Friday, December 12, 2008

Restaurant Trend: Kitchen Counter Dining

Along with communal tables, kitchen counter seating is an increasingly popular design element in new restaurants, and one we like when paired with an amiable kitchen staff.

Our first kitchen counter dining experience was at Boulevard, our favorite San Francisco restaurant. At first, we thought we were getting sub-par seats because they were the only ones available to us as walk-ins, but we ended up having an amazing experience. Now, Boulevard isn't exactly fresh to the restaurant scene, but apparently they were ahead of their time.

While there is some value in the open kitchen design itself (we all have a little voyeur in us), to really capitalize on the experience the chefs need to be engaged. When they are, it can make for a remarkable and educational experience.

Conduit's kitchen counter in action
Conduit gets high marks here: Josh, an assistant chef, is always very accommodating and is adroit at juggling questions from patrons along with entrees. Head chef Justin Deering always makes time as well to give some inside scoop on menu changes.

Boulevard's counter staff is not quite as engaging, but you get an up close, in-the-trenches view of a finely-tuned gastronomic machine. When there's downtime the chefs are friendly, and it's simply amazing to watch this team in action. By the way, the guy standing in the middle of the line barking at everyone but not cooking anything? He's the expediter.

A few other counter options in San Francisco include Brick, RNM and Canteen. Brick’s kitchen is the liveliest we’ve seen which makes the dining experience fun, and although it’s a little further removed from the action and not as engaging, RNM is a fine choice.

Inside Tip:
While we’re by no means experts on kitchen counter etiquette, it seems similar to ride-sharing where the chefs will stick to simple conversation (“how’s the food”) unless you engage them. So step up to the plate and ask them about the menu or ingredients, but be mindful that they’re busy.

The Verdict:
We're fans. If you're curious about cooking, learning about seasonal ingredients, and getting inside the process of a professional kitchen, you'll enjoy this dining experience.

Recommended for:
Dinner for two or alone, for curious and social diners

Restaurants with kitchen counter seating in SF on Center'd

No comments: