Take a Seat at the Country's Best Chef's Tables
The hottest seat in the house at some of America's best restaurants isn't the counter stool overlooking the pastry station or that spacious central booth. It's the four-seater smack-dab in the center of the kitchen.
Across the country, restaurants—often fine dining institutions—offer what's called a kitchen table, which is exactly as it sounds: a table for two or more located feet from the pass.
When Chicago's three-Michelin-star avant-garde culinary temple, Alinea, reopened last summer, co-owner Grant Achatz installed a six-seat, glassed-in kitchen table open to one party of six per evening. Here, executive chef Mike Bagale plates a 16-course tasting menu that changes daily and will set you back $395 a person. And while guests do sample some of the dishes off Alinea's standard tasting menus, Bagale uses kitchen table guests as guinea pigs to test out new plates.
A quick drive away at Achatz's Next, where the tasting menu theme changes every six months, a party of six can book a different glassed-in table and watch executive chef Jenner Tomaska and his team work through the night's roughly 14-to-20-course meal ($285 a person).
Danny Meyer's sleek new American resto, The Modern, added a four-seat kitchen table this past March. Diners sit at a freestanding perched counter and peer directly into executive chef Abram Bissell's white marble-bedecked lair, where he whips together a bespoke $298 eight-course meal for the lucky diners.
And just a bit further downtown, modern French fine dining boîte Gabriel Kreuther likewise provides a kitchen experience. A round table for up to eight commands real estate directly in front of the pass, where Kreuther organizes a list of eats that can run up to 20 courses for $285. But continue on downtown and Cronut king Dominique Ansel will feed you roughly eight courses of dessert at U.P., his after-hours tasting table on the second-floor prep kitchen of his West Village pastry café, Dominique Ansel Kitchen.
At co-owner and master sommelier Bobby Stuckey's lauded Frasca Food and Wine and newly minted Tavernetta, both Italian restos are equipped with kitchen seating. Each table seats up to six diners, and Tavernetta is additionally furnished with two lounge tables overlooking the pasta area. Guests can order à la carte or pick from two prix fixe menus.
Meanwhile down South, Brennan's of Houston in Texas and Commander's Palace in New Orleans both possess prime kitchen seats for a taste of the Big Easy. Brennan's, which claims to have been the country's first restaurant equipped with a kitchen table back in 1991, dishes an ever-changing five-to-seven-course menu for $80 within a semi-glass-enclosed nook that seats up to 12 patrons. At Commander's Palace, the menu ranges from five to 15 courses, and chef Tory McPhail, like Bagale, uses his guests to test plates that may, in the future, end up on the restaurant's menu.
Quality control never tasted so good.
Kat Odell, a freelance food and travel writer, is the author of Day Drinking. Follow her on Instagram at @kat_odell.
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