Stephen Sandoval says his travels — 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 in San Diego over to Mexico — have led him to this point in his career.
Sandoval, who also worked under Rick Bayless — when the esteemed chef co-owned Leña Brava in West Loop — has quietly debuted an intimate pop-up dinner series 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 an apt description of Mexico’s immigration patterns and a culinary movement that has caught on in places like Tijuana, Mexico post World War II. Think dishes like tempura seafood tacos. Sandoval and his team are hosting pop-ups on Thursdays through mid-November at the RLM Studio event space in Old Irving Park for $195 per person.
This is an ambitious project for customers who want something different. Sandoval explains that Entre Sueños goes beyond Baja Med, it’s “very much a story of my travels and where I cooked.” One of those destinations includes Argentina, where Sandoval worked at one of Mallmann’s restaurants, where the celebrity chef’s love of cooking over live fire was transferred to Sandoval. Diners at the pop-up can see that passion in how they’re invited outdoors to see Sandoval roasting a suckling pig prepared adobo style. Due to popular demand, starting on October 21, they’ll increase capacity to 20 diners.
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), and diners begin their experience with a welcome cocktail. The first two courses servers bring are individually plated. Those two courses 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 lagonstines and whole fish.
“It’s a different kind of service,” Sandoval says. “It’s kind of my style, a little to show off where I can do my creative stuff in 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 sees a future of opening his own restaurant. But he’s in no rush to start planning a new project: “We’re enjoying the process,” he says.