If I told you there was an event in Rochester that nearly sold out within 20 minutes of the tickets being available, what would you guess?
Big-time recording artist? Nope. Celebrity comedian? Wrong.
It’s for food, you guys. (I know. I’m not really that surprised either.)
That’s exactly how fast tickets have been selling for ThaiPop, the about twice-a-month concept that’s been the most consistent presence at Forager Brewery’s pop-up restaurant space. To see what all the fuss was about, my husband and I got to check it out last week. After one swig of the homemade hot chili oil, we understood. (Just kidding about taking a swig of that stuff, though. A drop or two is plenty.)
Here’s how it works: ThaiPop owners Ryan and Annie Balow announce upcoming dates and the time and day the tickets will go up for sale on EventBrite. Word to the wise: Email list subscribers are the first to know.
You set your phone alarm for that day and time, and then grab your $36 tickets before they sell out. The ticket covers a complete six- or seven-course meal, not including drinks.
Then, all that’s left is showing up.
A few things surprised me at my first ThaiPop, and the first was how many repeating diners were in attendance. The two at our table, Dan and Susan (hey guys!), said they came back because the menu is never the same. Apparently ThaiPop repeated only one dish one time in the several months of pop-up dinners they’ve hosted.
The other surprise was how much fun the family-style seating was. As an introvert, I don’t always get excited about sitting by people I don’t know, but there’s a pretty quick ease that comes to the conversation when everyone has a mutual love of food.
I can see what keeps so many people coming back, too — the food is phenomenal.
It’s all the creative work of Annie Balow, who is a bright ray of Thailand sunshine. Her specialty is Northern Thai cuisine, and as each course is served, Annie speaks about the ingredients and how it was made, sometimes including a reference to Thailand and how they serve the dish there. She’s also always reassuring us that “this one’s not very spicy” (though some disagree, but Annie’s so sweet about it you just don’t care that much).
Our meal started with a crispy shrimp appetizer with tamarind sauce, followed by Fried papaya salad with grilled lemongrass chicken that Annie had just grilled on Forager’s patio.
They announced a surprise dish of a pad thai roll (think egg roll but with pad thai inside) which was amazing, then my favorite dish of the night, which was crispy fish lettuce wrap: Fried tilapia with vermicelli rice noodles on romaine lettuce leaves, but the highlight was the two sauces: You poured sweet tamarind sauce on one and spicy peanut sauce on the other, and you had two fish lettuce wraps that were delicious in completely different ways.
Next was Tom Kha, a true comfort food soup with a chicken broth and coconut milk base infused with galangal root and lemongrass with tomato and mushroom. The entree was red curry on rice with pumpkin and pork, a lovely sweet-savory-spicy combination. Dessert was a perfect mango sticky rice with one more surprise on the side — thai tea ice cream.
So if you’re counting with me, that was a seven-course meal for just $36, and I also had the Thai Cocktail that was created just for ThaiPop by Paul Koerner at Bertha Kutzky’s Cocktail Lounge at Kutzky Market’s front end. I’m not sure where else you could go for a cultural, community-building experience for that price that also guarantees you’ll leave completely full.
Best get on that email list — because I’ll fight you for the next tickets.
ThaiPop is on Facebook at www.facebook.com/thaipopbyannie.