Some restaurants give diners the chance to watch as dishes are prepared
Great restaurants have special dishes prepared tableside with charm and a flourish. Here are four.
During his victorious appearance on the inaugural season of Iron Chef Canada, Boulevard Kitchen and Oyster Bar chef Alex Chen prepared a salmon dish that wowed: he wrapped the fish in fig leaves and then clay, which hardened as it baked.
When someone orders this item at the restaurant now, it’s served tableside, with a waiter breaking open the dish’s terra-cotta-coloured exterior with a wooden mallet, then peeling back the steaming leaves to reveal the juicy, wild fish as mouthwatering scents waft into the air.
It’s a dramatic dining experience and just the latest addition to the roster of dishes you can find in Metro Vancouver that are prepared or plated right in front of your eyes. Here are a few places to go when you’re looking for a dinner with a tableside show.
ATLAS STEAK AND FISH
(4331 Dominion Street, Burnaby) This Delta Hotels Burnaby restaurant (which recently celebrated its first anniversary) serves several dishes at the table, including caesar salad (barring occasions when romaine lettuce is off the menu due to nationwide health concerns), with the dressing made from scratch, all creamy, garlicky, and lemony and finished with cracked pepper. Another salad is spinach: working over an individual gas burner, a server heats up the dressing, setting it aflame with a splash of brandy, the warm sauce hitting cold, crisp spinach leaves along with mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, and egg for a textural starter that fills the room with head-turning scents.
Then there’s the restaurant’s bestselling dessert: baked Alaska. The meringue gets a spritz of caramel liqueur that’s lit on fire, giving the top its characteristic golden tips. Seasonally, cherries jubilee gets a similar treatment. “If you want to make people happy when you’re entertaining them, flambé some good fruit, pour it over ice cream, and you’re going to have a quiet room with just the sound of spoons hitting bowls,” said Richard Goodine, Delta Hotels Burnaby’s food and beverage senior operations manager. “I think the single greatest thing that tableside service does is increase engagement with the table, and the heart of great service is engagement.” BOULEVARD KITCHEN AND OYSTER BAR
(845 Burrard Street)
Chef Roger Ma created the Iron Chef– winning clay-baked salmon dish in homage to his mentor, Daniel Boulud. The wild Pacific salmon is cooked medium-rare and served with millet risotto in the clay-breaking presentation that he describes as fun and theatrical. It’s not the only dish that Boulevard serves at the table, however.
Glazed veal shank is another. After the meat is cooked with herbs sous-vide at a low heat for 36 hours so it’s luxuriously tender, a server pulls it apart at the table and serves it with butter-sherry vinegar and vegetables. From there, the bone goes back to the kitchen, where chefs knock out the marrow, season it, and scoop it onto grilled sourdough.
Boulevard also offers hay-smoked strip loin, made with roasted prime Holstein. To finish the cooking process, hay gets added and lit on fire. After a few minutes, the hay attaches to the outside of the meat, suffusing it with flavour. A covered pot is brought to the table, the lid is lifted, and smoke billows out; a server then carves the meat.
HY’S STEAKHOUSE AND COCKTAIL BAR
(637 Hornby Street)
Tableside service is part of Hy’s history. Staff members go through intensive training to serve caesar salad, spinach salad (with flambéed dressing), steak tartare (cubes of beef served with crostini), classic Chateaubriand (the fat end of the fillet roasted, then brought out to the table in an oval copper pan), and steak Diane, named after the Roman goddess of the hunt. The meat is seared on a grill and cooks quickly while the server prepares a mushroomshallot cream sauce.
“A lot of these dishes create a certain contagion in the restaurant; when you’re cooking, everyone’s wondering what the delicious smell is,” said Hy’s general manager Chris Langridge. “Making food for each other is intimate, and when it’s being prepared in front of you with grace and charm, it adds another element.”
(1161 West Georgia Street) Preparing Peking duck is a time- and labour-intensive process. At Mott 32, the bird is air-dried, brine-rinsed, dried again, then, on the day of applewood roasting in a special oven, fandried so that the skin puffs up and separates from the breast. At the table, the skin is served first, to be dipped in red sugar; the breast and back meat come next, for diners to wrap in the restaurant’s signature paper-thin pancakes with sauces, scallions, cucumber, and other ingredients.
Whole fish maw is a highly prized delicacy in Chinese cuisine that comes in a clay pot and is served tableside. There’s also mimosa tableside service here, while summertime calls for the restaurant’s rosé rickshaw.
Clockwise from left: Mott 32; Atlas Steak and Fish; Hy’s Steakhouse and Cocktail Bar.