Whether or not you are a student, it is hard not to get caught up in the feeling of transition that Labour Day brings as the languid pace of lazy summer days is replaced by the energy and anticipation that accompanies the crisp, cool weather of fall.
The ephemeral nature of summer’s end is echoed in a recent retail trend: the pop-up shop. Erected in temporary locations for months, weeks, or merely days, pop-up stores have featured clothing, accessories, furniture, and food. Even Martha Stewart got in the game last spring, opening a 2-day bakery in New York to promote the publication of Martha Stewart’s New Pies and Tarts and sell samples of her favourite recipes from the book.
In Toronto this trend has been embraced by The Drake, a hipster hotel known for quirkily curated rooms and whimsical food and drink menus. Last October they opened Drake BBQ in a storefront next to the hotel. I love bbq and meant to try this place but, for one reason or another, I always put off visiting. As the restaurant’s popularity grew, it seemed that it might become a permanent fixture on the Toronto food scene. But alas, it closed with only a few days’ notice after eight successful months. First rule of the pop-up: get it while it’s hot!
The Drake is at it again though and, starting today, they have reinvented their dining room as a 1940’s Chinese restaurant just in time for the Toronto International Film Festival. This incarnation will only be around until November 19, so I will be sure to hurry in to sample dishes like Tiger Lily Tuna and a Dragon Fruit Mojito.
Perhaps the most elusive restaurant in Toronto is La Carnita Ltd., a pop-up taco stand that lasts as long as they have food, usually only a matter of hours. The restaurant’s location is kept secret until the morning of the event, when it is sent out to their mailing list and Twitter feed.
On August 25, I was lucky enough to experience the fifth incarnation of La Carnita. Slightly before 6 pm, I found myself in an alley in downtown Toronto, outside the F-Stop Bar. The only indication that I was in the right place was the La Carnita logo sign and a line snaking from the entrance.
The brainchild of the OneMethod Digital + Design agency, this is a restaurant with a twist. To get around Toronto’s pesky food-preparation laws, they offer an original piece of art for $8. A free gift, in the form of tacos, accompanies every purchase.
On this occasion the print, a limited edition of 200, was produced by Dushan Milic. I can’t wait to use this on a Day of the Dead altar!
It wasn’t long before I was enjoying a crunchy fish taco with a creamy citrus sauce and a smoky pork version with tomatillo and corn salsa, prepared by guest chef (and former Top Chef Canada contestant) Steve Gonzales. They were delicious and made me wish I had bought two prints so I could have had more!
Shortly after the fun began, it was over. While people stayed until 9 pm, enjoying Tecate beer and the music of DJ P-Plus, the 200 prints and 400 tacos were gone in an hour and a half. The lucky participants seemed to enjoy this unusual experience as much as the food and I am sure that the next appearance of La Carnita will be even more popular. Look for me at the head of the line, wherever that may be.