Stephen Sandoval’s new pop-up is more than just a menu. It is, the chef says, “very much a story of my travels and where I cooked” — from tracking his family’s Spanish roots in Andalusia, to working in Argentina at one of esteemed chef Francis Mallmann’s restaurants, to crossing over from his hometown, San Diego, to Mexico.
Sandoval, who also worked under Rick Bayless when Bayless co-owned Leña Brava in the West Loop, has quietly debuted a series of intimate pop-up dinners for 14 people per session. Entre Sueños, which translates to “between dreams,” features Baja Med cuisine — a term which refers to a blend of Mexican, Asian, and Mediterranean culinary traditions. It’s a culinary movement that caught on in places like Tijuana, Mexico, after World War II and an apt description of Mexico’s immigration patterns. Think dishes like tempura seafood tacos. Sandoval and his team are hosting the pop-ups on Thursdays through mid-November at the RLM Studio event space in Old Irving Park for $195 per person. Due to popular demand, starting on October 21, the pop-up’s capacity will increase to 20 diners.
This is an ambitious project, aimed at customers who want something different. Sandoval explains that Entre Sueños goes beyond typical Baja Med. One of his main influences was his time with Mallmann in Argentina, where Sandoval absorbed the celebrity chef’s love of cooking over live fire. Diners at the pop-up can see that passion at the point in the dinner when they’re invited outdoors to see Sandoval roasting a suckling pig prepared adobo style.
Sandoval admits his dinner is “a little out there” compared to the average dining experience. While he carries a love for traditional cuisines from the countries he’s visited — and says he understands the history behind those dishes — Sandoval says he wanted to push boundaries.
There are 12 courses (give or take), beginning with a welcome cocktail. The first two courses are individually plated and serve as ice breakers, giving the seated guests time to grow comfortable with each other before Sandoval and his crew roll out larger family-style plates like langoustines and whole fish.
“It’s a different kind of service,” Sandoval says. “It’s kind of my style...where I can show off my creative stuff at the beginning.”
Right now, Sandoval plans on continuing the pop-up until at least the second week of November, but he’s hopeful to extend the residency. He also anticipates opening his own restaurant sometime in the future. But he’s in no rush to start planning a new project: “We’re enjoying the process,” he says.