," Pinkerton told Eater. There will be plenty of room for interaction with Pinkerton and Nayfeld as they'll be serving some of the courses as well.
"It's kind of like an art project for us. That's the beauty of this; we’re going to run it as long as we're having fun."
It's up in the air how long Mama Galina's will run before the next concept change — and it's possible that these concept runs could show up one day as a full restaurant from the pair in the future. "Who says two years from now we're not going to open Mama Galina's. It's kind of like an art project for us. We'll switch every time we decide that we're done. That's the beauty of this; we're going to run it as long as we're having fun with it and people seem like they're enjoying it," Nayfeld said. "If one day we wake up and want to try something new, we're able to then go into that."
Nayfeld predicts concepts will run for two to three weeks, but what you won't see in this form is a Che Fico preview. "I don't want the first time for people to experience Che Fico to be anything less than what I think it can be," Nayfeld explained. Mama Galina's at Mission D&A begins on Tuesday, June 21, running for three nights, then switching to a weekend model (Thursday through Saturday) starting Thursday, June 30. Tickets are on sale now here.
Head here to read more about why Nayfeld and Pinkerton decided to start a pop-up restaurant — in their words.