Guests at The Blank Table’s July dinner at Seaport Village enjoyed Icon Ranch Australian striploin wagyu. PHOTO BY HANNAH BERNABE
Chef Frederick Keller and Alexandria Ott’s underground dinner series, The Blank Table, is transforming San Diego’s culinary culture by forging community.
In 2019, communications pro Alexandria Ott teamed up with chef Frederick Keller—a longtime friend whom she met at Coronado Middle School—to launch a secret dinner party in the backyard of a gym in Pacific Beach. “We had about 15 to 20 people and made some mistakes but noticed the response from the crowd was amazing,” says Ott. “There is such a strong sense of community that is forged at each dinner. No matter where you come from or what has happened in your life, you find deep connection with the people at your table when you have a few hours to sit down with them, share stories and pull back the layers we walk around with all day. There is a vulnerability that takes over that you wouldn’t get going to a restaurant.”
A sleek black and white table design nodded to this dinner’s setting at airport Hangar 858 PHOTO BY HANNAH BERNABE
The Blank Table (theblanktablesd.com) dinner series evolved from there, attracting creatives, culture fans and travel buffs with an appreciation for curation and the element of surprise. “There are a few other companies in San Diego doing pop-up dinners, but The Blank Table is about showing up to the unknown,” says chef Keller, who hails from Napa Valley’s Martini House and Chicago’s Roka Akor. “You don’t know the location until the night before. You don’t know the menu until you arrive. There is a sense of adventure that has attracted a sold-out crowd every time.”
The pair opt for unconventional venues, from Mission Hills Nursery to a vintage car garage, and this season, collaborate with To Be Designed creator Jillian Ziska on the concepts. For a recent dinner at new private airport hangar Hangar 858, Ziska nodded to the space with a sleek black and white design featuring clean geometric shapes and lines. Next, a dinner hosted at Adams Avenue Theater in Normal Heights channeled The Phantom of the Opera with velvet textures, tall candles and a moody soundtrack. “Our guests were the very first to get to see this historic space before it opens to the public this fall,” Ott says. “To be in an iconic home that once saw Iggy Pop, Red Hot Chili Peppers and others perform in the ’80s was truly magical.”
A crispy wonton filled with purple pomme puree and miso crema topped with imperial caviar kicked off the meal at Adams Avenue Theater PHOTO BY HANNAH BERNABE
Keller’s five-course menus are inspired by his travels. “We’ve experimented with dishes from all over the world with an array of flavors, textures and combinations,” he says, citing recent seasonal favorites such as a crispy pancetta salad with confit edamame and grilled peaches, and a sea bass with charred onion soubise and butternut squash espuma. As the concepts and sizes of the events have grown—“We are currently hosting around 50 people per dinner,” Ott notes—so have the partnerships. For this season’s six monthly ticketed dinner parties, a portion of proceeds support Feeding San Diego, and cocktails are curated by top local mixologists and bars including Verbena Kitchen, Seven Grand and Starward Whisky’s Sean O’Connell.
A Starward whiskey cocktail accompanied the second course at the Seaport Village dinner. PHOTO BY HANNAH BERNABE
With people craving connectivity and community more than ever, the team aspires to do a few dates in cities like Portland and Chicago. However, they’re closing the season out strong in their hometown. Their Sept. 22 event will include delicious fall ciders from Lara Worm of Bivouac Ciderworks, and their Oct. 20 dinner, featuring “the best of San Diego,” is completely under wraps. They hint, “October is the season finale and we aren’t holding back on this one.”