My follow up email from the secret dinner pop-up called PlaceInvaders specifically instructed guests not to congregate in front of the host building, speak to anyone about the dinner, or wait outside. With that in mind, I let myself in, opening the unlocked door to a walk-up two-story apartment unit in Koreatown.
There’s an explanation behind the paranoia-tinged advisory: the PlaceInvaders pop-up was actually busted once before in New York thanks to a chatty guest who was having a smoke outside when a neighbor inquired what he was up to for the evening. The guest unwittingly spilled the beans about the covert restaurant operation taking place in the rental property, and the neighbor notified the landlord.
It turned out that a tenant had rented to PlaceInvaders via Airbnb, and to further complicate the issue, both the renter and Airbnb weren’t aware of Place Invaders secret pop-up restaurant. A PlaceInvaders banning from Airbnb ensued, and now the clandestine operation relies on friends to hook them up with venues.
PlaceInvaders was founded exactly one year ago in New York by Katie Smith-Adair and Hagan Blount. The couple have no formal culinary training or restaurant background, but both possess an intense desire to entertain through food, drink, and spaces. To get in on the fun, guests must sign up at PlaceInvader’s website and be invited. The approximately $100 price includes a meal, cocktails, and wine.
What motivates this secret-dinner duo to bring interesting people together in a captivating space?
“We started PlaceInvaders because we loved the idea of creative, absolutely unique, and entirely temporary experiences,” explains Smith-Adair.
The K-town apartment where the inaugural L.A. dinner was held appeared to be inhabited by a single male who was clearly into vinyl, judging by his massive record collection. He also seemed to be a fan of animation as his bathroom wall proudly displayed framed cartoon celluloids. We were never given his identity although our hosts were asked several times by guests—who knows, he could’ve been hiding in plain sight, dining among the 14 of us. Secrecy is the theme after all.
Blount handled much of the cooking duties, occasionally asking a guest for an assist (I helped blanch some oysters). Smith-Adair kickstarted conversations while freely pouring cocktails of champagne and Saint Germain which further lubricated pre-meal mingling.
An amuse served on the third story balcony with K-town views was Sriracha grilled oysters. Large and plump, the shellfish was handed to everyone with plenty left for seconds and thirds.
The dinner began in earnest downstairs as we gathered at a long table. First, we were presented with a bountiful and refreshing salad of arugula, avocado, and strawberry drizzled with hemp seed dressing. Next, a bit of grilled ciabatta topped by prosciutto, ricotta, dates, and pistachio dust arrived.
“Tuna Masquerading as a Filet Mignon” defined the main course with its secret identity being seared albacore tuna over grilled onions all capped with browned, buttery foie gras. A dessert of coconut panna cotta with diced mango imbued flavors of the tropics.
The meal concluded with guests leaving happy, satiated—and as stealthily as when they first arrived. Remember: this is our little secret.
PlaceInvaders’ first Los Angeles series will be held the weekend of June 12-14, in Downtown’s Arts District. Visit their Web site for info and tickets. $110-130