The Tasting Panel magazine

April 2015

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 92 of 140

92  /  the tasting panel  /  april 2015 W hen I was a teenager growing up in Westchester County, north of New York City, my favorite dining out experience was a village luncheonette that I would frequent on Saturdays to sit on a swiveling stool at the counter and commune with my favorite grilled peanut butter and bacon sandwich. In those days, for special occasions, my parents would take me to more formal places where we would sit at a white draped table and be served by a deferential staff. This, of course, was considered a much more civilized way to dine. It wasn't until I started making frequent trips to Japan that I realized this thinking was all wrong. In fact, the opposite was true: Dining at the counter was the most civilized dining experi- ence of all. Take your favorite sushi restaurant. Wouldn't you rather sit at the bar rather than at a table? The table dilutes the experience. At the bar, you are involved in the theater of preparation as the sushi master puts his years of careful training on display. His artfully choreographed movements are a form of performance art. This is why most of Japan's best restaurants—even the ones with three Michelin stars and a $300 menu—put their chefs on display. They are not working in a kitchen hidden behind a closed door. In a traditional table service restaurant, your only contact is with a server whose relationship to the food he or she brings to the table is purely coincidental. There's a good chance your server is an out-of-work actor temporarily carrying plates and topping wine glasses between roles. In the Japanese-style establishment, you are watching the actual chef prepare your food. There is a primary connection. You are able to make eye contact. It is a thoroughly more personal and complete dining experience. The advent of the "open kitchen" in the 1980s certainly made significant strides towards breaking down the walls that locked the chef away from the people he or she was feeding. With the open kitchen you could see the cooks at work, but there was still no true connection. In Japan, counter service is not limited to sushi restaurants. Places specializing in tempura, in ramen, in yakatori, in eel, in fugu and in elaborate, multiple-course kaiseki feasts all use the form. The hottest restaurant in New York these days is Shoku, a 20-seat counter that offers a 25-course kaiseki dinner that includes sushi and cooked dishes such as squab and beef ribs. Eating at a counter may take some getting used to for those wedded to table dining. Actually, it is especially appropriate for people eating alone or with one or two others. Aside from its benefits as a more immersive dining experience, there is also a very practical application: Many times in very popular restaurants while you may have to wait a long time for your table, there is immediate seating at the bar or counter. Go for it! K N O R T W X B I L OPTING FOR A MORE INTIMATE DINING EXPERIENCE by Anthony Dias Blue Counter Intelligence

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of The Tasting Panel magazine - April 2015