The West |

The Pop-Up Restaurant

by J. Ryan Stradal

edited by Mathew Timmons


We admit it. Like almost all of you, we here at Spice Rack have never eaten at a restaurant called “The Pulitzer.” We’ve never tried what Food Source calls a “Grand Marnier and orange zest crème brulee that’s like a double fake orgasm while dry-humping a Cara Cara tree.” Or their “small plate of bacon-wrapped kale in pomegranate truffle oil” that apparently has “the flavor intensity equal to a motorcycle driven by a grizzly bear on fire, if the grizzly bear was made of bacon-wrapped kale.”

We hate to throw anyone under the food truck here, but we suspect the writers from Food Source, like most everyone else, had never eaten at The Pulitzer and were just trying to fit in with the other food bloggers and reviewers who also claimed they had. Let us here at Spice Rack, with our three James Beard Award nominations for accuracy in food writing, set the example.

The expansion of dubious information, both on the Internet from blogs like Food Source, and in print from once-reputable magazines like Breakfast For Dinner Quarterly, have made the truth increasingly elusive. We don’t know which publication first reported about The Pulitzer’s rumored lambskin vellum menu, written with Nano-Carbon archival ink. Nor do we have a goddamn clue which food critic first told the world about how their specially weighted Palladium alloy forks felt like a sixth digit when held correctly. Nor have we managed to find the vegan meatloaf recipe that’s apparently been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. In fact, it’s already impossible now to discern who among us actually crossed the transom of The Pulitzer, and a visit to the former restaurant’s physical address on Rose Avenue in Venice, California, will, as ever, only deepen the ambiguity.

Rose Avenue, a street of near-great mom-and-pops mixed with laundromats and beloved old-school Mexican joints, still hadn’t, after over a decade of promises, become the next Abbot Kinney Boulevard, its world-famous and almost completely gentrified neighbor a mile south. Then came the nearly overnight construction of a modern structure with distressed glass windows and signage that read “The Pulitzer” in a charismatic sans-serif typeface (Knockout No. 29, by Hoefler & Frere-Jones). Add on the 24-hour misting system for a plot of land that contained no grass or trees—which poured 134.4 gallons of water onto the sidewalk every day—and the place inspired extraordinary speculation before it was even open.

“The concrete and aerogel-insulated walls had an r-value of 250 and took over a year to build," Breakfast For Dinner Quarterly reported.  “Is The Pulitzer an elaborate in-joke by hobbyist sub-contractors and fly-by-night civil engineers? Or, as some property owners on Abbot Kinney call it, the weeping thorn of Rose Avenue?”

These questions did not disappear even after The Pulitzer quietly opened on a Wednesday morning last June. The first confirmed meals were served to day laborers, in partial payment for clean windows. We’ve since found two of them, who claim that this meal, a cold beet borscht served with watercress spanakopita, was “pretty nice.”

Three weeks later, rumors grew of a new culinary force in the 310. Couples with Baby Bjorns would walk past The Pulitzer and say, “I hear that place is pretty good,” and not remember who told them that. One could sense that the power eaters of the Los Angeles food scene were already having their people make reservations.

And then, on a Friday in mid-July, The Pulitzer was closed.

A sign on the door, written in 72-point Impact Bold, said “We’re Done,” and the message couldn’t be clearer. Rebar was arc welded over every door. Every fixture and piece of furniture had vanished. Where the maitre’d podium had been, a pack of one-eyed, three-legged dogs harrumphed in a circle around a stack of ham bones piled on an old Sports section. The only cheery note was that the 24-hour misting system had been torn out, and the volunteer flowers and weeds it had brought to life were replanted in small clay pots, free for the taking.

For the next few days, The Pulitzer the restaurant was simply a place that locals regretted never getting around to trying. Yelp had three reviews when it closed (averaging three and a half stars) and Trip Advisor had two (averaging a four out of five). We tried to locate the critics who went by names like “Man-Tastic” and “Kobe4ThaWin,” but received no replies to repeated emails. Either way, the city began to talk.

First came an agonized cry from Maple Shimizaki, author of the hit “grief memoir in recipes” Escape From Raisins, and whose Tumblr of “after” pics of her meals has been optioned as a pilot with Michael Stipe attached. She had planned to reserve the entire restaurant just for herself on August 1st, and over the course of the day, eat everything on the menu. She has since claimed that if that desire came to pass, she never would’ve taken a meal in public again, because every aspect of the experience would’ve been too indescribably breathtaking.

Others whose breath was not taken found it within themselves to describe The Pulitzer with great alacrity. Within weeks, the relevant social media bulged with stories about how the The Pulitzer staff hand-made their placemats with pulp from sustainably grown Douglas fir saplings and how they sourced conflict-free Palladium for their ergonomic flatware.  Conspiracy theorists focused on how The Pulitzer was open for exactly one lunar cycle. Everyone claimed to have been a regular.

In response, a team of statisticians at UCLA ran the numbers. They discovered that during the month that The Pulitzer was open, it could have only sat, at maximum, 976 people, assuming full capacity during business hours and a turnover interval of approximately 75 minutes. Anyone who ever walked by The Pulitzer while it was open would remember that this was never the case. Charitable estimates put the likely number of total The Pulitzer diners in the low 500s.

Yet this doesn’t explain how Yelp now has 3,162 reviews (and counting) for The Pulitzer, 3,158 of them being five stars and quite effusively so, or how Urbanspoon’s server crashed under the weight of web traffic for one review of a single restaurant which had closed with no apparent hope of re-opening. By the first of May, everyone in Los Angeles County with disposable income and epicurean friends was keening over the demise of The Pulitzer.

Food Source wrote, “Sure, The Pulitzer would’ve been the world’s only 4-star Michelin Restaurant. How do we know this? Delicious is too naive an adjective for this level of sensory profusion. Before you touched their food to your lips, you agreed on a safe word. Their chicken satay literally double-penetrated my tongue, impregnated my taste buds, and thrust a breach birth of flavor into my willing but unprepared throat. If I was bawling at the table, it was because, as John Cougar Mellencamp said, it hurt so good. By the time I finished swallowing, I knew I would never have it like this again.”

Breakfast For Dinner Quarterly also seemed to enjoy their time at The Pulitzer, writing, “It’s a gross understatement to say that their blueberry sorbet recalibrated the expectations of my alimentary canal. For the next 96 hours, after leaving The Pulitzer, I vomited or shat out everything else I ate within ten minutes, except for the blueberry sorbet. When the time finally came, I curled up on the floor of the bathroom, pulled my J. Crew trousers to my ankles, held the shower curtain against my face, and felt something like 400-thread count Egyptian cotton gently spooling from my anus. I couldn’t eat for a week; I lost 15 pounds and an eyebrow. But I’m all right. Good God, I’m all right.”

Some food lovers, agitated over their inability to share this experience, followed one possible chain of causality to its source. Junior VP for Svalbard North American Holdings Olaf Torgerson wasn’t even aware that a restaurant existed on one of his company’s properties; when pressed, he admitted that he’d thought “The Pulitzer” was a morose and understated Lilly Pulitzer boutique. On the last day of April, Torgerson’s 2007 Honda Fit burst into flames. Torgerson blamed “extremist food bloggers,” but so far there have been no suspects, and that model year was notoriously combustible.

And still. Before any plausible person could answer whether The Pulitzer the person was a woman or man, an American or European, a Laker fan, or Clipper fan, or Laker hater, or Clipper hater, The Pulitzer the restaurant was gone. 

We here at Spice Rack, which is recognized not just for being a five-time Bloggie Award semi-finalist, but a demonstrated paragon of integrity, have only two verified clues. The first came from The Pulitzer’s prep and line cooks. They won’t give their names; they call themselves Ralph Nader and Kathie Lee Gifford. They said they were hired by a headhunter named Timoteo Urbina, and never met anyone named Johnson.

But they tell us a woman in a yellow polo shirt and cargo shorts sat in an Aeron chair at the end of the hot line and wept, all day, every day. She didn’t speak and her fingernails were bitten away. They called her “La Llorona de la Cocina.”

A sous chef named Handalf gathered her tears in an atomizer and sprayed them on everything that left the kitchen. He was ordered to do this, but he was also told that the woman would not give her tears willingly, and she did not. Often there was biting and rending of garments. One time there was a circumstance that some countries would define as sex. Afterwards, Handalf died, or ran away, or ran away and died. From that point on, Ralph and Kathie collected the tears in a drip tray placed at La Llorona’s feet. One day, she quit crying, kissed the entire kitchen and floor staff on the eyelids, and drew pictures of nuclear families on all of the used placemats. It is said that everyone who was at The Pulitzer that evening, customer and staff, went home and held their children until they fell asleep. The next day The Pulitzer closed forever, and, Food Source, once again paraphrasing John Cougar Mellencamp, wrote, “life goes on, long after the thrill of eating is gone.”

The final clue came about two hours ago. A long-empty commercial property on Sunset Boulevard in Echo Park has just been sold. One of the senior editors of Breakfast For Dinner Quarterly seduced a clerk in the city zoning office to get a look at the signature on the building permit. You can guess what it said. The restaurant doesn’t have a name, or menus, or even a single employee, but the property’s mixed-use appraisal form is currently rated five stars by nineteen users on Yelp. I think we’re done here.