Tapas the Pop(up)s
What do Mick Jagger and this week's Dandelion chef have in common? They both studied accounting before finding their true passion.
While Mick only lasted a year at the London School of Economics before being lured into a career in devil music by his pals Keith Richards and Brian Jones, Carlos Mendez has been able to apply his skills throughout his career, as the owner of Omaha restaurants Little España and Au Courant.
"I graduated from university in Venezuela in 2000, and came to America in 2002," says Carlos. While learning English as a second language and studying business here, he began waiting tables at España in Benson. When the opportunity to buy the restaurant came up in 2008, Carlos jumped at it, filling the menu with dishes his Madrid-born grandmother used to make.
Little España opened in Rockbrook Village in 2014, and Carlos shuttered the Benson location last fall to open Au Courant with Chef Ben Maides in its place. "Ben is one of my best friends, and I have always been his number one fan at the various restaurants he's worked at," says Carlos. "One day, over a scotch, we said that it was time to bring something new to Benson and, six months later, Au Courant was open."
In true pop-up spirit, the Au Courant menu is ever-changing, focusing on fresh seasonal ingredients. "People get used to going to a restaurant and ordering the same thing all the time -- that's exactly what Au Courant is not. You can come, and two weeks later come back, and you're going to find a different menu with new things you'll love. At a reasonable price."
Au Courant is generally pan-cultural, without a heavy Spanish influence, so Carlos is excited about the opportunity to experiment a little with traditional Spanish flavors at Dandelion. "I try to keep the menu at España as authentic as possible, so doing Dandelion is giving me a chance to play a little," he says.
But gluten-free eaters who revel in all the options they find at Little España (Carlos estimates that 75 percent of his menu fits a gluten-free diet), will find just as much to love about today's Dandelion -- from empanadas to paella (meat and veg) to tres leches cake, the whole kit and caboodle is g-f.
I'll be going down with my friend, Maria, who loves tres leches cake, and our two babies (who probably will, too) Hope to see you there!