Pop Up Pantry
Pop Up Pantry
717 N Highland Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90038
Summary: The food is really good, with about as many misses as your above-average restaurant meal and some high points that meet or exceed most of them. Shipping was initially troublesome but appears to be sorted out. Overall, this is a really impressive service at a price comparable to that you’d pay for an evening out.
Full disclosure: I was contacted by Pop-Up Pantry and offered an invitation to an evening they were holding in LA. Because I wasn’t going to be in town, they kindly offered to let me try the service on them instead.
Pop Up Pantry delivers three-course, restaurant style food created by well-known chefs to your door. It arrives frozen, for the most part requiring either a large pot of boiling water or an oven to prepare. None of the menus I tried took longer to get ready to eat than 30 minutes from the moment the water boiled to sitting down at the table.
Choucroute garnie with braised red cabbage with apples, flammekueche, pear almond tartlet
The main was a great mix of hearty German winter fare including a tender slice of pork roast, beautifully seared brat, and a boiled potato. The cabbage was heavy on the apple cider vinegar, but worked well with the mains to cut the fat and add a bit of brightness. The flammekueche, a thin Alsatian tart with creme fraiche and ham lardons, was a tasty starter and the pear almond tartlet for dessert was beyond delicious. This menu was by far our favorite overall.
Wild boar ragu with truffled polenta, asparagus salad with crispy pancetta, rosemary olive oil cake
The main was transcendent – fall-apart tender boar in a slightly spicy, unctuous sauce. The truffled polenta had just enough of that distinctive earthy truffle flavor to stand out from the boar but complement it well. Thinking about the dish, I wish I had more right now. On the other end of the spectrum, the asparagus salad was limp and nearly flavorless, mostly due to a lot of vegetation unthawing and dumping water into the dish. The rosemary olive oil cake with lemon glaze was fine, though nothing outstanding.
Hoisin ginger braised shortribs with star anise congee, warm asparagus salad, coconut sesame bread pudding
The main was tender and well cooked, if a bit lacking in the advertised hoisin and ginger flavor. The starch was pretty awful, gloppy and tasteless. The salad was not terrible, and was by far the better of the two asparagus salads, but still nothing to write home about. The coconut sesame bread pudding was pretty bland and mushy, though I will admit to being a real snob about bread pudding, either loving or hating them without much middle ground.
I don’t know what trick of perspective is involved, but when I was pulling each meal out of its shipping cooler, my first reaction was that it didn’t look like very much food and that I might need to make something to make a meal of it all. And in each case, once it was all plated and served, the portions turn out to be generous and filling.
Basically, this service trades the convenience of being at home but having to reheat and plate the food for convenience of having to drag yourself to a restaurant, pay for parking and a babysitter, to have everything prepared and cleaned up for you. Speaking of prep, it’s all very simple. If you can boil water and heat an oven, you’re pretty golden. Not all the instructions make equal sense or even work, though. For instance, the German food contained a packet with some mustard and pickles. Prep instructions said to leave the packet on the counter to thaw while the rest of the meal cooked. I’m not sure in what universe a pickle that’s frozen solid would thaw at room temperature in 20 minutes, but it’s not this one. Even with my intervening and cutting it up after about 10, we ended up eating a picklesicle.
Had I paid the same cost or a bit less for similar food, I’d have been pretty happy. Add in the convenience of it coming to me, and this business has a real winner of a concept. It’s a perfect service for a person with a budding interest in food that doesn’t want the hassle of tramping all across town to sample great food.
I find that as I browse menus, there are often one or two items in a particular menu that sound great and one that doesn’t appeal. In my perfect world, I’d get a pick list where I could substitute in a dessert – the most frequent offender of my interest – that I might not be interested in for another that I know I’ll love.
I’d also love to see a customer rating system on their site. It would make the selection process feel less daunting and blind.
It seems worth mentioning some shipping trouble that I had, both since it describes a potential issue with the service, but also how impressively the Pop Up Pantry service staff were at correcting and compensating for mistakes.
I scheduled the first delivery for a Friday and got a confirmation of the order, but no tracking information. On 5pm the day of the expected delivery, I called to see if there was a problem. It turned out there was – the order had never been shipped, though I’d heard nothing about it until I called. They apologized profusely and rescheduled me for the following Wednesday after giving me a credit for my inconvenience.
I didn’t receive a confirmation email of the change or tracking information for the second attempt either. I called the day of the delivery early to check on the status, and the same problems were going on. The service Escoffier mentioned that the Masterchef meal that I’d ordered was coming from a satellite location that was having trouble in general. He refunded the order, added an additional credit for two full dinners, and recommended that I make a different selection. When I mentioned that I would do so, but that was I slightly disappointed in having to switch because I was excited to try the bourbon pecan bacon tart, he added that dessert to my order for free.
What could they have done better? Open communication would have taken care of most of the trouble. After the first missed shipment, my knowing that there was a problem with the shipper and facility creating the food might have led me to make another meal choice. There also needs to be some way of setting an alert for shipments that are scheduled but do not go out so that those customers can be alerted and arrangements made. Both times I had to reach out to resolve a problem that it feels like Pop-Up Pantry should have been aware of, but clearly were not.
That said, it’s refreshing to deal with a company who realizes that lapses in service deserve compensation, especially when the service in question is a bit of a luxury. While the initial responses may have left a bit to desire, the disposition of the entire shipping experience was a net positive for me.
The final shipment went off without a hitch, as did the subsequent one. It seems that whatever problems might have existed have been handled now.