Chefs and foodservice operators are encouraging socialization with menus, presentations and venues that maximize interaction and the eating experience.
On warm nights in the backyard of Ada St. in Chicago, patrons dine at outdoor patio tables and picnic benches clad with red-checkered tablecloths under the glow of candles and strings of lights. Between courses, they watch tournament action at the ping-pong table or simply listen to cuts from the house’s vintage vinyl record collection.
“It’s kind of like a party,” says Michael Kornick, chef and co-owner of Ada St., as well as the Chicago restaurants DMK Burger Bar and Fish Bar, all with partner David Morton. The cozy tavern-style spot seats 25 in the backyard and 45 inside.
In addition to chef Zoe Schor’s small plates menu, customers can choose specialties cooked on a Weber kettle grill in the backyard, like garlic-and-sage-rubbed Tuscan-style pork ribs and grilled corn with queso fresco.
Kornick caters to the yen for social dining with a community table at DMK Burger Bar and counter seating at Fish Bar. Both formats encourage customer interaction, although not to the extent of the relaxed, homey atmosphere of the Ada St. backyard.
“You see people at one table get up to play doubles ping-pong with people from another table,” says Kornick. “But there are still a lot of customers who want to dine by themselves, whether they are on a date or a couple out for the night.”
Ada St. Menu Sampler
From the Grill:
Seared Rare Beef Tenderloin, arugula, parmesan, horseradish; $14
Grilled Corn, chili-lime aioli; $5
Eggplant, Greek yogurt, Tremiti olives; $8
JW Marriott Chicago
The chance to rub elbows with hotel professionals and learn the finer points of wine-and-foodpairing is the object of a unique social media-based contest by the JW Marriott Chicago hotel.
Each month, the hotel uses its Facebook and Twitter pages to invite esteemed guests and local wine aficionados to vie for six seats at a Wine Ambassador training session. They enter the contest by going online and posting their favorite example of the wine varietal of the month. A chosen few attend an hour-long training session with director of restaurants Olivier Lau and chef Pete Pettorossi. There they taste three different wines made from the varietal and learn to pair them with small plates of food.
Although all JW Marriott properties school their wine-selling associates this way, only the JW Marriott Chicago opens it up to select non-employees.
“We find that a lot of people who don’t work in the industry actually are very knowledgeable and very passionate about wine and food pairing,” says Pettorossi.
Participants include elite-level hotel guests and local wine bloggers whose influence reflects well on the JW Marriott Chicago wine program.
“Wine service in the lounge is a big component of our success,” says Lau. “Our wine sales are about 30 percent of the beverage sales there.”
JW Marriott Chicago Wine Ambassador Menu Sampler
Trimbach Gewurztraminer 2007 with Smoked Salmon, crème fraiche and dill
Fitz-Ritter Gewurztraminer Spatlese 2008 with Widmer’s aged brick cheese
Soljans Gisborne Gewurztraminer 2009 with Arbol-Spiced Shrimp