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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." :)

                2. Sabayon over fresh berries in a French restaurant in Montreal in the 70s. The waiter made the sabayon in a copper bowl over a sterno flame!!

                  The whole room applauded, not only for the skill, but because his whisk in the bowl sounded like a samba.

                  1. I usually find tableside prep overly precious. If I wanted to watch someone mash an avocado or toss salad in a wooden bowl, I'd have mirrors in my kitchen. I do, however, make an exception for tableside flambe. Greek food in Chicago just would not be the same without waiters blaring Opa! as they set your saganaki alight.

                    1. I think there is a very fine line between tableside preparations being gimicky and those that are an homage to tradition.
                      Generally i would rather the food is prepared in the kitchen vs by the server in the middle of the dining room.
                      That said, i do like when a soup bowl arrives with the garnishes and the soup is poured tableside, or the entree is presented whole and carved/plated tableside.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: Ttrockwood

                        Oh, you can add that to my list of "tableside" as well. When I served Lobster Bisque the bowl was placed in front of the customer, empty with the exception of the chopped lobster pieces and some parsley.

                        We then poured the bisque individually into the bowl, and offered a dallup of fresh cream, splash of sherry and or fresh black pepper! Ha! Forgot about that.

                        (FYI I did steal this approach from The Tavern On The Green)

                        1. re: jrvedivici

                          To me this feels more like exquisite service than it does a gimmick-y "show" ....(ie more recent comment with flaming coffee...)

                          1. re: Ttrockwood

                            The coffee show was far from gimmicky.

                            Great way to end the meal in a foreign land and they have dedicated coffee cart with liqueurs.

                      2. I've had fish (sole, as I recall) filleted tableside in Italy.

                        1. Love love love tableside service. .
                          Reminiscent of old school, which I adore but I don't like if they hang around too long at the table.

                          Caesar salad, bananas foster, cheese cart service.
                          Romeo Y Julieta's in Cabo does the best Keoki coffee flame show with the lights outs and let the booze show begin..

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: Beach Chick

                            Viva 916!
                            The Columbia's signature 1905 salad is nicely prepared tableside, and the steaks for 2 or more at Berns in Tampa are carved tableside. Pleasant. Steak tartare at 21 in NYC, one can dial up or down some of the ingredients as it is prepared tableside. They used to bring the whole tin of beluga to the table, in a silver bowl with ice and all the caviar accoutrements, back in the old days.

                            1. re: Veggo

                              Odelay Poppi!
                              Besos mi amor..

                              Gosh, I haven't seen caviar service in decades...puff puff

                          2. The first time I recall seeing table-side service was at an Italian restaurant in Brooklyn eons ago, when I was in my single digits. I went through a Caesar salad phase (and the dressing that defeats the purpose of eating said salad phase), and ordered it at a place that threw anchovies in but not eggs, because it apparently wasn't allowed.

                            The next instance is more sarcastic, stemming from all of those times in China when waitstaff would stand idly by as I slowly made my way through the menu. Every time a dish was brought to the table, it was checked off on the bill at the table. Often, that was accompanied by a blank stare.

                            Then there were/are the awkward times at Korean restaurants, specifically those where you grill stuff. In the RoK at least, the matronly manager would swing by, assume I had no idea what to do and cook it for me. Then she left, uninformed whether or not she'd be returning, so the beef just overcooked. She threw it out, and started over. Must've been in a trance, both of us.

                            The most puzzling moment was this year- I was sampling one of Daegu's delicacies, a seafood hodgepodge called muchimhoe (http://collaterallettuce.com/2013/08/...), and the ajumma came over and fed me the first bite. Sounds like a plot for a Japanese movie, but i digress.


                            1. I'm not too crazy about it personally. Having worked as a server when I was younger, I feel bad for the employees that have to do that - they're probably getting paid next to nothing, and they have to entertain their guests on top of it.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Atomic76

                                At our place, all tableside was done by the owner, who was also the host. I loved watching him coddle the egg for Caesar salad over a candle. He was a pro, quick and easy. He also did the fancy drinks at the end. Part of the reason we went there!

                              2. Bananas Foster in New Orleans.

                                1. Found this thread when googling for a place in Houston that serves a pasta dish like the one I had a few days ago at a small Italian place, Gran Sasso, in old Rijswijk,(Netherlands). A wonderful, charming place and the most amazing pasta I've had - tableside prep, starting by flaming some alcohol in a wheel of Parmesan, scraping the melting cheese and then adding the pasta, mushrooms and a generous shaving of black truffle. I will be dreaming about it for a long time!

                                  1. Flambe' coffee drinks, especially when they are double shots.

                                    1. Love it. The first time I experienced it was at Hugo's Cellar in Downtown Las Vegas.

                                      Always enjoy guac and Saganaki-OPA.

                                      Last summer , can't remember the name but went to a restaurant in Seattle that prepared our Cesar salad, baked potato toppings, and flambéed dessert tableside, it was fun to have each course presented that way.

                                      Along the same vein, enjoy The Peddler in Gatlinburg where they cut your steak tableside.

                                      1. Boudro's tableside guacamole on the San Antonio River Walk if you can snare an outdoor table on a cool spring or fall day. Caveat emptor, most of the restaurants there are to be avoided, but there are some gems and walking the river is very relaxing.


                                        1. The Caesar Salad at Hugo's Cellar in Las Vegas is a very elegant tableside presentation. Each guest is asked if they want/don't want each ingredient.