Michael Schwartz's Pop-Up Ella Brings Vietnamese Flavor to Design District

And the diners lived Happy Ella After. Or at least that's what James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Schwartz is going for at his latest pop-up café, Ella, this Thursday night. The light and airy café in the Design District’s Palm Court will open its doors for prix fixes featuring four courses with pairings selected by wine director Eric Larkee.

"I thought it would be a fun and different thing to do in this space since it's mostly used for daytime," Schwartz says. "Were going to see how this one goes and probably do it again if it's a success."

Diners can expect a Vietnamese-inspired menu, but don't ask Schwartz why he settled on Asian influence, because he's not exactly sure. "I don't have some crazy story about going to Vietnam," he jokes. "I've never been. It just sort of morphed into this, but it's not traditional or authentic Vietnamese cuisine." Schwartz describes the menu as being light and airy, just like Ella. He says the food is meant to play off a summertime feeling, mixing in the brightness and flavors of the Asian cuisine.

The menu includes roasted eggplant with coconut milk, chili paste, toasted garlic, and mint; caramelized and braised kingfish with cucumber and pickled mustard greens; beef cheek with marinated vegetables, crushed peanuts, crisp shallots, aioli, and fish sauce vinaigrette; and mango-coconut rice pudding with macadamia-cardamom wafers. 

There will be two seatings with 28 guests at a time to keep the night and the experience "intimate," Schwartz says. Though tickets are sold out, he's adamant about doing similar dinners in the near future. But don't get your hopes up for another Vietnamese-style night or even a theme in general. He explains, "It's just really about what I feel like writing on the menu." 

For now, Schwartz is concentrating on giving diners a great overall experience because the acclaimed chef doesn't get the chance to cook as often anymore.

"I cook at home a lot, but I thought this would be a nice way to give back, cook, and have some fun," he says. "But I do think this will be more than just about what I’m cooking. I really want to focus on the overall experience, like the smells and feelings and general hospitality."

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Clarissa Buch Zilberman is a writer and editor, with her work appearing in print and digital titles worldwide.
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