It’s been two long pandemic years since Viridian began casting a trippy green and purple hue over Uptown Oakland, but this February marks the first time the bar and its owners will be able to host the over-the-top blowout Lunar New Year party of their dreams. The Red Envelope Lunar New Year pop-up takes over Viridan’s moody space starting Wednesday, February 2 and runs through Sunday, February 27. On top of special food and drink menus to celebrate the start of the Year of the Tiger, the pop-up means a dramatic design overlay for the bar and restaurant, including a 60-foot silk dragon, hundreds of paper lanterns glowing in a rainbow array of colors, and an animated mural projection spread over five tables.
Viridian co-founder Alison Kwan says the team has been planning the pop-up since they first came up with the concept for Viridian, which pays homage to Hong Kong cinema and embraces the founders’ Asian American roots with its design. “When we were growing up, [Lunar New Year] was our biggest holiday so we have a lot of fond childhood memories of this holiday,” Kwan says. “We love Christmas, but at the same time, Lunar New Year was always bigger than Christmas, so we were like, hey, how come there isn’t a big party that’s as big as a Christmas party for Lunar New Year?”
Viridian executive chef George Meza and executive pastry chef Vince Bugtong have a menu of about 20 dishes and desserts to roll out for the month-long celebration, and the dishes combine nostalgic Lunar New Year favorites with whatever fresh, local produce the chefs can get their hands on right now. Look for decadent duck liver mousse doughnuts served alongside a mosaic of huckleberry and coconut gels; a Dungeness crab wonton tostada the size of a whole plate that’s topped with avocado, Meyer lemon aioli, and pickled fresno chili; and duck confit spring rolls filled with peanut butter mousse. Crispy ginger chicken zhaliang come adorned with smoked salmon roe, while pristine bao arrived stuffed with lamb and pickled carrots and daikon.
On the sweeter side, Bugtong’s throwing it back with an architectural take on baked Alaska that’s paired with pandan ice cream and mango sorbet. There’s also a chocolate cake decorated with black sesame chantilly and miso cremeux — and, for the most indecisive diners, there’s mignardises, a collection of small sweets including guava pâte de fruit, Thai tea caramel, a cream puff with vanilla chantilly and mango gel, plus a burnt pistachio truffle. Kwan and the Viridian team will also host handful of guest chef pop-ups throughout the month including a February 8 appearance from Last Supper Society chef Byron Hughes, who will collaborate with Meza on six small dishes of passed bites-style food; chef Emily Lim of Da Bao Singapore, who will bring her Singapore-style fare on February 19; and chef Tina Nguyen of the Baking Endeavor (formerly the Pastry Sous Chef of Lazy Bear), who arrives with a composed dessert menu only on February 27.
Co-founder and bar director William also has a list of drinks that will only be available during the pop-up, all of which draw inspiration from the holiday and many of which feature Asian produce. There’s the frothy Cry Ming A River with Ming River baijiu, Kaoliang (a Chinese liqueur made from fermented sorghum), Campari, peach, and five-spice pineapple capped with whipped cream; the elegant Daughter In Red, starring gin, Shaoxing wine, cucumber, sesame, and fish sauce; and the Yeet Hay All Day, a combo of mezcal, prickly pear, and pickled Fresno jalapeño. Because, of course, there’s also a coffee cocktail: the Cafe Sữa Daddy blends Sazerac rye, chicory, and Mr. Black with espresso from Academic Coffee Co. and condensed milk.
And it’ll be hard to overlook the top-to-bottom decor being installed during the two days before Red Envelope launches. Kwan says the bar hired Caha Design Group to lend a hand with the design, which includes installing 372 color-changing paper lanterns, a 60-foot silk dragon imported from China, and regal paper mâché lion dance heads. To complete the multisensory experience, they’ve enlisted video arts designer and game developer Rachel Hwang to create an animated mural that will project across five tables. Even the recognizable dichroic film treatment on Viridian’s front windows will get a glow up with a fresh design that depicts bursting fireworks, graceful cranes, and a flying dragon.
Kwan says they’re filling in with all sorts of “Chinese kitschy decorations” throughout the space, purchased in Chinatown or imported from China. “They’re fun, they’re reminiscent, and they’re gaudy,” Kwan says. “You can’t have Lunar New Year without gaudy decorations. It's a mingling of classic and new decorations.” Listen for a playlist that spotlights contemporary and classic Asian artists from all over the world.
With hopes of letting as many people as possible experience the event, Kwan says Viridian won’t be taking reservations for Red Envelope; according to the website, visits will be limited to two hours. Particularly in light of the fight to end anti-Asian hate in the Bay Area and Southern California, Kwan says she hopes the Lunar New Year pop-up will give the Asian American and Pacific Islander community something to celebrate. “That’s super important to us, to celebrate and embrace our heritage because of the backlash against many AAPI communities due to xenophobia,” Kwan says. “Doing an event like this means embracing your culture and being proud of where you come from. It means understanding how rich your heritage is and there’s nothing to be ashamed about.”
Red Envelope at Viridian runs Feb. 2-27 and is open Wednesday through Sunday starting at 5 p.m.