British Columbia

Dinner and a show: Vancouver restaurants bring dish prep to the table

While it may not be a major trend, tableside service is having a moment in Vancouver.

Tableside service is making a comeback

Hy's Steakhouse and Cocktail bar has been serving caeser salad tableside since it opened in 1962. (Hy's Steakhouse and Cocktail Bar/Instagram)

A popular style of dining is making a comeback in Vancouver; one that brings the theatrics of the kitchen to the dining room.

And while On the Coast food columnist, Gail Johnson doesn't see tableside service becoming a major trend, she says it's definitely having a moment in Vancouver's food scene.

Recently, new restaurants have opted to try out the practice, which has been a staple at some popular Vancouver restaurants for years.

Tableside service is when servers prepare a dish at the table in front of the diners. 

"With some dishes, you get a mini cooking lesson by seeing how it's made," said Johnson.

"There's some drama and theatrics, especially with dishes that call for a burner or open flame."

Steak with side of Caesar

​In Vancouver, one of the most iconic tableside service restaurants is Hy's Steakhouse and Cocktail Bar, says Johnson, which first opened in 1962.

If you order a Caesar salad at Hy's, a server will pull up a little cart — set up with a large salad bowl and all the ingredients — and prepare it on the spot.

"First goes in the cracked black pepper, fresh garlic, and chopped anchovies, then a whole egg, and so on, the server whisking furiously after each addition before tossing it all together with fresh Parmesan," said Johnson.

"The plates, too, are dressed with fresh lemon and black pepper, et voila!"

Johnson says Hy's also offers such tableside dishes as a Chateaubriand, Steak Diane and desserts like bananas foster.

When it's done right, she says the service adds another element to your meal.

And other restaurants are developing a taste for the drama.

Aside from Hy's, Johnson recommends checking out Boulevard Kitchen and Oyster Bar, Mott 32 and Atlas Steak and Fish among many others to add a little flair to your food.

A history of ritualistic cooking

Experiential dining has a long history, but Yale University history professor Paul Freedman says that tableside service can be traced back to the Middle Ages with royal stewards carving meat inside the great halls, which became an almost ritualistic experience.

It then caught on in France, a few centuries ago, where chefs would sometimes perform the final stages of their cooking process tableside.

Johnson, quoting Freedman's research, says it hit its peak in North American in the 1950s and 1960s.

"Think Frank Sinatra at a dimly lit steakhouse dining on prime rib and flambéed desserts," said Johnson.

After that, she says it fizzled out, especially considering it was viewed by fine-dining establishments as frivolous.

But, as with most trends, Johnson says it's experiencing a resurgence.

With files from CBC Radio One's On The Coast


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