Photo courtesy of iStock/Serge_Bertasius
With the recent release of season three of Chef's Table on Netflix, now’s the time to reveal chef’s table secrets across the US.
The chef’s table trend started more than a decade ago, but has recently picked up speed thanks to America’s growing food obsession and the Netflix series with its worldwide scope.This list, in alphabetical order, sticks closer to home with 10 out-of-the-spotlight chef’s table restaurants as recommended by local food gurus.
1. 140 Supper Club | Boston
You'll need a secret password to get into 140's chef's table — Photo courtesy of Fairmont Copley Plaza
It’s no secret that Boston shines at cuisine, but this speakeasy-style chef’s table keeps a very low profile.
“People make friends here and open up in a way that doesn't happen at a regular meal in a restaurant,” says Kim Foley MacKinnon, a journalist with a focus on food and travel. “Much more than just a dinner, this small once-a-month event only has room for 30 people. People dress up and it's very social and fun. You need a password to enter, and it all feels very special.”
Executive Chef Laurent Poulain designs the four-course prix fixe menu using seasonal products in inventive American dishes with paired wines. He introduces each course and, at the end, joins guests in the private dining room, which hides behind a secret door and down a century-old staircase at Fairmont Copley Plaza.
2. Alba | Des Moines
Chef Joe Tripp talks to chef's table guests at Alba — Photo courtesy of Michael Zamora/The Register
Occupying a former art deco car dealership, Alba exhibits a lighted, curvy, high-top chef’s table that takes a front-row seat for Chef Joe Tripp’s artful twists on traditional American cuisine.
“Chef Tripp's food is admirably seasonal with the freshest, best produce in summer, and heartier grains, root vegetables, and house-preserved specialties – gooseberry capers, for instance – in winter,” said Wini Moranville, restaurant reviewer for Des Moines’ dsm Magazine. “The tasting menu is the more thrilling option, as this is where this immensely talented young chef is more apt to showcase the newest ideas and products he's currently most excited about.”
The tasting menu consists of five to seven courses, or chef’s table guests can order directly from the regular menu. “Chef Tripp's food brings sparkle and energy at every turn, and witnessing how he and his team achieve that with such precision and gracefulness in such a small kitchen is always exciting.”
3. Blood & Sand | St. Louis
Intimate table at Blood & Sand — Photo courtesy of Susan Katzman
Although it’s a hidden, members-only restaurant with a $15 monthly fee, Blood & Sand invites the public for a one-time trial run sans fee, plus the option of choosing the chef’s table experience.
“Hands down, Blood & Sand presents the most personalized chef’s table program in the city – if not the whole Midwest,” said Susan Katzman, seasoned food writer and blogger. “The chef’s table is actually a spacious, gracious seating for two at a closed-off end of a long counter overlooking the busy kitchen.”
Chef David Rosenfeld likes to begin the experience several days ahead of time with email communications and questions about food preferences, which allow him to tailor a menu to specific tastes. The result? Eight courses of “new American food with worldly influences” paired with craft cocktails and boutique wines.
4. Boca, Cincinnati
The chef's table at BOCA peeks into the kitchen — Photo courtesy of Julie Niesen Gosdin
Cincinnati is becoming a hotbed for chef’s tables, says Julie Niesen Gosdin, editor of wine me, dine me, and Boca is one of the hottest. The experience lets up to seven diners peek in on the kitchen’s action nightly.
“It's a bird's-eye view perfect for any foodie who wants to see how a kitchen operates,” says Gosdin.
Guests order from Chef Jeremy Lieb’s seasonal, Italian-accented menu as chefs steal moments from their busy routine to explain dishes, make suggestions and offer tastes of what they’re preparing. Gosdin recommends specialties such as pommes souffles or scallops and Brussels sprouts.
5. Frasca Food & Wine | Boulder, Colo.
Table for two kitchen-side at Frasca — Photo courtesy of Julia Vandenoever
If you’ve eschewed in-kitchen chef’s tables for fear of noisiness, this one is for you, says Claire Walter, food writer and blogger.
In a wide corridor leading into the kitchen, guests can see what is going on. “In spite of being busy, Frasca staff at all levels answer questions, perhaps show an ingredient that is to go into a dish, etc.,” she says.
Guests have a choice between a four- and seven-course tasting menu with various options for each course and the availability of a wine flight add-on for the seven-course meal. The same regional, Italian prix fixe menus are available in the dining room.
Alumni of Napa Valley’s legendary The French Laundry, owner-sommelier Bobby Stuckey and owner-chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson "have brought that high standard of food and service” out of the California limelight to Boulder’s burgeoning restaurant scene.
6. Gan Shan Station | Asheville, N.C.
Gan Shan Station gives you a front-row seat — Photo courtesy of ExploreAsheville.com
“Chef [Patrick] O'Cain is very present and knowledgeable, but affable and disarming,” says Mackensy Lunsford, who writes about food for the Asheville Citizen-Times and other publications. “No question is too silly. Or too complex. He's happy to discuss the provenance of his ingredients and why he chose them.”
The chef’s table is available for two to six people, who have the vantage point to observe as much (or little) as they wish of what is happening in the kitchen. Local seafood and market ingredients define the Gan Shan Station tasting, designed by O’Cain to showcase his pan-Asian style and accommodate any dietary restrictions.
“Gan Shan Station's chef's table is ridiculously priced – and I mean that in a good way,” said Lunsford. “Our table got to enjoy about 10 different incredible dishes, some tiny and elaborate. There was a whole fish, some lovely vegetable preparations and spectacular noodles – all for just $45 per person.”
7. Hot and Hot Fish Club | Birmingham, Ala.
The chef's table is crescent-shaped at Hot and Hot Fish Club — Photo courtesy of Hot and Hot Fish Club
A half-moon-shaped slab of limestone frames the open kitchen at Hot and Hot Fish Club, separating it from the main dining room to create the chef’s table. Guests can reserve all 12 seats or join others as they enjoy the sights, sounds and wonderful aromas, says Jan Walsh, publisher of BirminghamRestaurants.com.
The chef-driven, farm-to-table menu features local, seasonal, organic, non-GMO, sustainable ingredients; staff suggest wine pairings and cocktails made in-house from seasonal, regional products.
“Watching Chef [Chris] Hastings, his chefs and cooks execute dinner is like watching a well-oiled machine,” says Walsh. “Each person has a role and performs it to perfection. [Hastings] shares which local and regional products are used with details of where the food came from. He also shares flavor profiles of the dish, explaining why he put ingredients together.”
8. The Pearl, Nantucket, Mass.
A picket fence leads to The Pearl's chef's table — Photo courtesy of The Pearl
“In a perfect world, this would be the only table,” says co-owner Angela Raynor of The Pearl’s 12-person chef’s table.
“Angela is in charge of giving guests the 411 as to what will happen and when,” said local food and travel writer Sandy McDonald. "Then either she or [husband and chef] Seth emerge to announce each course and explain its origin and inspiration.”
For the chef’s table, the Raynors have designed several set menus of their signature contemporary coastal cuisine at various price points. Guest input is welcomed. They enter the table’s garden courtyard porch via the kitchen and can spectate through a wall of mullioned windows.
9. Pressroom | Bentonville, Ark.
Celebrate a special occasion at the Pressroom's tasting — Photo courtesy of Pressroom
“Chef [Michael] Robertshaw and his team at Pressroom are driving the food scene in Northwest Arkansas forward,” said Greg Henderson, publisher of Rock City Eats and NWA Eats. “His Pacific Coast background merged with the farm-driven culinary culture of the state brings the best of both worlds together, something that really shines on a multi-course tasting chef's menu.”
Let the gregarious chef plan your multi-course meal or make specific requests ahead of time. Henderson recommends two weeks in advance. The experience is also available during the restaurant’s special wine dinners if you ask early. Guests have a partial view of the kitchen and can watch as food gets plated.
The chef’s table “provides a unique sense of intimacy with the food and Chef Robertshaw,” says Henderson. “His personality shines through plating, his passion for cooking and his hospitality.”
10. Sea Salt | Naples, Fla.
It's all in the details at Sea Salt Naples — Photo courtesy of Chelle Koster Walton
Up to 11 courses, 130 different flavors of salt and the mastery of two chefs define this exceptional degustation. Venice-born chef-owner Fabrizio Aielli moved to relatively small-town Naples following the success of his Washington, D.C., restaurants. Along with Chef de Cuisine Jason Goddard, he creates a customized menu, greets guests and regales them with anecdotes about his food.
Guests sit just off the Sea Salt kitchen, “within view of the open kitchen, but not so close that you get roasted by the heat,” said Karen Feldman, a restaurant critic for Florida Weekly. “You can see the chefs scurrying about making food and see some of the food prep, although not the finer details.”
Chef Aielli brings his signature brand of artful Venetian world cuisine to the chef’s table, using seasonal ingredients from local organic farms and gulf waters, and imports.
“While I typically let the chef feed me whatever he decides to conjure up, he will consult with customers ahead of time and cater to their tastes,” says Feldman. “I prefer to be surprised, and I like to let him turn loose his creative spirit.”