I love a pop-up. Clothing stores, kitchy boutiques, holiday shops, restaurants, limited-run expositions, whatever it is, if it’s short-term and in a temporary location, I’m in! You can imagine then my excitement upon finding out what my neighbor at the Ace Hotel bar one evening, Michael Stember, told me what he did! The fellow ginger, former Olympic runner and sushi chef extraordinaire is the mastermind behind Sushi Belly Tower, the culinary pop-up event that’s been making its way across the US for some time now. Michael, who has been hosting sushi nights since his Stanford dorm-room days, and his team organize the space, music, cocktails and of course the food.
Having no idea what to expect, I rallied a group of friends and off we went to eat from communal plates of sashimi and drink sake-tinis out of mason jars. The band (whose name I sadly didn’t get) was perfect- jazzy enough to be great dinner music and with a tempo upbeat enough for dancing if one felt a little loose. Considering the event is invite-only the crowd was a happily surprising mix of people and styles.
Everything we ate was gorgeous. Beautiful, fresh fish (salmon, tuna, yellowtail, salmon roe, sea urchin) was combined with tofu, citrus, fresh vegetables, herbs and seasoning in simple and perfect combinations. Michael’s food is breathtakingly subtle, he cuts and preps live as part of the event but does so without being flashy. He respects his ingredients and clearly knows his stuff. My favorite example of Michael’s simplicity and creativity was one of my last bites of the evening: uni served on a slice of citrus-splashed cucumber topped with sea salt and freshly grated wasabi. They say a great chef can tell you who he is in one bite; if that’s true and you want to know Michael Stember, that’s the bite you’re after.