In a town where choosing which flip-flops to wear can be the biggest sartorial choice of the evening, sometimes its hard to muster the energy for an elegant evening out. But being so incessantly relaxed can become a trap in itself. Tableside dining brings the romance back to eating out, demanding that we sit up a little straighter and keep our elbows off the tablecloth.
With its history of swank hotels and faux grandeur, Los Angeles has been a perfect incubator for tableside prep in which the waiter, often with great pomp and circumstance, assembles a dish in front of your eyes. From the Caesar salad, invented by Caesar Cardini in the 1920s in Tijuana before migrating to L.A., to The Dal Rae, serving bananas flambe and cherries jubilee since 1951, we have contributed a fair share to the tableside experience.
Not surprisingly, all the restaurants on this list are epically situated with views, history and decorations galore. So leave your beach garb at home for once, dust off your red shoes and turn an evening out into a little bit of theater. Los Angeles is, after all, the classic city for reinvention.
6. La Sandia
A place for relaxation, the main thing to love about La Sandia is the location. Atop Santa Monica Place on the revamped dining deck, La Sandia catches even the slightest whisper of a sea breeze. The happy hour menu is limited but sufficient, with a good tableside guacamole. A fresh and simple mix of avocado, onion, cilantro and salsa gets spliced together in front of you while you sip your $5 margaritas. What could be finer? The Mexican corn on the cob with cotija cheese and habanero aioli is also delicious and quite generously portioned. 395 Santa Monica Place, Santa Monica; 310-393-3300.
5. Lawry’s the Prime Rib
It’s harder to get more historic Angeleno than Lawry’s the Prime Rib. Open since 1938 and specializing in tableside, the dining rooms are ensconced in wood paneling, and countryside murals take you back to Ye Olde England. The dishes prepared at your table range from prime rib carving (produced on a special, space-age silver cart) to baked potato prep. The spinning salad with “vintage dressing” is a Lawry’s original, and a little on the sweet side. But their tableside charm is undeniable as servers whip the large silver bowl of lettuce, spinach, beets, croutons and egg in a dizzying process that coats every morsel evenly. Lawry’s flair is indisputable. 100 N. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills; 310-652-2827.
4. Café del Rey
Putting the marina in Marina del Rey, Café del Rey gives good view. The panoramic windows in the main room look out upon scads of boats, making it exceedingly easy to relax — and to imagine that you're on vacation, experiencing tableside at dockside. What better place to enjoy a martini? Café del Rey’s seasonal martinis use house-made infused vodkas and sweet vermouth. The martini is shaken tableside for a bit of glamour. Aside from this classic take on the cocktail, Café del Rey enhances the on-holiday vibe with its melon madness martinis. These drinks incorporate either fresh cantaloupe or fresh honeydew melon, served icy cold. Pair yours with one of the Mediterranean-influenced items on the menu, like the Barramundi with Brussels sprouts, tangerines, fennel and basil aioli. 4451 Admiralty Way, Marina del Rey;310-823-6395.
The grandeur that is Rivabella begins upon entrance. The atrium-like dining room is filled with greenery, like trees laden with flickering tea lights. The entire ceiling opens up after the sun goes down. The drama of tableside service suits the experience to perfection. First off, for the porcini risotto, a waiter wheels up a cart displaying a glorious twenty-five pound wheel of Parmagianno-Reggiano (direct from Emilia-Romagna after being aged for 24 months). Then, porcini and risotto are mixed inside the depression in the giant cheese wheel and then topped with large shaves off the wheel. A generous amount of truffle is the final touch. Bring your object of desire and get lucky. 9201 W. Sunset Blvd., W. Hollywood; 310-278-2060.
2. Barton G.
Tableside service is to Barton G. what the lion tamer was to the Barnum & Bailey Circus: the main attraction. The waiters at Barton G. present dishes as works of entertainment. The cotton candy is presented as a wig on a mannequin, the popcorn shrimp comes in a popping machine bursting with popcorn, drinks actually give off smoke from liquid nitrogen. It only makes sense for food to be tossed, dipped and even cooked right in front of you. One of the most unexpected of these offerings is the rake-and-hoe garden salad. Bursting with market fresh greens, herbs and blossoms with a side of seeds, grains and nuts and a nice helping of quinoa, this diverse group of ingredients gets tossed with white truffle champagne vinaigrette, right out of a miniature watering can. The whole shebang works because beyond the showmanship, the dish is delicious. 861 N. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles;310-388-1888.
Eating at Providence is like watching a great film by an auteur, say Scorsese: you know from the first moment that you’re in good hands. The precision, attention to detail and all-around thoughtfulness of the food confronts you at every turn. Also like a Scorsese film, you're submerged in the full-on pageantry. The entrance at Providence is spectacular, with artsy, ocean-themed “barnacles” and “nets” letting you know you’re in for some serious seafood. Chef Michael Cimarusti does not disappoint. There are a couple of great tableside offerings that manage to combine bold and simple in an impressive feat of culinary engineering. The clean flavors of the Santa Barbara spot prawns and the live New Bedford scallops come across loud and clear with just a few choice additions— a hint of rosemary, a bit of black truffle. The scallops are steamed for a scant six minutes in their own shell, sealed with a thin pasta and egg wash and presented like it’s Christmas morning. The spot prawns are roasted in a mountain of sea salt. Both are so tender and so redolent of the sea, they nearly make you cry. 5955 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles; 323-460-4170.