San Francisco on the Front Burner of Culinary Adventures
Chef’s and Communal Tables Offer Experiential Dining
One of the top reasons visitors flock to San Francisco is the diversity of culinary experiences available. The City has always had a bounty of innovative restaurants. Many restaurants have taken the dining experience a step further by involving diners in first-hand in the preparation of food, or by breaking down barriers and sharing dining experiences with other food lovers.
Chef’s Tables: the Best Seats in the House for Unique Entertainment and Great Food
Once upon a time, the most undesirable seat in a restaurant was near the kitchen. How times have changed. By moving a guest table and adding a few chairs and extra feet into the kitchen, foodies now have the best seats in the house. They can experience a great new meal and enjoy entertainment at the same time.
A chef’s table provides a front-row view of the kitchen’s action. Some restaurants have long had a kitchen table for use by staff members, but it’s only within the last decade that these tables have become sought-after commodities for the dining elite, especially in the food Mecca of San Francisco.
“With the proliferation of the Food Network, everyone knows more about food and they want to see what’s going on,” says Sara Baker, with Faith Wheeler and Company, a marketing and communications company that represents several San Francisco restaurants.
Originally, chef’s tables were reserved for VIPs and special guests, or by invitation only. Annika Stennson with the National Restaurant Association (NRA) believes the trend is growing. “Americans are getting increasingly interested in food, chefs and restaurants and are now seeking more out of their restaurant experience than just great food. Interacting with the chef and seeing kitchen staff at work can be very entertaining and fascinating. I think they used to be available by invitation only because the demand wasn’t there by the general public.”
According to the National Restaurant Association’s “2000 Restaurant Industry Forecast,” 45 percent of adults say that they are interested in full-service restaurants with a lively, entertaining atmosphere. Four out of 10 adults said that they are interested in display cooking where customers can see their meals being prepared.
Kevin Westley, executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, concurs. “The dining public is getting more sophisticated and looking for more unique experiences than just a meal. Overall, people are looking for a dining experience to be more special as the cost of dining goes up.”
“To be in the kitchen and be able to watch someone cook for you is kind of like having a private chef in your home without having to worry about cleaning up,” says Sarah Schafer, executive chef for Frisson restaurant.
For Staffan Terje, executive chef of Perbacco Ristorante and Bar, the chef’s table has provided an opportunity to experiment on a small scale with the fresh food he finds at the nearby Farmer’s Market in San Francisco’s Ferry Building, and create more seasonal, spur-of-the-moment menus. “San Francisco is very ingredient-driven,” he says. “When you’re passionate about something you say, ‘What am I going to do with it?’”
Guests at chef’s tables are the first to sample the creations and provide feedback, which Terje appreciates. “People who sit at chef’s tables are more experimental.”
It’s not only the guests who enjoy a new adventure with food – the chef’s table is great for kitchen staff as well. “It gives them a connection with the guests, which they would not otherwise have,” Terje adds.
Perbacco also partners with “In the Kitchen with Lisa” to extend the concept of behind the scenes in the kitchen. Owner Lisa Rogovin offers a “Shop, Cook, Eat & Dine” experience for $250 per person. She and Terje (and other local chefs) take guests to the Ferry Building’s Farmer’s Market to buy strawberries, figs or other produce and learn where to find seasonal ingredients. The tour is followed by a lunch featuring dishes prepared by the group and supervised by the chef. Depending on the size of the group, the chef may let them segment blood oranges or shave fennel, or he may demonstrate certain kitchen techniques. A wine expert is on hand to pair wines and to help expand guests’ knowledge.
Communal Tables – Finding Friends Among Strangers
The concept has been around for centuries – strangers gather around a communal table to break bread and boundaries together. The age-old concept of sharing a table among strangers is suddenly hip again. Many San Francisco restaurants are incorporating communal tables into their dining rooms.
“The communal table idea has its roots in cultural traditions that sharing a meal with neighbors shows good faith, trust and friendship. It has become popular because it’s a lively, fun and interactive way to dine and meet new people at the same time,” says Stensson of the NRA.
“Some people only eat at the communal table rather than the dining room,” says Doug Washington, partner of Town Hall restaurant. “You don’t feel so pressured to order a full meal and/or linger. It’s easier for groups that have people coming and going. It’s also great for people dining alone. People see everyone interacting with servers and with each other and they like that communal feel – they can see what others are ordering and talk to them about it.”
The Slanted Door has two communal tables, one that is reserved for large groups, while the other allows the popular restaurant to accommodate “walk-ins.” The arrangement puts guests elbow-to-elbow (but with plenty of breathing room) at the casual table, giving them an opportunity to enjoy fine food and lively conversation.
“If we don’t have a large party, we use the communal table for walk-ins,” says Debbie Phan, general manager of The Slanted Door. “People are generally happy to get in [without a reservation]. If they are hesitant at first, nine times out of 10 they end up dining and drinking wine and talking about what to order. They make friends with the people around them.”
The communal table is more than practical, often making a dramatic impression in a dining room. Bushi–tei, one of San Francisco’s Michelin-rated restaurants, features a 16-1/2-foot-long glass and rustic wood table that seats 22. It is the centerpiece of the entire restaurant.
So is the communal table at Asia de Cuba in the Clift hotel. The bar-height tables frame a mirrored runway that intersects into a cross. The table is often booked by business clients ahead of time. “Our communal table is a great conversation piece and an ice-breaker. And it gives the dining room an added dimension,” says Bill Diapoulous, director of food and beverage, Clift/Asia de Cuba.
Communal and chef’s tables offer something novel to foodies craving a different experience that’s not necessarily on the menu. They offer guests the opportunity to not only share great food, but also make connections, whether with the kitchen staff or fellow food lovers in the dining room.
San Francisco Restaurants with Chef’s Tables
Dosa Dosa on Fillmore 1700 Fillmore San Francisco, CA 94115 415-441-3672 Media contact: Contact Rivera Public Relations Phone: (415) 533-0041 www.dosasf.com Media contact: email@example.com
Hyatt Regency San Francisco (For Private Parties) Five Embarcadero Center, San Francisco Phone: 415-788-1234 www.sanfranciscohyattregency.com Media contact: Molly Blaisdell, 925-631-7971
One Market Restaurant Suite 1005 Steuart Tower One Market Plaza, San Francisco Phone:415-814-6441www.onemarket.com Media contact: Kristin Viola, 415-274-2510
Perbacco Ristorante & Bistro 230 California St., San Francisco Phone: 415-955-0663 Media contact: Kristin Viola, 415-274-2510
Terzo 3011 Steiner St., San Francisco Phone: 415-441-3200 www.terzosf.com firstname.lastname@example.org Media contact: Matt Derrick, 415-441-3200
San Francisco Restaurants with Communal Tables
Velvet Room 495 Geary St., San Francisco Phone: 415-929-2300 www.clifthotel.com Media contact: Stacy Alrdich, 415-929-2300 email@example.com
bushi-tei 1638 Post St. at Laguna, San Francisco Phone: 415-440-4959 www.bushi-tei.com Media contact: Tak Matsuba, 415-771-9975
The Slanted Door One Ferry Building, #3, San Francisco Phone: 415-861-8032 www.slanteddoor.com Media contact: Faith Wheeler, 415-775-9773
Town Hall 342 Howard St., San Francisco Phone: 415-908-3900 Faith Wheeler, 415 775-9773
In the Kitchen with Lisa Phone: 415-806-5970 www.inthekitchenwithlisa.com Media contact: Lisa Ragovan
More Recent Articlesview all
Good news for Fillmore Street shoppers and visitors: as previously reported on tablehopper, the former Johnny Rockets space on Fillmore is turning into Glaze Teriyaki.
Shopping during the holidays easily top list as one of the most stressful things to do. In San Francisco, you......more
July 6, 2009 –San Francisco offers many different ways to spice up a Sunday brunch and pair entertainment with good......more