1. 18 seats in the back of a grocery store
Diners must snake through a Manhattan grocery store to get to the high-end 18-seat tasting counter at Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare. The open-kitchen restaurant fits in the fine-dining realm with a menu heavy on Japanese dishes, including mackerel, caviar from Shanghai and A5 Miyazaki beef. Male diners here must wear jackets, and dinners cost $390, including tip, but not beverages.
2. Tasting menu on a timeline
Sean Brock’s 22-seat McCrady’s restaurant in Charleston, S.C., serves a tasting menu with the promise of a time frame. Unlike some lengthy tasting menu formats, Brock takes care to serve diners a complete meal in about two hours. This is Brock’s latest iteration of McCrady’s, which opened in 2016 with inventive twists on Southern cuisine. The fine-dining restaurant shares a building with the casual McCrady’s Tavern, which opened in 1778.
3. Shrinking seats but raising prices
Two-year-old Washington, D.C., tasting menu restaurant Pineapple and Pearls announced at the end of 2017 that it would reduce the dining room’s seats from 90 to 70—to boost diner comfort—while at the same time raising ticket prices from $280 to $325 per person starting in April. Diners can also dine at the bar, where prices jumped from $180 to $225. The 12-course tasting menu opens with an edible cocktail.
4. High-end dress code
The only non-U.S. spot new to AAA’s list is Tempo by Martin Berasategui, located in a luxury hotel in Cancun, Mexico. To dine on its 10-course tasting menu that pulls inspiration from Basque cuisine, the establishment requires men to wear dress pants and shirts and women wear evening gowns. Also: No kids are allowed in the dining room.
5. Interactive and hyperlocal
The Catbird Seat, the experimental, 22-seat restaurant that runs on a ticket system, in which diners pay for their reservation in advance, opened in Nashville in 2012 but has continued to reinvent itself in the years since. Chicago transplant Ryan Poli is now the restaurant’s third chef. Diners sit at the U-shaped bar, with cooks in the center preparing, serving and describing each dish on the internationally inspired tasting menu. Some ingredients are grown in the restaurant’s patio garden. The restaurant hosted a Tuesday Test Kitchen series on the first Tuesday of each of several months last year, offering significantly reduced ticket prices for customers interested in trying out work-in-progress dishes.
6. Farm-to-table veteran
Chef David Kinch first launched Manresa, a Michelin three-starred restaurant that serves farm-to-table cuisine, in Los Gatos, Calif., in 2002. For a decade, Kinch partnered directly with a farm to bring in grown-to-order produce for Manresa’s tasting menus. That relationship has ended, but the restaurant still focuses on local, seasonal cuisine.
7. Water taxi required
Guests reach waterfront restaurant Topper’s in Nantucket, Mass., by taking a one-hour water taxi ride that includes predinner cocktail service. The restaurant, which has a wine list of more than 25,000 bottles, offers a three-course prix-fixe menu focused on high-end proteins such as lobster, veal and Retsyo oysters from the nearby bay. The restaurant closes each winter.
8. Boosting engagement through cooking classes
Vetri in Philadelphia regularly hosts cooking and baking classes, with chef-owner Mark Vetri collaborating with guest chefs. A $300 pasta-making class with James Beard Award-winning Vetri next month, for example, is currently sold out. The restaurant features a multicourse Italian tasting menu focusing on local, seasonal ingredients.