Here's a list of 10 restaurants in New York City where you can sit at a counter and watch the chefs in action. Some of these places can be prohibitively expensive and only offer tasting menus, while others allow you the flexibility of choosing from an à la carte option. Some are nearly impossible to get into, while others will let you walk right in. And some are straight-up Japanese, while others just use that culture's tradition of counter dining as a vehicle for all sorts of authorial food. To the list:
Chef's Table at Brooklyn FareNumber of seats: 18
Price $225, drinks not included
Reservations: See here
Bouley alum César Ramirez quietly opened this 18-seat restaurant connected to a supermarket three years ago. Since then, he's managed to climb his way up to three Michelin stars with a wholly unorthodox fine dining experience: metal stools, a casual environment, BYOB up until just recently, and a Brooklyn address.
What is far from alienating is Ramirez's cooking, which is marked by a deft approach to seafood and near-perfect use of acid. David Kinch, an avid fan of the Japanese-style counter experience, and Eric Ripert, this city's best known seafood specialist, have both suggested that this is next-level stuff.
Momofuku KoNumber of seats: 12
Price $125 for dinner, $175 for lunch. Drinks not included.
Reservations: Online only, one week to the date you'd like to dine.
The smallest and most exclusive of David Chang's New York restaurants, the 12-seat Momofuku Ko opened in the old Noodle Bar space in 2008. The restaurant's well-timed arrival was a reminder for New York that you could do haute while eschewing the bells and whistles — it's just you, the cooks, a couple of servers, and rock music.
These days, the two-Michelin-starred Ko serves 10-course dinners nightly and 16-course lunches on the weekends. Thanks to an online reservations system which only lets you book one week out, the restaurant remained practically impenetrable for the first few years. It's gotten somewhat easier recently.
AteraNumber of seats: 12
Price: $150, drinks not included
Reservations: OpenTable or by phone at (212) 226-1444
Ears perked up last summer when it was announced that the ill-fated Compose would reopen as Atera, with the Portland chef Matt Lightner running the kitchen. And when word came across that the restaurant — made up of 12 bar seats and one five-top — would exclusively serve $150 tasting menus and work with a "wild herbs specialist," more than a few New Yorkers expressed their skepticism.
But it seems to have worked out for Lightner. Adam Platt gave the restaurant a glowing four-star review, and those who've managed to get in and pay for the experience, which owes a good measure to the techniques and aesthetics of Andoni Luis Aduriz's Mugaritz and René Redzepi's Noma, have loved it. Pete Wells of the New York Times has yet to weigh in.
BlancaNumber of seats: 12
Price: $180, drinks not included
Reservations: They're currently only accommodating those on the Roberta's wait list. New reservations begin August 1 at 10 AM, by phone at (646) 703-2715.
Earlier this week news broke that chef Carlo Mirarchi had opened a restaurant, Blanca, behind his Bushwick hit Roberta's. The function of the 12-seat Blanca is to provide a separate space for the in-demand tasting menu dinners Roberta's has been putting on for the last year or so.
As Sam Sifton reported, Blanca is a sleek, spare dining room where the focus is on the kitchen and the food. It opens four nights a week and is closed whenever Mirarchi is out of town. Expect a dinner to consist of more than 20 courses. Also: you can play around with their record player.
AldeaNumber of seats: Six
Price: À la carte, or an $80 five-course tasting.
Reservations: By phone at (212) 675-7223
The six-seat chef's counter at Aldea doesn't serve a special menu. Instead, you can choose from the à la carte options or go with the tasting that's available to everyone else in the restaurant.
That flexibility is great for the obvious reasons that you don't have to shell out as much for the special experience and can have some control over what you will be served. What makes it truly special, though, as those who've sat there can attest to, is that chef George Mendes makes it a point to have something to do with every plate you're served; like the great sushi counter chefs, the guy is there and he cares.
EN Japanese BrasserieNumber of seats: Eight
Reservations: By phone at (212) 647-9196
Just over a week ago, the popular and pricey West Village izakaya EN Japanese Brasserie launched a counter tasting menu that will only be offered on the last Tuesday of every month. The experience, available to eight guests at a time, is pitched as using "limited quantity and peak seasonal ingredients." The first menu included preparations like a cobia shabu shabu and calf liver sashimi.
The meal consists of about a dozen courses.
HearthNumber of seats: Four
Reservations: First-come, first-served
Another reason to love Marco Canora's excellent and somewhat slept-on Hearth: there's a four seat chef's counter. You don't have to go through a struggle to get a reservation, sign a contract, or deal with any of that occasionally daunting stuff to eat here.
Instead, it's first-come, first-served. They promise "lots of interaction," and even though it's not required, they suggest those seated at the counter to go with the tasting menu.
Casa MonoNumber of seats: Eight
Price: À la carte only.
Reservations: First-come, first-served
The counter at Mario Batali's tiny and always-packed Spanish restaurant doesn't offer a separate experience. It does, however, put you right smack before the heat and action.
It's first-come, first-served and truly worth it if you want to know what it looks like to see chef Anthony Sasso and his cooks work from a vibrant mise en place and put together dishes like a sizable hunk of foie gras with some of the best onions you've ever tried.
SotoNumber of seats: 12
Reservations: OpenTable or by phone at (212) 414-3088
You don't go to Soto for nigiri or to sit at one of the tables in the dining room. The experience at this excellent West Village restaurant, which holds two Michelin stars, is lightyears better when you're sitting in front of chef Sotohiro Kosugi as he prepares an onslaught of composed omakase dishes. It's pricey, but at least it isn't Masa.
The tasting menu incorporates Kosugi's delicate, precise preparations from the sushi bar, which include a plate of chopped kampachi with wasabi tobiko, pine nuts, and soy foam; it also features his wife's excellent kitchen dishes (you can't watch her make those, though). The restaurant alternates between playing jazz and no music at all, and you can make the evening as serene or boisterous as you like.
DegustationNumber of seats: 19
Price: À la carte or two tasting menus: five courses ($55) or 10 courses (%80)
Reservations: By phone at (212) 979-1012
Hearth and Degustation might be the two sleepers of this list. But if we're talking about chefs' counters, you can't exclude Jack Lamb's pleasant East Village restaurant adjacent Jewel Bako. Opened in 2006, it predates every other listing on here.
Currently, they're offering a full menu of Spanish-inspired dishes, as well as two gently-priced tasting menus: one five-course and one 10-course.