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Oct 31, 2013 10:39 AM

Tableside Service

Interesting article in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal about the "comeback" of tableside service. What tableside service did you or have you enjoyed? I remember them making tableside fettuccini alfredo at Doro's in San Francisco, spinach salad tossed with vinaigrette and bacon was also a favorite. New Orleans is famous for its cafe brulot and bananas foster. They mention that people are getting fed up with the guacamole prep, it isn't particularly fascinating. By and large though, I always thought tableside service great fun, how about you?

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  1. Caesar salad at a now defunct local restaurant. Good salad, and fun to watch.

    Crèpe suzette -- ages ago, I think at the American Embassy Club in Bonn.

    Some pasta flambé in a wheel of parmesan. Good show, underwhelming dish.

    I do like the table side prep, tho. It adds something to the dining experience.

    1. The long-gone Black Hawk restaurant in the Chicago Loop was known for its "spinning salad bowl," where salad was prepared table side.

      On our first trip to Bermuda many moons ago, the dining room of the hotel where we stayed had a flambéed dessert of the day that was prepared table-side - i.e., depending on the night of the week, cherries jubilee, bananas foster, crepes suzette, etc.

      Steak diane is a retro dish that was typically prepared table side.

      1. At my last find dining restaurant we did the following table side;

        Flaming Cheese Wheel of Death; (named such because I actually set myself on fire more than once while cooking this table side) I took a large parmesan cheese wheel and hollowed out a bowl in it. The kitchen would bring out already cooked shrimp and scallops I would place them in the cheese bowl and flambé it with vodka. As the flambé went on the interior walls of the cheese bowl would start to melt and mix into the shrimp/scallop combo which would then be topped with a pre-mixed cream/tomato sauce and served over pasta. So primarily it was a different approach to shrimp and scallops in a vodka sauce.

        Cesar Salad; I would use an anchovy paste for preparation of the dressing, then ask if they wanted the filet's on the plate or not.

        Steak Diane

        Chateaubriand; which was just sliced and served table side, not prepared.

        Whole Bronzini/Orato; I would prepare the lemon/picatta style sauce for Bronzini which would come to the table fully cooked but we would prepare the sauce, and de-bone it table side. Customers option if they wanted the head on their plate.

        Banana’s Foster

        Cherries Jubilee

        Crepes Suzette

        6 Replies
        1. re: jrvedivici

          Just curious...did the parmesan wheel get reused? How was it cleaned and maintained?

          1. re: seamunky

            They would last about 2/3 months on average (mostly only used on weekends as a special) before the bottom became to thin, at which point we grated the rest of it to use as table grating cheese.

            When being flambe'd you are constantly "skinning" the inside of the wheel or the bowl, so you are constantly revealing new cheese as your melt/scrape the cheese into the dish. We would use just a damp cloth to wipe the bowl clean between uses.

            Other than that it was just kept wrapped in the walk in between uses.

              1. re: melpy

                Yes pretty much the same concept. I only have this still picture of me performing it table side. The primary difference between your video and my approach was in your video they are only heating the wheel to dump the pasta into.

                I finished / flambe'd already cooked shrimp and scallops in the wheel, then added the pasta after the flame died, then added the pink sauce. With the cheese so heated from the flambe it really soaked up the melted cheese.

                You will also see I used a smaller diameter wheel but taller/deeper.

                As long as I'm posting pic's the second is of my manager (on the right face blocked for obvious privacy reasons) making cherries jubilee and myself making banana foster.

          2. re: jrvedivici

            I've had a similar prep of very plain risotto scraped up in a quarter-wheel of Parmesan at an izakaya. It was so memorable and delicious that it made me quadruple the amount of Parmesan I use in my homemade risotto!

            1. re: Sarah Perry

              I had first seen this done in Aruba about 20 years ago. In that case it was a cognac cream sauce, which I didn't particularly care for, but the presentation was very memorable.

              So I fashioned it after that but decided to make it a vodka sauce, which appeals to a much wider audience anyway.

          3. Bananas Foster was interesting.

            1. In restrained moderation, guéridon service and presentation is OK, and for some things it adds to the dining experience.

              For example, de-boning a fish table-side, or carving a roasted chicken, some desserts (e.g. Baked Alaska, Bananas Foster, etc.).

              But sometimes chefs can take it overboard (are you fucking listening Marc Forgione?) with molecular gastronomic tricks that make you feel like a judge at a high school science fair.

              That said, I would be very disappointed if I was Alinea and Achatz wasn't there himself to "plate" the dessert.

              3 Replies
              1. re: ipsedixit

                Yes, I know what you mean, ipse. Moderation in this is good - deboning and reassembling a sole is a skill that deserves to be on show. But I had no need for the restaurant in Cyprus where every steak was cooked tableside - turned the restaurant into a furnace. Still, I should have been warned off by the restaurant name - Flambe Master. And, no, it wasnt very good.

                On the other hand, the showmanship at a 2010 meal at the Fat Duck (then the world's no. 2 restaurant, I think) only added to the experience.

                1. re: ipsedixit

                  "Restrained moderation" indeed. I am generally there for the food, not the show.

                  1. re: tcamp

                    I'm having a good moment trying to imagine "unrestrained moderation." :)