Pop star

Chef Ben Deinken with selections from his Valentine's Day menu.

Chef Ben Deinken with selections from his Valentine's Day menu.

Photo/Allison Young

For more information, visit tournantpopup.com, filmsontapreno.com or roundsbakery.com

For my wife and me, Valentine’s Day is usually just another day. I used to go overboard with the flowers and stuffed animals until my wife declared a moratorium, so I think she was genuinely surprised when I purchased tickets for the “Menage a Trois” pop-up dinner and movie event. How could I resist? Rounds Bakery, Films on Tap, and Tournant Pop-Up Restaurant formed a unique “trois” of setting, entertainment and culinary experience.

Tournant—a French term for a chef who assists every station in the kitchen—is perhaps Reno’s best example of a food culture trend with roots in the “supper clubs” of decades past, now renewed by social media. Pop-up restaurants don't have a set location, but instead use an existing restaurant during off-hours or a non-restaurant space. Often used by young chefs for experience and exposure, pop-ups also serve as a means for established chefs to test new ideas or restaurant concepts before taking the brick and mortar plunge.

Veteran Chef Ben Deinken and his team of friends and food service professionals put together their first Tournant Pop-Up to much acclaim on New Year’s Eve 2013. Throughout 2014, they popped-up all over town, including a couple of pairings with Films on Tap (a local organization dedicated to the shared enjoyment of quality film and craft beers). Tickets are sold in advance for the prix fixe menu—$120 per couple on this occasion—and include all food and beverages with somewhere between 30-50 seats available. (Seating and prices vary with each event.)

This evening’s film was the romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally. I’ll admit to an initial lack of enthusiasm for this selection, but it turned out to be just the thing. The room was full of laughter, although four rounds of bottomless cocktails may have helped.

The menu’s theme was fondue, with tealight burners set on each table to keep dishes warm. We began with an aperitif cocktail, “Make Me Blush” (vodka, ruby reds, fresh mint, lime and rose syrup), as well as a few bite-sized morsels of Rounds’ bagels. This flowed nicely into the first course, “Velvet Pot” (Gruyere, kirschwasser, garlic, bechamel, volcano salt) with a plank of fresh and mildly pickled vegetable bites to dip in the goo. A “Cherry Kisses” cocktail joined the party (pinot gris, kirsch, black cherry, soda), which went well with the cheesy, veggie flavors.

The second fondue course, “Hot Pot” (fresh herbs, red wine, roasted mire poix and tomato in a bone marrow broth), was served with a plank of mushrooms, baby cabbage, and cubed, cooked meats (chicken breast, beef filet, lobster). The patience required to warm each morsel in the broth made me really appreciate every delicious bite, and the “Besame Mucho” cocktail for two (malbec, rosemary, black pepper syrup, pomegranate, and blood orange served in a little goldfish bowl with two straws) was a savory-sweet complement.

The dessert fondue lived up to its name, “Sexpot” (Belgian milk, Callebaut dark, and Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolates melted into organic, fresh farm cream), served with brownie crumbles and giant, whole strawberries for dipping. “Love Potion” (sweet red wine, stout, bubbly, twist) accentuated the chocolate and fruit in a surprisingly satisfying way. I’m not huge on sweets, but this combination worked very well.

At the risk of sounding too much a fan, I can honestly say there wasn’t a thing out of place. Beverages were kept full, food arrived at a decent pace, and the flavors of both food and cocktails were well thought out and executed. Future events are in the works with a variety of locations and themes, including more collaboration with Films On Tap. With a culinary team this creative, I can’t wait to see what pops up next.