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Tables—Turned Up

Tables—Turned Up

From roving floral carts with customized bouquets to the classic bananas Foster, these tableside presentations are works of art.

For many diners, a chef or general manager making the effort to drop by their tables is the one special moment that convinces them of peak service in their dining experience. And if the food preparation itself also partially takes place at their table? That’s just next level.

While many restaurants have some element of tableside preparation or plating, it’s typically reserved for soups, salads and prime beef. But a few establishments have evolved their tableside presentations further, bringing that ineffable combination of theatrics and personalized attention to signature dishes beyond prime rib and Caesar salad.

“If you think back in the last 15 years, restaurants became chef dominated and the chefs did not want to relinquish control of their food to the servers in the dining room,” says Christian Pendleton, general manager of New Orleans landmark Brennan’s. He credits Thomas Keller’s splashy tableside service at the new TAK Room in New York for inspiring a rebirth of likeminded service at high-end restaurants in the likes of Chicago, D.C. and New York.

In New Orleans, however, it never fell out of favor. Brennan’s has been preparing each bananas Foster tableside—with charisma and care—since the restaurant invented the dish in 1951.

“One of the things people enjoy about New Orleans dining is its theater,” explains Pendleton. “It’s a party. [For] some of these other cities, as great as the food is, it’s become almost a cold environment. Tableside allows for interaction; it demands the interaction and demands the entertainment.”

Pendleton makes a point to say that tableside service does not have to be complicated in order to be impactful. It’s about “the artistry behind the act.” If you approach the simple act of making a French press coffee with enthusiastic artistry, it will be memorable, he adds.

Here are some grand examples, if you’re in need of a little inspiration.

Baldwin & Sons, Boston

The construction of a craft cocktail isn’t necessarily a show on its own, but when bartenders are expert with fire and ice, as the ones at Baldwin & Sons, jaw-dropping moments are guaranteed. Mother of Dragons, for example, is presented in a “dragon” egg. And though the menu always changes, there’s always a large-format cocktail presented with tableside flourish, such as being presented on dry ice to create a smoky, swirling misty, magical, creatures-inspired effect.

Brennan’s, New Orleans

When it comes to decadent, over-the-top meals, New Orleans always delivers with flair. Brennan’s outdoes the competition—especially when it comes to its signature dessert creation. The bananas Foster isn’t just finished tableside, but it’s impeccably made from scratch, leading up to a triumphant flambé moment. It harkens back to another era, making even seasoned epicureans rave, “It’s so impressive and old school.”

General manager Christian Pendleton believes that each server’s attitude of enthusiasm is what creates the flair, because the dish itself is quite simple to make, with only five ingredients.

“The trick with all our tableside service is making it special to the guest every time you do it,” explains Pendleton. “We make hundreds of bananas Foster a day and must always remind the staff that it may be the 50th they’ve made that day, but it’s the first for the guest. And that guest deserves every bit of pomp and circumstance.”

Machine: Engineered Dining & Drink, Chicago

Instead of food, it’s a floral cart roving the dining room of this brand-new Wicker Park restaurant/florist hybrid. “Build your own bouquet” is an actual menu choice, and what a brilliant interactive activity it is for diners in the in-between stage when food is ordered, cocktails are served and anticipation would otherwise turn into impatience. (Or, for those special occasions when flowers should have been bought beforehand.)

ROC Restaurant, Louisville

Cacio e pepe contains few ingredients, but this deceptively complicated Roman pasta takes precision in the pan. Tuesday nights at ROC, an entire pasta station, including a tree stump-sized Pecorino cheese wheel, comes into the dining room. Servers and owner Rocco go table-to-table to present a cacio e pepe pasta tableside experience that’s fiery, melty and finished with shaved truffles.

Toro Toro, Miami

Traditionally, red meat gets the tableside carving treatment, but in Miami, roast pork reigns. Thanks to Cuban and Brazilian influence, there’s an opportunity to get a 32-ounce, Puerto Rican-style Chuleta Kan Kan (double-cut pork chop, ribs and pork belly) carved tableside and presented on a platter. This is a serious slab of meat, which comes with different tangy accompaniments, including tomatillo, kimchi and cilantro sauce that balance out the rich, fattiness of the pork.

“When we bring it over to the table, the monster, 32-ounce pork chop comes out sizzling on a skillet,” describes Executive Chef Jean Delgado, who found inspiration for this dish in his native Puerto Rico. He elevated the presentation to fit his dining room, but notes that it has traditional roots.

“It’s an immediate head-turner for everyone dining in the restaurant,” he says. “Diners are always taking out their phones for photos and videos.”

tables turned up ROC
ROC Restaurant, Louisville

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  • Author: Lena Katz
  • Posted: June 03, 2019
  • Categories: Trending Now