The chef's table at Osteria is one of a handful of restaurants in Philadelphia that offer very cool behind-the-scenes access to the magic in the kitchen. (Photo courtesy Osteria)
Philadelphia’s amazing restaurant scene never fails to deliver a special experience to diners, but one way to truly take your dining experience to the next level is to indulge in a dinner at one of the handful of chef’s tables that select Philadelphia restaurants offer.
What is a chef’s table? A chef’s table is typically located in the kitchen of a restaurant, which guests can reserve in advance, and usually comes with a special set tasting menu that is prepared and served by the chef.
In Philadelphia, several amazing restaurants offer a chef’s table and the accompanying unforgettable culinary adventure that features delicious tasting menus, personal service from the chef him/herself and other special touches depending on the restaurant.
Here are our top picks for chef’s tables at Philadelphia area restaurants as well as some top picks for chef’s counters…
• Lacroix at The Rittenhouse: For an unofficial lesson in cooking mastery, book the Chef’s Table at this venerated French restaurant. Available for dinner Monday through Thursday, the Chef’s Table offers exclusive seating in the heart of the kitchen for up to seven. You get a lavish tasting menu with up to 12 courses, $165/person.
• Talula’s Table: This is the original, much-hallowed Kennett Square spot of Aimee Olexy, proprietress of Talula’s Garden on Washington Square. Savor the flavors of the season with your friends and family; seating accommodates 8-12 people. Email email@example.com; they’ll help you select a date with two months notice to enjoy an exclusive 8-course feast, $100/person. This “farm table” dinner is the only way to experience Talula’s Table, other than picking up delicious items from the adjoining gourmet market, making it a truly coveted experience. You can also eat at the chef’s table in the kitchen, for 2-8 people, an even more special night.
• Fork Restaurant: Pull up a chair to Fork:etc.’s warm, communal candlelit table and savor the unpredictable but always delightful dishes Chef Feury creates every Wednesday night in Fork:etc. No reservations are required, just an adventurous palate.
• Osteria: This Vetri hot spot located on North Broad offers insider access to the chefs’ action. The “Kitchen Table” offers seating for 8-14, with food served family style.
• Moshulu: Large groups looking for the intimacy of a Chef’s Table best check out Moshulu, the Penn’s Landing-docked ship-turned-restaurant. The 20-seat Chef’s Table, situated in its own room with direct access to the kitchen, is made even more impressive with a gorgeous view of the city from the ship’s top deck.
• Mica: Chef Chip Roman’s Chestnut Hill spot has a chef’s table; it’s for a minimum of six people and a max of ten people (eight people is the preferred amount). They offer a ten-course menu, which is up to the kitchen and price is $120 per person plus alcohol.
Continue reading, below, for a list of places with chefs’ counters, where you can watch the action without the added cost of being served directly by the chef from a special menu. There’s a growing trend in Philly for restaurants to have an open kitchen with seats or stools up front to catch the action.
• Amis: Marc Vetri’s Washington Square West restaurant offers a Chef’s Table, actually a bar. It’s inches away from the finishing station, so you can see and smell every dish being plated.
• Amada: Iron Chef Jose Garces’ Old City tapas spot is impossibly elegant no matter where you sit. The best table in the house, located on the elevated flamenco stage, is enclosed in white muslin curtains. Other adventurous seating areas include the two large wooden tables by the window, standing on a pool of rocks with wooden benches for guests. But for real up-close access to the action in the kitchen, you’ll find the chef’s counter, at the end of the main dining room. With six high chairs, it’s the perfect spot to feast on Chef Garces’ food and his culinary technique.
• A. Kitchen: This recently opened restaurant at AKA Rittenhouse Square, which received a glowing Three–Bell review from Craig LaBan, features flavorful cooking using the best seasonal ingredients; 200+ delicious wines; and choice craft beers. The restaurant features a ten–seat open kitchen so you can watch Chef Bryan Sikora, previously chef–owner of the magical Django and Talula’s Table, work his magic.
• Sampan: A dramatic back-lit wall mural sets the scene for Chef Michael Schulson’s delicious modern Asian food, emerging from the restaurant’s centrally located open kitchen.
• Pizzeria Stella: Eight stools line the bar where the pizza oven and prep area are located, so you can see your delicious pizza being made.
• Route 6: Stephen Starr’s homage to Cape Cod on North Broad has a rising-star chef at its helm; Chef Anthony DiRienzo was named by Restaurant Hospitality magazine as one of their picks for “12 to Watch in 2012.” Make sure you’re watching him by taking a seat at the open raw bar.
• Barbuzzo: The chef’s counter is the best spot to sit in this highly acclaimed Mediterranean resto from power pair Marcie Turney and Valerie Safran. Want a sneak peek of Chef Turney behind the counter doing her thing? Check out this clip from when Rachael Ray stopped by and took a seat at the counter.
• Audrey Claire: One of the most coveted spots to dine at Audrey Claire’s Rittenhouse BYOB is at the open kitchen bar, where you can literally witness your food evolve from fresh ingredients to beautiful plated form.
• Morimoto: At the far end of Iron Chef Morimoto’s sushi stronghold is a sushi bar where you can watch the culinary wizards make rolls and maki and plate sashimi so delicious you’ll surely order thirds.
• Zama: Zama’s sushi bar lets you watch the sushi chefs first-hand, plus gets you as close to the sake and othe
• Bibou: This acclaimed French BYOB offers a two-person bar ideal for an intimate dinner. To really up the ante, try the delectable seven-course tasting menu.
• Sbraga: Believe the hype about this place. It really is just that good. And it’s even more special when you pull up a chair to the chef’s counter to watch Top Chef star Chef Kevin Sbraga do his thing.
• Fish: Mike Stollenwerk’s newly relocated and triply expanded Fish has a special raw bar with stools for a handful of eager oyster eaters. Watch the chefs prep and plate from a few feet away.
• Vedge: Several high-top tables abut the open kitchen (actually one of two kitchens in the restaurant) so you can dine while you observe Chef-Owners (and husband-wife team) Kate Jacoby and Rich Landau at work.
Bonus: Audrey Claire COOK doesn’t exactly qualify as a chef’s table, but this list wouldn’t be complete without it. The innovative kitchen/classroom lets you get up close and personal with some of the city’s most preeminent chefs for a night of instruction followed by a meal. Book a seat online.
Let us know in the comments if you have a favorite chef’s table or counter that we omitted!