User's Guide

Ringside Seats at the Chef’s Counter

At Bar Boulud, you're so close, you could eat it.
At Bar Boulud, you’re so close, you could eat it.

Chef’s tables used to be the final word on special treatment: the one table in a good restaurant to which the chef paid personal attention. But as the entertainment ante is upped each year — blurring the line between gastronomy and theater — chef’s tables have given way to the even more intimate chef’s counters. There, the lucky diner sits only a few feet of burnished wood away from the action. From the high-end bar at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon to the counter-only option at Momofuku Ko, diners are eager to see the sausage being made. Here are a few of our favorite counters, each an example of the narrow border between feeder and fed.


L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon
World’s Greatest Chef (or one of his surrogates) prepares a life-changing meal at a long bar, for astronomical cost.
Haute cuisine disciples perched atop padded stools create a solemn but energized atmosphere.
Call ahead a few days, but no need to plan your life around the meal.

Momofuku Ko
The whole place is a counter. Daily experimentation with a new menu prepared before a rapt audience. A chef’s dream.
It’s in the same space as the old noodle bar, which was marginally more comfortable than the DMV. The food should more than compensate.
Reservations made online only. Expect to click “refresh” for months.

You’ll sit inches away from where three cooks are producing high-quality Italian food in a space as big as a Camry’s backseat.
Intense; hope the back door is open to relieve the oppressive warmth given off by burners, ovens, and cooks.
No reservation required; seats often available.

Bar Boulud
At a long oak bar, only a sneeze guard separates you from the world’s greatest charcuterie.
Critics have sniffed at the hot food, but as a place to sip wine and eat head cheese, it has no equal.
Critics be damned! Still slammed every night.

Beacon “Kitchen Counter”
Chef Waldy Malouf serves a twelve-course menu one night of the week on a communal mahogany table set next to the line.
It’s not actually on the line, but it’s pretty close. The fact that it only seats six ups the soigné factor considerably.
Booked through July.

Five seats face directly into the kitchen, where Haute Barnyard chefs cook, plate, and expedite inches away.
No counter gives you a more intimate sense of being part of a real New York kitchen crew.
First come, first served.

Casa Mono
So close you can grab the olive oil and tapenade without leaning forward.
Cramped, hot, and noisy, but in a good way.
First come, first served.

Related: Take Your Teenager to the Chef’s Counter, Not the Chef’s Table

Ringside Seats at the Chef’s Counter