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While Shefi’s newest project won’t focus exclusively on Israeli or Jewish food, EatWith has already hosted several Israeli meals and two challah-baking workshops. This fall, in a project separate from EatWith, Shefi will partner with Lebanese chef Sara Jenkins at the Manhattan restaurant Porsena to create a series of pop-up Middle Eastern dinners.
Perhaps the most exciting element of these pop-ups — other than the extraordinary food — is the diversity of diners. At each meal, guests arrived either as small groups of friends, as couples or alone. These meals, like the pop-up Shabbat, which was served at three long tables, and The Kubbeh Project, where all 15 diners crowded around one long table in a tiny converted coffee shop, are largely served in a communal setting.
The setup generates dialogue among the guests — a rarity in the New York dining scene — about the food, and personal culinary recollections of Shabbat dinners and hummus lunches in Israel.
These meals don’t come without their challenges. Most restaurants stay in business by expertly preparing dishes identical to ones they served the last time a diner tasted them. With pop-ups, that pressure doesn’t exist, but another arises in its place: A dining experience that exists only temporarily must find the right balance of food, theme and atmosphere with no chance for a practice run.
But, when these events succeed, there is a sense that the experience is unique. The location, menu, music and company will never be re-created, making the meal memorable, long after the host packs up shop and moves on.