Luxury Travel, Lifestyle and Marketing Trends

Restaurant Trends: Experiences

DinnerLab_expansion

The golden word in the travel and hospitality industry these days is “experience” with hotels, tour operators and travel agents touting their special offerings.  Why the interest in “experiences”? Because they evoke powerful sentiments – the stuff that memories are made from, landmark celebrations, and, most importantly, the promise of involvement.

Experiences in the form of  interactivity are hitting the restaurant industry in a big way in innovative directions.  Many of these have the added benefit of more social interaction and the promise of making new friends. Underground dining, where a chef cooks a gourmet meal in his or her home or unusual venue for a prix fixe has been around for a number of years. Here in Miami several prominent foodies started a club where you sign up for a pricey mystery dinner at an undisclosed location and it is often oversubscribed.  Then there’s an extension of the cooking class with not only a market tour to choose ingredients for the class, but also, foraging in fields and streams for special herbs, vegetables or fish.

The latest twist is Dinner Lab which operates popup restaurants across the US.  Emerging chefs prepare a high end prix fixe dinner ($50 to $80  a meal, drinks and tips included) for members who rate each dish’s creativity and taste and each drink pairing as well as whether the course was “restaurant worthy”. Communal tables, guests talking about the dinner as they fill out the rating forms, family style service, and chefs chatting up diners all contribute to the social interaction.

Meals are also presented as a performance, with each getting a name from the chef. And even the setting is different from the usual – dinners are held in large open spaces like the roofop of a parking garage or at a motorcycle dealership.

Dinner Lab’s plan is to operate in 40 cities including international ones and to sell the data at events for anyone looking to overhaul or create a menu.

Photo courtesy of www.forbes.com

Entertainment Returns to Dining

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In the 70’s I fondly remember restaurant tableside preparation of Caesar salad, guacamole, and flambes. The flambes always added elements of entertainment and glamour to a meal, so I lamented their passing from style. With the advent of Spain’s Ferran Adria, his molecular gastronomy and disciples, tableside food preparation came back into fashion, but it just didn’t seem the same.

Now, restaurants across the country are bringing back some of the traditional dishes and with them, tableside preparation sometime by the chef himself. It makes sense. It offers a culinary experience for the diner at a time when travelers and the affluent want new experiences. For the restaurant it  not only creates a buzz, but also, helps justify higher price points and adds value. The Wall Street Journal recently described what some of the more innovative restaurants are doing. Leading the pack is New York’s Eleven Madison Park which has made their signature entertainment, justifying the $225 prix fixe dinner. For instance, a raw carrot is put through a meat grinder clamped to a table. Voila, carrot tartare. Michael Lomonaco, chef and partner at Porter House New York has brought back the duck press. In the $110 roast duck dish for two, bones are crushed in the French press at the table. The duck comes out on a gueridon cart and disassembled at the table. Duck’s legs and thighs are served in a salad for the first course, and the breast with the juice from the crushed bones is second.

Other dishes that get the tableside entertainment treatment are a 40 oz, 14 in long rib eye carved before the diners’ eyes at Urban Farmer in Portland, tea smoked oysters at Desnuda ceviche bar in Brooklyn, and tableside cloud preparations for pasta or rabbit with a mist of truffles at Marc Forgione in New York. And then there are the traditional dishes of the 50’s and 60’s like steak au poivre, crepes suzettes and flambéed drinks. Brennan’s of Houston has even created a new job description: flambé chefs. Glad for the return of this nostalgic element of dining.

Blogpost by Karen Weiner Escalera