In this time of cell phones and selfies at the dinner table, a time where Instagramming a dish is almost more important than eating it, getting someone’s attention at the table isn’t easy. But a cook making a Caesar salad from scratch right in front of you, or flambéeing bananas in a hot pan at the table for dessert, is always a showstopper. Tableside service is an art form, and thankfully not a dying tradition in LA. It takes skill and style — the person doing the cooking, slicing or tossing really has to like interacting with people — and it’s always a pleasure to watch, especially when you’ve got time to linger and enjoy a full meal from beginning to end. Here are 10 tableside dishes and drinks not to miss around Los Angeles now.
Guacamole at Toca Madera
One of the most popular dishes at this West Hollywood hot spot, whether from the regular or vegan menu, is the guacamole made to order at the table. Fresh, ripe avocados, lime, salt, onion and cilantro are mixed together, topped with pepitas and a pop of sweet pomegranate arils. It’s all about the flourish here.
8450 W. Third St.; 323-852-9400
Bloody Marys at Cecconi's
The roving Blood Mary cart is one of the best things about brunch at this West Hollywood mainstay. Choose your booze (vodka, gin or tequila), and a friendly staffer will mix your libation with housemade tomato base (it gets a kick from Tabasco and horseradish) and any accoutrement you please: Fresno chilies, pickled cauliflower, green beans, okra and more.
8764 Melrose Ave.; 310-432-2000
Tuna Tartare at Chaya Downtown
It’s not a surprise to see tuna tartare on the menu here. After all, chef Shigefumi Tachibe did originally create the dish at Chaya Brasserie in 1985. But it gets the special treatment at dinner, where the cubes of fresh tuna are tossed with aïoli, capers and sweet pickles, and then layered with avocado and micro shiso at the table.
525 S. Flower St.; 213-236-9577
Greek Salad at Baltaire
You’ve heard of Caesar salads tossed tableside (think Lawry’s spinning salad bowl), but at the Brentwood steakhouse, jacketed servers create a beautiful Greek salad out of chopped romaine lettuce, olives, tomatoes, a really good feta cheese, and olive oil and vinegar. It’s so simple, but ends up — and this might be the flair talking — being one of the best Greek salads you’ll ever taste. The matcha tea service at the end of the meal is also special.
11647 San Vicente Blvd.; 424-273-1660
Dalla Forma Pasta at Forma
The action here isn’t necessarily an activity that takes place at your table, but just about every seat has a view of staffers tossing pasta or risotto in giant wheels of cheese near the glass-encased cheese room. But it’s not all show: each pasta or risotto gets its own cheese for extra flavor. So tortellini mixed with mushrooms, a light cream sauce and a touch of truffle oil gets tossed and then scraped out of a round of Bella Lodi Grana cheese, and spaghetti cacio e pepe gets the Pecorino Romano treatment. It's a cheese-lover's dream.
1610 Montana Ave.; 424-231-2868
Peking Duck at Meizhou Dongpo
The Westfield Century City mall is probably the last place that comes to mind when you think about getting traditional Peking duck, but this Beijing import, known for its glazed, crisp-skinned birds, is a solid bet and it's right in front of the movie theater. Expert, cleaver-wielding chefs carve the whole or half duck tableside, which comes with a bamboo steamer full of thin rice pancakes, plus scallion, cucumber, carrots and hoisin sauce.
10250 Santa Monica Blvd.; 310-788-0120
Roast Chicken at Melisse
Speaking of tableside poultry presentations, the truffle-stuffed roast chicken has been a specialty of Josiah Citrin’s pretty much since the Santa Monica restaurant opened 16 years ago. The chicken is brined and air-dried, then slow-roasted in a low-temperature oven. Filled with truffles, it has an aroma when it’s wheeled out to the table that's intoxicating. After the chicken is presented, it's wheeled away for carving, and then brought back and served from the cart along with potato mousseline and jus.
1104 Wilshire Blvd.; 310-395-0881
Spot Prawns at Providence
Chef Michael Cimarusti has been serving the salt-roasted spot prawns at the Hollywood seafood restaurant since around 2007, and it’s still one of the most popular dishes today. Once he realized that the excellent Santa Barbara prawns needed nothing more than being roasted in salt, that's how they've been cooking them and then wheeling them out and presenting them tableside. There’s something about the delicate nature of unearthing the prawns from the salt, slicing and plating them that makes it special. “And they smell great,” Cimarusti says. “Once one leaves the kitchen, we end up doing more. They spread like wildfire.” They’re only available from February through November, though.
5955 Melrose Ave.; 323-460-4170
Flaming Baked Alaska at The Church Key
From the liquid nitrogen ice pops to the canned Negronis popped open at the table, it’s all about delicious fun at the West Hollywood hot spot. But nothing is more exciting — and with a hint of danger — than dousing a blueberry and brown butter cake with honey lavender ice cream and toasted meringue in Bacardi 151 and setting the whole confection on fire in front of guests. You quickly hear “oohs” and “aahs” change to “mmms.”
8735 Sunset Blvd.; 424-249-3700
Absinthe at Faith & Flower
Aptly called the Leap of Faith, this Russian-style absinthe service is the best way to end a meal at the Downtown restaurant. The process starts when a server brings a cart over to select a liqueur, then a little is poured into a glass and set aflame, and finally the server pours the blue-lit stream of burning absinthe into a tumbler full of root beer. A napkin is placed over it to capture the vapors, and you stick a straw in and inhale what’s left and then drink the liquid. This isn’t how we imagine Oscar Wilde sipping the intoxicating brew, but it certainly is fun. Like magic only boozier.
705 W. Ninth St.; 213-239-0642