5 Things We Learned About the Zero Degrees Zero Minutes Pop-Up

By Rina Rapuano  |  March 12, 2014

Early last month, DC diners learned of a second pop-up to appear at Darnell’s, which has played host to the pop-up-turned-fixture Blind Dog Cafe for a few years now. The newest concept sharing the space just off U Street NW is an occasional dinner pop-up called Zero Degrees Zero Minutes brought to us by two wd~50 alums: recently returned local boy JJ Basil - who has also worked with famed Charleston chef Sean Brock of Husk; and Chris Wolff, who most recently served as sous chef at Viajante in London.

The pair are hosting six-course intimate dinners for only 12 guests at a time, creating dishes like razor clam with fermented turnip, tofu and pomegranate; stone crab with sunchoke and almond milk; and black bass with chamomile and white beans. The all-inclusive price of $125 (plus an Eventbrite fee of $7.87) also produces a glass of bubbles upon arrival, wine pairings, amuses and petit fours.

Basil and Wolff hope to eventually snag a space where they can create "a very comfortable, very welcoming feeling," says Basil. "The food and service won’t be overbearing; it’ll be nice and relaxing, kind of like being at home but not really."

We talked with Basil about the chefs’ plans for the pop-up and the future, and here are five things we learned.

1. Things aren’t always what they seem: “The most complicated [dish] we have is probably the simplest-looking one, which is our roasted grain [broth] and daikon radish. What we do is take a bunch of root vegetables and treat them in different ways - some we’ll dry and some we’ll ferment. And we’ll use that as a seasoning base for it, and we’ll make four different vegetable broth bases, mix them and season them, and use them with the seasonings we’ve made with the vegetables. It’s just different ways to treat them to get really, really deep flavor out of one thing. … It looks really simple but is quite time consuming. It takes a couple of days - actually, more like two to three weeks.”

2. What’s with the name? “When they planned DC, L’enfent wanted to make a zero milestone marker and originally it would be under the dome of the Capitol. And then in the '40s or '50s when they were trying to push highways in the US, they actually put one up, and it’s right behind the White House. [Actually, it was the '20s, but hey - he’s a chef, not a historian, and we did put him on the spot. Read more here.] So we’re saying it’s our beginning, our starting out point - and it’s part of DC history, so it’s our little nod to DC.”

3. Eating in the name of research: “I really love the ramen at Daikaya. It reminds me of being in Japan. I just had a really nice meal at Rose’s Luxury. You have a lot of Chinese and Taiwanese in Rockville Pike area, Vietnamese in NoVa. The Asian food here is arguably better than New York City. It definitely gives it a run for its money. I really enjoyed the Red Hen, a great neighborhood place to grab a glass of wine and some plates. [The dining scene has] gotten a lot better since I left here [in 1999], that’s for sure.”

4. On the hunt for a permanent space: “It’s been a little difficult because we want to do such a small operation. We’re looking in Ivy City, Petworth, places like that. But you never know. As long as the space it right, I don’t think the location is entirely important. As long as the product you’re putting out is good, people will travel. That’s one good thing about DC - DC and Napa Valley are the only places where destination dining thrives. A lot of people have to come into this city from other places - there are people from Frederick that drive every day to the Pentagon. It’s just kind of ingrained in the culture here, which a great thing. It’s pretty special, actually.”

5. They also wanna have fun: “We’ve got a lot of projects in the works. We just bought a half a cow the other week to age it - maybe we’ll have a big BBQ with it. We want to do some fun things like that, as well. ... You can’t be too serious all the time.”