These days, with more diners yearning for proximity to the chef, the table closest to the heat and clatter is hands-down the best in the house. But a chef's table can range from an actual seating in the kitchen—allowing diners to spy on the meal in production—to a spot somewhat removed from the fray in a private dining room or wine cellar. Most offer a tasting menu of hand-selected specialties, frequently paired with wines, and personal interaction with the chef. Here are several we discovered.
Tabrizi's 500 Harborview Drive, 410-727-3663. Geography: The granite-topped island is in the dining room, with a view into the open kitchen about five feet away. It seats two-to-six. Reservations required. What you get: The "Gourmand Tasting" (also available throughout the restaurant) features five tasting courses. Chef Michael Tabrizi, pictured, discusses the lineup with guests in advance and continues to check in with them as the courses roll out. Price: $85 per person, not including wine (flights available). Vibe: Quiet and elegant, with a grand piano (on weekend nights) and stunning views of the harbor.
Taverna Corvino, 1117 S. Charles Street, 410-727-1212. Geography: The "Chef's Banco" is a bar near the kitchen with a view through a glass partition. It seats four. For larger parties, a table for up to 14 can be arranged in the private dining room. What you get: The menu, featuring small plates paired with wine, can range from five to 10 courses and is designed in collaboration with the chef, who appears with each course to pour a sauce or adorn the plate. Price: $45 and up. Vibe: It's away from the crowds, but wait staff rush back and forth.
Aldo's Ristorante Italiano 306 S. High Street, 410-727-0700. Geography: More than a table, it's an entire wine cellar below ground and some distance from the kitchen. There are two dining areas there—one seats two-to-four; the other, up to 16. What you get: The "degustation" or tasting menu—six to eight courses—changes seasonally and usually includes the signature tournedos Rossini (grilled filet mignon with seared foie gras). Price: $115 per person for the tasting menu, or minimum $125 per person a la carte. Wine pairings are available for $50 a person. Vibe: Private and intimate. It's "like being in a Tuscan wine cave," says co-owner Sergio Vitale.
Volt 228 N. Market Street, Frederick, 301-696-8658. Geography: Table 21 is a four-seat counter in the kitchen. There is also a "kitchen dining room" with four tables, all with views of the work area. Each table seats four. What you get: Twenty-one courses at Table 21. The kitchen dining room has two six-course tasting menus (one vegetarian). Price: $121 per person at Table 21, extra for wine; $95 per person with $45 for wine pairings at the kitchen tables. Vibe: Table 21 is a viewing station for the prep work and plating that goes on at the kitchen headed by Top Chef finalist Bryan Voltaggio. The kitchen tables are also in the midst of activity. Note: Table 21 is booked through 2010. Reservations are being taken for 2011. But don't lose hope for something sooner. Subscribers to Volt's blog get a heads up when there's a cancellation.
Alizée boutique bistro and wine bar 4 W. University Parkway., 443-449-6200. Geography: A retail wine shop adjacent to the restaurant is outfitted with a long table that seats up to eight. What you get: Chef Christian deLutis consults with the table to put together a six-to-12-course meal with wine pairings. Price: DeLutis estimates about $10 per course, plus wine. Vibe: It's a private space, removed from the restaurant.
Corks 1026 S. Charles Street, 410-752-3810. Geography: A professional kitchen on the restaurant's second level is used for cooking classes and special events. A stainless-steel prep table (covered with a tablecloth for dining) seats up to eight. What you get: Personable chef Jerry Pellegrino will prepare a meal on site for your private party. Price: $90 per person and up, including wine. Scheduled "Wine and Dine" events are $79. Vibe: It's like your own kitchen with your own private chef.
Blue Hill Tavern 938 S. Conkling Street, 443-388-9363.Geography: Secluded seating is in a raised alcove in the first-floor dining room. The walls are decorated with menus from such celebrated restaurants as The French Laundry, Le Bernardin, and Nobu. Two tables seat four, or one table, 10. What you get: A four-to-10-course chef's tasting menu can be requested in advance. Courses are usually smaller portions of items on the menu, though other dishes (foie gras, lobster) can be added. Chef Brett Lockard interacts with guests, usually toward the end of the meal. Price: $40-$200, depending on the menu. Vibe: The alcove, sheltered by a mesh curtain, is carpeted and quieter than the rest of the dining room.