Master chefs like to take a few lucky diners on wild culinary journeys. Here’s how to get in on one.
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You’ve been to Per Se. You did the new dining room at Le Bernardin. Picholine was your birthday dinner last year. What now for the restaurant junkie who has hit all the spots and still doesn’t feel as if he’s reached the inner sanctum? Two words: chef’s table. More than just a tasting menu, a chef’s table offers an intimate setting where the cooking is on full display and diners place themselves at the mercy of a master chef.
Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare
You wouldn’t expect to find a three-Michelin-star temple of fine dining on this rather drab block of downtown Brooklyn. (The bingo hall down the street and the correctional facility around the corner set a slightly sketchy tone.) But a few doors down from the Brooklyn Fare grocery store’s main entrance is where chef César Ramirez holds court for 18 lucky guests at Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare. Ramirez, who trained under David Bouley at Bouley and Danube, delivers 15 to 20 courses for $150 per person. Diners sit together at a rectangular stainless steel table. There are no decorations on the walls—just a massive collection of copper cookware hanging over the kitchen’s workstation and the hulking presence of a Molteni stove behind it.
Per the Japanese omakase tradition, there is no menu—you’re in the hands of the chef and his daily whims. Ramirez’s cuisine is a mash-up of French, Italian, and Japanese traditions, with a heavy emphasis on seafood. One of the signature dishes (which admits variations) is an oyster floating on a fruit gelée with a dab of crème fraîche. Another is fried blowfish tail. Still another is a single potato chip miraculously sewn through with a tiny sardine.
Reservations for six weeks ahead are released every Monday. 200 Schermerhorn Street, Brooklyn, 718.243.0050
Chef’s Table at the London NYC
Gordon Ramsay, the brooding Brit with multiple Michelin stars, opened the New York edition of his English restaurant in 2006. If Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen and The F Word didn’t put foodies near enough to the action, the London NYC offers an elevated eight-person chef’s table that’s actually in the kitchen, so patrons can see the drama up close. It’s a distinctly different experience from dining in the elegant calm of the main room, but be advised: If you’re looking for Ramsay’s signature sparks to fly in the kitchen, you likely won’t find them, for Austrian-bred Markus Glocker is the head chef de cuisine.
Glocker creates a bespoke experience based on what’s fresh in the markets. Menus tend to favor the more carnivorous eaters—braised squab, roasted lamb and duck, foie gras, and veal. Features you can always count on are the plentiful cheese and bon bon trolleys toward the meal’s end.
Your price? A mere $1,900 for dinner (eight courses) for the table. Whether it’s a romantic two-top or lively eight-top is up to you. 151 West 54th Street, 212.468.8888
Okay, you don’t need us to tell you about Masa, but have you actually been? With 26 seats and insane demand to fill them, we’re guessing it’s one of the few places left on your list.
The restaurant is divided into three parts: two dining rooms and a bar. The bar is constructed out of a single slab of white Japanese cypress, which gives off an almost ethereal vibe. Without question, sit there, for it is at the bar where (on most nights) you will see Masa Takayama himself working his magic, flanked by his phalanx of bald-headed sushi soldiers. The omakase-style menu, which changes seasonally, features fish flown in fresh from Japan and Alaska. Although you’ve likely eaten many of the creatures served here before—sea urchin, squid, herring, shrimp, eel, tuna, mackerel—you’ve likely not had these varieties or preparations.
There are a few dishes that pop up with regularity: an opulent mound of bluefin tuna belly and osetra caviar, a transcendent white-truffle tempura, and a divine foie gras and lobster shabu-shabu.
10 Columbus Circle, 212.823.9800
Perhaps taking a page out of his protégé César Ramirez’s book, David Bouley has removed 28 seats from his flagship restaurant, Bouley, and created an enclosed eight-seat chef’s table that he’s dubbed Chef’s Pass. Only recently opened to the public, it is the total culinary experience, with a greenhouse full of herbs and vegetables to explore, face time with Bouley, and a 65-inch 3-D television for Skyping with guest winemakers and farmers. (Really.) There are both lunch and dinner seatings, and the food takes its inspiration from Italy and Spain.
From $550 per person, including food and wine and a gift bag. For the Skype experience, there's a $5,000 minimum on food and beverage, plus a $2,000 room fee. This is the newest chef’s table to hit the market, and a reservation here will certainly become one of the most coveted.