In select restaurants, if you want special attention from the chef, the primo table sits not in front of a beautiful painting or in the center of an exquisitely appointed dining room but, rather, in (or slightly outside) the busy, pots-and-pans-filled, stainless steel kitchen. After all, that is where chefs work their magic.
Here are desert restaurants where diners can experience that magic firsthand.
at Riviera Resort & Spa
Bold red leather, high-back chairs circled around a large marble-top table set the tone for the in-kitchen dining adventure for up to six guests at Riviera Resort & Spa’s Circa 59. With oodles of space to spare in the vast kitchen, “a chef’s table seemed like the natural thing to do,” says Darin Grohs, Riviera’s director of restaurants.
Entering through a staff-only door, a short walk down a hallway brings diners to another hallway and another door that opens into the cavernous kitchen. The beautifully set chef’s table is centered near the “hot line,” where up to five culinary experts work feverishly, dishing up the evening’s contemporary California cuisine.
It doesn’t matter which seat you choose at the round table, because the action is everywhere: on the finishing line, where plated meals are handed off to servers; at the bar station, where servers turn in orders and wait for cocktails to be poured; at the “cold station,” staffed by up to five food preparers; and around the coffee station, where half-a-dozen servers jockey for position.
In between yelling out orders to up to 22 cooks rocking the kitchen, Executive Chef Bradley Manchester schmoozes with his guests about the dishes he’s bringing to the table. Guests can order off the regular menu or give him full control.
“I’m delighted to put together little added tastes and prepare a selection of our best items with matching wines,” Manchester says.
Introduced in March, the chef’s table (limited to six diners) is available on Friday and Saturday nights. Guests may choose from the regular a la carte menu and pricing or allow the chef to customize their meal and wine pairings for $59 per person. Reservations: 760-778-6659.
at Desert Springs JW Marriott Resort & Spa
Table for two — in the kitchen?
But of course! Fine linen and crystal dress the chef’s table in the heart of the behind-the-scenes action at Desert Springs JW Marriott Resort & Spa’s Ristorante Tuscany. Guests seated side by side on an upholstered “booth” a step up from the kitchen floor enjoy an “insider’s” vantage point of the chef, kitchen staff, and servers at work.
“We raised the chef’s table to give the diners a better view of the action,” Executive Chef Oliver Wolf says. “The line” (chef-speak for the food-preparation station) is only feet away, offering a full appreciation for the expertise that results in Tuscany’s Northern Italian cuisine.
“Couples really feel like part of the action,” says Chef Gregorio Calderin, who warmly welcomes them to his special table, followed by each of the six- to eight-member kitchen crew, who also come up and introduce themselves. Throughout the night, amid nonstop preparing, plating, and serving, Calderin chats with the kitchen guests about the food and personally serves many of the tasting courses (which may number up to 10). The pace is hectic, but surprisingly quiet.
“No, it’s not because guests are in the kitchen,” Wolf attests. “When game time comes, everybody is so focused that there is little time for anything else.” Perhaps the unexpected serenity is why the chef’s table is popular for special-occasion dinners. One couple even chose it for their wedding dinner.
Guests can have the full-on 10 tasting courses — or not — depending on their stamina.
“We just start bringing plate after plate and periodically come back and ask, ‘Are you full yet?’” Calderin says. “If they’re not, we keep right on bringing more food.”
Offered nightly, dining at the chef’s table costs $125 per person (not including beverages, taxes, or gratuity). Reservations: 760-341-2211.
RUTH’S CHRIS STEAKHOUSE
Not quite ready to cross over into the back of the house?
There’s a hybrid chef’s table (table 53) offering a custom-prepared dinner at Ruth’s Chris Steak House. It’s the table closest to the kitchen — just feet away from the entrance.
“It’s one of our most requested tables,” says Anita Owens-DeCuir, sales manager.
Secluded in the cushy comfort of table 53’s elegant upholstered booth underneath the restaurant’s signature blue dome, the camaraderie of the kitchen surrounds you — without the pots and pans. An architectural partition blocks the view into the kitchen (it adds to the booth’s luxe sense of privacy), but servers fly in and out of the kitchen, whizzing by you, and kitchen sounds occasionally waft through the hidden doors.
Executive Chef Hector Ramirez regularly pops over to chat and discuss your food choices, and Chris Chmileck, in-house wine buyer, decants and pours your wine selections. You can even bring your own wines from home — without having to pay a corkage fee.
“So many desert residents have such wonderful wine cellars that Chmileck is happy to peruse personal vintages and make recommendations to match the custom dinners,” Owens-DeCuir says. The chef’s specialty meals are based on the Ruth’s Chris menu and customized by Ramirez to suit personal preferences. Wine pairing is optional.
The custom-prepared chef’s dinners (with pricing based on menu items selected) are available nightly for six to nine people. “It’s definitely a party table,” Owens-DeCuir says.