BY MARCY DE LUNA // 10.09.18
A booth in the dining room isn’t always the best seat in the house. No, the best seats are found at the chef’s counter or chef’s table. These select few seats come with perks ranging from special menus to cooking time behind the stove.
While the perks vary by the Houston restaurant, all offer you the chance to get up close and personal with the staff as they work their culinary magic. These are Houston’s best chef’s tables.
Brennan’s of Houston
The Kitchen Table at Midtown staple Brennan’s is just that. Although this ringside seat is semi-closed-off for noise reduction, large windows offer a bird’s-eye view of executive chef Joe Cervantez and his staff as they cook up Southwestern Creole cuisine.
The chef’s choice menu — five to seven courses for $60 per person at lunch, $105 with wine pairings, and $80 per person at dinner, $155 with wine pairings — includes offerings such as Oysters Rockefeller Soup and southern braised rabbit with collard green custard, caramelized pearl onions and black garlic jus.
Parties of four to 12 can reserve the Kitchen Table on a first come, first served basis. But if you’re looking to grab a spot on a weekend night, you’ll want to book a few months out.
Reserve a seat at the six-seat counter at downtown’s Theodore Rex and score a front row view of James Beard Award-winning chef Justin Yu’s kitchen.
Choose items from the rotating menu, from Carolina Gold Rice and Butter Beans with crushed garden leaves ($12) to Italian bread dumplings with braised mustards, beans and whey sauce ($14) to Gulf snapper with an aromatic broth, spinach pistou sauce, and Meyer lemon ($28).
Save room for the alluring Paris-Brest dessert ($12). Two rings of ring of choux pastry are filled with sweet Swiss cheese cream and honey caramel for a sinfully-good bite.
Royal Sonesta Houston
2222 West Loop South
Located in the heart of the kitchen at Ara Restaurant on the first floor of the Galleria area’s Royal Sonesta hotel, the 10-seat TableOne, available by reservation-only, offers a close-up view of all the action.
The four-course meal, which starts at $75 per person, plus $35 for wine pairings, showcases items from the regular menu alongside seasonal dishes, with offerings such as hamachi tartare, olive oil poached halibut with champagne chive cream and goat cheesecake with cranberry cream.
When you don’t feel like deciding the age-old question of what’s for dinner, go with the tasting menu of five, eight, or 10 courses, and leave the decision making to the experts. This menu is $85 per person, plus $40 for wine pairings.
Damian’s Cucina Italiana
When a standard dinner reservation won’t do, book the chef’s table at upscale Italian restaurant Damian’s. It’s located in a corner room within the lively kitchen, where you can not only catch all the action but learn a few skills. Throw on an apron and cook a portion of your entree alongside the restaurant’s seasoned chefs.
Example items on the chef-selected six-course, $75 per person menu are potato gnocchi carbonara; osso buco stuffed ravioli topped with mushrooms, prosciutto and marsala wine; almond-crusted flounder drizzled with lemon butter; and mini pistachio cake with cinnamon cream cheese icing. Reservations are a must.
A perch at the 28-seat bar-style chef’s counter at Artisans in Midtown comes with a direct view of the kitchen and six, seven or eight courses of French fare (think pan seared foie gras, mustard rubbed and caramelized ribeye, and roasted chicken breast with lobster tail, armoricaine red sauce, Parmesan risotto and asparagus), priced from $85 to $125 per person. Reservations are recommended.
Contact Ibiza in Midtown 48-hours in advance and the Mediterranean–New American restaurant will set up a chef’s table for up to six diners. Chef Charles Clark customizes the five to seven course menu, which runs $110 per person, featuring signature favorites along with special dishes created around fresh ingredients brought in that day.
The menu is ever-changing, but examples include crispy veal cheek terrine with peppers piperade and an asparagus sauce gribiche, semolina crusted sweetbreads and crudo with radish and grapefruit.
Dine like a VIP at elegant French restaurant Le Mistral in the Energy Corridor. At the eight-seat chef’s table, located inside a reservation-required private room with a window view of the kitchen, chef David Denis creates a custom five-course menu for $80 to $120 per person excluding drinks, based on your personal preferences and sommelier Sylvain Denis recommends corresponding wine pairings.
Expect entrees along the lines of duck leg confit with homemade duck breast trumpet mushroom sausage, black currant sauce and carrot ginger purée, rack of lamb and oven-baked Chilean sea bass.
State of Grace
The cozy six-seat chef’s counter at State of Grace in River Oaks faces a hearthstone fire. Put your trust in chef Bobby Matos, formerly of New York’s The Modern and Alto and Houston’s Ciao Bello, who serves up a seven course tasting menu that currently showcases fall-inspired dishes featuring various squashes, braised meats and hearty greens.
You’ll want to reserve your seat, priced at $85 per person, in advance.
The doors at Eunice only opened October 1, so there’s leeway for change, but the new restaurant in Greenway Plaza launches with an eight-seat chef’s table positioned directly in front of the semi-open kitchen.
Anything off the menu of Gulf Coast cuisine with a European slant, including fried Bandera quail with Tabasco honey ($11); jumbo gulf shrimp with green onion sausage gravy and green chili grits ($25); grouper with blue crab, cauliflower and brown butter ($36); and almonds, and blue crab tartine ($16) can be yours.
And so can pro picks by chef Drake Leonard, who has cooked at Luke and August in New Orleans and for New York’s famed Daniel Boulud. Call ahead to book.