It’s a little off-putting to walk into a restaurant and be told that, “tonight’s theme is dumpster diving.” I do try to keep an open mind; I have eaten escargot before (they don’t taste like chicken—they taste like snail). But for me, “dumpster diving” doesn’t call to mind tasteful presentation and delicious food.
At least it didn’t before my dinner at Fortnight last Friday. The theme for the second edition of the buzzed-about pop-up restaurant was indeed “Dumpster Diving,” scrawled across the top of the menu in probably the nicest script ever used to write that phrase. I was mildly skeptical, but Fortnight won me over with a pleasantly pretentious, often bizarre, and uniformly excellent meal.
It takes a lot for a student venture to stand out here, yet despite opening only once every two weeks and serving only 60 guests when it does, Fortnight has become what every group to petition for UOC funding secretly wants to be: a conversation topic, a news event, a campus-wide social smash hit.
Novelty, I think, is part of the allure: the cognitive dissonance of a functional restaurant opening in a dorm basement nearly gave my visiting friend an aneurysm. And Fortnight is, if you were wondering, a functional restaurant, boasting everything a “real” restaurant might (except salad plates, but we’ll get to that). They take reservations, which according to Rumpchat are quite difficult to get; they make you pay a not insignificant sum for your meal, although given the quality it’s well worth it. The servers all wear black and take tips, even if you might have worked on a problem set with the person that’s refilling your water. The whole operation feels distinct from just about anything else your fellow students put on here, because Fortnight’s whole conceit is that it’s not just another student group, but rather a professional endeavor that just happens to be staffed by students. Unlike roommates duty-bound to attend a “jam,” the couples packing the Davenport Dive for Fortnight’s opening service on Valentine’s Day were simply going out to dinner.
If the staff of Fortnight is going to ask us to take them seriously, they have to ask the same of themselves. Rest assured that they do, in a fairly charming way. The menu refers to Fortnight not as a pop-up restaurant, as I had been calling it, but as a “Kitchen Studio.” That new-age “food as art” (it’s a kitchen studio) vibe only gets stronger with themed menus, from last week’s “Dumpster Diving” to Valentine’s Day’s “Stages of a Relationship,” which dictated that waiters pour soup straight at the table to represent falling in love. Maybe it was that same “creative license” that resulted in me cutting through the newspaper tablecloth in an attempt to eat my “Garbage Salad”: in lieu of a plate, I had received wax paper.
Forgive them if it’s a little much at times, for a few reasons. First of all, the impulse that turns soup-pouring into performance art is the same visionary impulse that led to this whole thing even happening in the first place; if Fortnight’s masterminds didn’t feel such a strong sense of mission, there would be no Fortnight. Secondly, half of the fun lies in accepting the conceit that you aren’t in the dive, but rather some quaint Brooklyn bistro that you alone know about. Finally, and most importantly, cut them some slack because the food is excellent. Who cares where they pour the soup if the soup tastes good? So what if they used words like “braised” on the menu if they do, in fact, braise things really well? From my “Garbage Salad” eaten off of wax paper to the deconstructed Oreo dessert, the menu items complemented each other and demonstrated an impressive ability on the part of head chef Lucas Sin, DC ’15, to put together flavors and textures.
I know I’ve written above at length about Fortnight’s desire to be not just another student project, and it’s not. But wanting to go above and beyond a student project is perhaps the essence of an excellent student project: collegiate in the ambitious, professional sense of the word. But there’s another side to college, and Fortnight is also collegiate in the stoned-out-of-your-mind-and-starving-at-3:00 a.m. sense of the word. Their culinary influences are hard to pin down, but I’d venture a guess as to one: the munchies. The “K.F.C.” cauliflower appetizer is garnished with Wenzel dust; the “Cold Pizza” dessert includes “bacon jam,” which I would have thought to be a Grateful Dead song rather than a culinary item.
But Fortnight’s weird side makes for outstanding results, none more so than their “Cold Pizza” desert featuring the aforementioned bacon jam atop a biscuit with honey-ricotta ice cream and candied cherry tomatoes. I wasn’t sure what to make of it at first: was it a dessert? An appetizer that had wandered to the back of the menu? It’s a truly bizarre creation, and the line between inspiration and insanity is a thin one. But like I said, I try to keep an open mind, so I dug into my “Cold Pizza” with gusto, not caring what the hell it was. And it turns out that it was, like everything else on the menu, exquisite. That’s the trick at Fortnight: just go with it. Suspend disbelief, eat with an open mind, dumpster dive: they’ll take care of the rest. Although a salad plate would have been nice.