As we head into the holiday season, there is a renewed sense to seek community and connect with others. A communal dining experience can be a lively, interactive way to share a meal. Whether your plans include finding a place to gather around a table with a group of friends or family, or you want to venture out to meet new dining companions, consider booking one of these tables meant to be shared.
VIDEO: Chef Gabriel Woo of The Barn Kitchen at Sparrows Lodge explains how rubbing elbows to pass shared plates of food creates a unique and interactive dining experience.
Chef Gabriel Woo of The Barn Kitchen at Sparrow Lodge is prepping for the weekly Wednesday communal dinner as I catch him in the kitchen peeling Yukon Gold potatoes and pulling a sheet pan of roasted spaghetti squash from the oven. He has been the chef since The Barn Kitchen first opened its doors in 2015. Woo explains that, “the idea of hosting communal, family-style, dinners came from the owners, who hosted these gatherings in their own home.”
Roasted Chicken is the Wednesday staple, but Woo changes up the spices and herbs used for the rub and has a “special brine” that is used to keep the birds juicy and flavorful. Saturday night dinners feature some form of steak, ranging from NY strip to prime rib, rib-eye, or flank steak. Woo says the steak sauce made in-house is a “secret” that is “more like a mole sauce — it probably has 30 ingredients.”
Side dishes rotate and vary depending on seasonal ingredients and what can be sourced from local farms. Above the stove, a variety of spices and herbs from a local purveyor, Savory Spice Shop, line the shelf. Above the oven, a large bag of Joshua Tree Coffee Company Organic Espresso further emphasizes a commitment to local sourcing.
Diners at the weekly dinners are greeted with hummus and a glass of champagne before being invited to sit at the long table, seating up to 24. Name placards listing the last names of dining companions and menus tucked into napkins on plates welcome guests to their place at the table. The cost is $45 per seat.
Woo says he has noticed a pattern of, “guests who return because they are looking for this sense of community in a dining experience. People like it because they can interact. It isn’t unusual for people to share cell phone numbers by the end of a meal.”
PHOTO BY LORI COHEN-SANFORD
The table is set for sharing at The Barn Kitchen on Wednesday and Saturday evenings. Depending on the night, the entree is either roasted chicken or steak, and the menu includes a salad, sides, and dessert — all served family-style.
Save room for dessert. Rumor has it the signature chocolate brownie with homemade chocolate sauce is a great way to end your meal. Reservations required.
The Barn Kitchen at Sparrows Lodge, 1330 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, 760-327-2300; www.sparrowslodge.com
PHOTO COURTESY OF WORKSHOP BAR + KITCHEN
Workshop Kitchen + Bar is the first restaurant in Palm Springs to create a dining space around a long central community table.
Chef Michael Beckman says the James Beard award–winning design of Workshop Kitchen + Bar was, “inspired by [my] favorite spots in Chicago, like Avec, with its long, clean lines, symmetry, and focal point at the back of the dining room.”
The 2015 award for Outstanding Restaurant Design in the category of over 75 seats has pushed Beckman to think farther outside the box by offering communal dining at Workshop.
He asserts people enjoy the idea of a shared table and the energy it can create. “I feel like people [at the] community table feel like they are part of a special experience,” he says. With individual booths and an expanded outdoor courtyard, there are a variety of seating options to suit all types of diners. And the “small plates” menu, meant to be shared, is balanced with substantial main course offerings.
The concept of communal dining is just getting started in Palm Springs and Beckman prides himself on being one of the pioneers.
“We’ve kind of stuck to our guns about it, and our clientele are right there with us after four busy years,” he says. “I definitely feel it was a game-changer for the city, not just in regards to having a community table, but also in bringing a style of cooking and energy to the desert that wasn’t here yet. Others have noticed our success and taken some inspiration to their projects.”
PHOTO COURTESY OF AUDREY MA
Mussels are a popular dish to be shared, as are many of the small plates and mains at Workshop Kitchen + Bar.
Workshop Kitchen + Bar, 800 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, 760-459-3451; www.workshoppalmsprings.com
PHOTO COURTESY OF COPLEY’S RESTAURANT
Communal Dinners at Copley’s Restaurant are offered in the outdoor courtyard and menus are created to feature dishes prepared in the wood-burning oven.
The communal courtyard dining area at Copley’s was built three years ago to host private events. With seating for 24, the space is ideal for intimate weddings and parties, but it’s the monthly dinners open to the public that you should check out.
“[The monthly dinners] are a way to highlight Chef/Owner Andrew Copley and a way for customers to interact with him and each other in a fun atmosphere,” explains Co-owner and Restaurant Manager Greg Butterfield. The restaurant has always attracted customers who enjoy the family ambiance and familiarity of staff — the three owners as well as the service staff, some of whom have worked at Copley’s as long as eight years.
Copley enjoys preparing rustic meals for his communal dinners. Items are cooked in the wood-burning oven, and he crafts the menus to feature family-style fare that is easy to share. For the upcoming dinner in December, the menu includes Spicy Corn & Coconut Soup, Baby Beet Arugula Salad, Mushroom & Blue Cheese Crusted Beef Filet, Mashed Potatoes, Roasted Vegetables, and Banana Chocolate Bread Pudding. Cost to attend is $49, and advance reservations are required.
“Chef Andrew loves to do themed and seasonal menus,” Butterfield says. “It is a way for him to get out of the kitchen and interact with guests.”
Copley’s Restaurant, 621 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, 760-327-9555; www.copleyspalmsprings.com
PHOTO COURTESY OF WHOLE FOOD MARKET PALM DESERT
Whole Foods Market in Palm Desert offers a casual setting where you have the option of a lively indoor bar or an outdoor patio to share a table with friends or meet new ones.
While a supermarket may not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of communal dining, Whole Foods Market in Palm Desert offers indoor and outdoor options where you can share a table while sharing a meal. At the Tap-In Taproom, a full bar and pub that serves up a selection of healthful and pub-style fare, guests can choose to sit at the bar or at a high-top table.
Outside are two 16-seat tables where you might meet someone new. Patrons can order food from the restaurant or purchase prepared foods from the market to enjoy in the company of others.
Community seating on the patio doubles as an event space where market staff promote products and in-store brands, and offer seasonal tastings and samples of catered foods. Plans for live music and an expansion of event offerings, which will include a space to host business meetings, are in the works, according to Christy Jeziorski, store marketing director.
Whole Foods, 44459 Town Center Way, Palm Desert. 760-797-8200; www.wholefoodsmarket.com
PHOTO COURTESY OF WHOLE FOODS MARKET PALM DESERT
A popular menu item from the Tap-In Taproom is fish and chips, which is part of a weeknight specials menu that includes a pint of beer for $13. Items great for sharing include the vegan nachos and calamari.