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Dining Pick | Dinner Lab

Sometimes you can find the best meals in the most unexpected places. Be it at a hole in the wall diner, an unknown food truck, or within a stone’s throw of an industrial table saw.

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A newcomer to Austin's supper club landscape, Dinner Lab pushes the boundaries of the pop-up dining concept by serving under-explored cuisines in unconventional spaces. Its kickoff dinner this past May was a five-course menu of North Korean cuisine prepared by an acolyte of Chef John Besh and served at communal tables at Delta Millworks on East Fifth Street. The sawdusted industrial environment brimmed with as much character as the cuisine, which is milder and more subtle than spicier Seoul-food, and especially delicious when paired with a hearty South Korean malt beer.

Although this was the group's debut in Texas, it wasn't their first rodeo. Dinner Lab was launched a year ago in New Orleans by a Teach for America alum who was having a hard time finding ethnic food amid the city's wealth of po’boys. His quest for a home-cooked Indian meal led to the realization that talented sous chefs often harbor culinary secrets that they can't properly explore in their journeyman positions.

Part of the group's mission is to prepare up-and-coming talent for executive chef roles by battle-testing their menus in multiple markets. After Austin, the group expanded to Nashville, and plans for New York City, LA, and Atlanta are in the works. “We're driven by the story of striving to be more than one is currently,” says CEO Brian Bordainick. “We'd like to do everything we can to cut down the time it takes someone to move from a line cook to the public eye.”

Despite a come-as-you-are mentality, Dinner Lab operates on a membership system in order to control access to the wildly popular events. A yearly membership ($100) grants adventurous eaters access to the calendar of biweekly Dinner Lab pop-ups. Each dinner seats roughly 75, generally sells out within minutes of being announced, and costs roughly $50, including drinks and gratuity. “It's important to keep the cost low so as not to price out the service industry people, because they're really at the heart of the concept,” Bordainick says.

The result is a highly sociable, communal environment where patrons make fast friends inspired by a curiosity for foreign cuisines, the excitement of a new environment, and a bottomless supply of cocktails. Recent Austin events included a Nicaraguan dinner in the Slackerville complex behind End of an Ear, an all-dessert dinner from the Carillon pastry chef that progressed from savory to sweet, and a classically prepared tour of regional French cuisine in a wooden-floored shell of an event space at Penn Field.

Much of the welcoming atmosphere is created by the informality of the spaces, but Bordainick is also quick to credit his staff. It includes a friendly full-time event planner, a guiding culinary hand who was formerly at Lenoir, and a crew of 40 part-time hospitality workers who are dedicated to their roles but don't take themselves too seriously. “We want to bring people amazing culinary experiences, but we can get off our pedestal every once in a while,” Bordainick says.

Credits

Images courtesy of Dinner Lab

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