Chris Bolyard's Living Room Pop-Up
It's quarter to six and I'm standing in Living Room cafe's galley kitchen. Chef, owner, and butcher of Bolyard's Meat and Provisions, Chris Bolyard, is to my right, setting up his mis en place for the evening's first course. Alex Welsch is to my left, gently frying racket ball-sized rabbit rillettes in lard, and Living Room's owner, Nate Larson, is whipping honey into egg whites as a topping for the evening's welcome cocktail, a mix of housemade Bitt's iced coffee and bourbon. Diners begin taking their seats. Bolyard, Welsch, and Larson form an assembly line: buttermilk waffle rounds hit the plate first, followed by the rillette, a drizzle of maple hot sauce, and tat soi (a spinach-like microgreen). A perk of being in the kitchen is being the first one served. I break through the rillette's crust like a kid tearing into his presents on the first night of Channukah, except what I find inside is much better than Supersoaker or Nintendo64 game: it's rabbit confit. I make sure to drag each slice of meat and tangy buttermilk waffle through the buttery hot sauce. I could eat 10 of these.
I ask Bolyard for seconds. He says no. Instead, he hands me a slice of the coppa he's dicing for our next course—it's a chilled corn soup. In general, I have no love for soup, but I've found that the best restaurants have incredible soups. I would get the soup almost every visit to Niche. I still remember the taste of a taleggio soup I had at a renowned Hong Kong restaurant.
I take a sip of the soup—topped with coppa, ranch-flavored chicharrones, and dehydrated lime zest—and congratulate Bolyard, a Sidney Street alum, on still knowing how to bring that A-game to his soup making. I make corn soup often in summer, but I've never made a corn soup that tastes anything like this.
As soon as the soup leaves the kitchen, plating for the panzanella salad begins. It's a flurry of hands putting down crispy bread, burrata, heirloom tomatoes, and pickled red onions. Three fried chicken livers are dropped on at the last minute, then with a drizzle of red wine vinaigrette, they're out of the kitchen.
The evening's entree is almost a play on a reuben—Bolyard has made wide sheets of rye pappardelle noodles, which he's warming in beef jus just before plating. Using an iSi whipping siphon (normally used for whipped cream), he aerates the gruyere mornay and spoons the lightened sauce—though how light can mornay be?—across the plate. On goes the pappardelle, the pepperonata, and fermented kohlrabi, then the beef neck pastrami.
It's clear at this point that no one is going home hungry.
Larson and his crew take over at this point to plate their dessert: a sweet corn clafoutis with a peach ice cream and blueberry compote. I eat mine in the back, then patiently wait for them to finish plating everyone else's so I can snack on leftovers.
I've gone to a number of pop-up dinners in St. Louis, and there's no doubt in my mind that Bolyard's are at the top. Expect more dinners this fall—make sure to follow Bolyard's Meat and Provisions on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram so you don't miss out.