Scoring a reservation at one of Philadelphia’s best-loved dining rooms isn’t enough; the truly haute make sure they are in the middle of the action by pulling up a chair to the chef’s table. With kitchen views, special menus and direct access to the team in chef whites, these tables turn supper into a spectacular. Check out one of these top five options next time you are up for dinner and a show.
If there’s difficult reservation in this town, then it’s Amada. Ever since then-hardly-known Jose Garces opening his first Philadelphia restaurant back in 2005, the ambiance, flavors and excitement of this Spanish tapas spot has been luring in the customers. The now-Iron Chef hasn’t messed with the winning formula, still offering perfect sangrias along side a vast menu of classical small bits like shrimp swimming in fragrant garlic oil and zesty flatbreads topped with short ribs. Amada’s Chef’s Counter is the divider between the high energy dining room and the even higher energy kitchen, perfect for enjoying the sizzle of the fry pans and flamenco dancers that stomp on stage every Wednesday and Friday evening.
Amada is located at 217-219 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, 215.625.2450, www.amadarestaurant.com
Lacroix’s delicate and delectable French fare gets a luxurious upgrade when you book at their in-kitchen Chef’s Table, available Monday through Thursday. A massive marble slab that seats seven hungry guests, the table has a first-row view of the cooks creating your meal; they’ll even chat you up and explain some of their techniques. The menu is designed around the day’s best items and your personal preferences and can include as many as 12 courses. Throw in wine pairings by expert sommelier Eric Simonis and you have an indulgence that will upgrade any weeknight.
Lacroix is located at 210 West Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia, 215.790.2533, www.lacroixrestaurant.com
Run by husband and wife team Jim and Kristina Burke, each meal at James feels like a fabulous dinner part in their home. The dining room is bright, the fireplace welcoming and, of course, the food divine. The Chef’s Table ups the cozy quotient, ensconcing patrons in a rich, chocolate-hued room with hand-painted murals and dripping crystal chandeliers. Opt for the tasting menu and you will be happy with every dish placed before you, especially if you can work in the amazing hand-cut pappardelle with duck, orange and chocolate.
James is located at 824 South Eighth Street, Philadelphia, 215.629.4980, www.jameson8th.com
Super chef Mark Vetri‘s newest restaurant is like a love song to Italian food. It’s not refined, it’s not pretentious. It’s casual, rustic and dedicated to the food. So of course the best spot in the house is where you can watch the talented team prepare delightful morsels like seafood frito misto and my personal favorite, paccheri with swordfish and eggplant fries. True to the restaurant, the Chef’s Table is instead a bar, with simple stools for the taking. It’s just inches away from the finishing station, allowing you to see and smell every item created.
Amis is located at 412 South 13th Street, Philadelphia, 215.732.AMIS, www.amisphilly.com
Large groups looking for the intimacy and perks of a Chef’s Table should check out Moshulu — the Penn’s Landing-docked trading ship-turned-restaurant — and its 20-person table. With it’s own room, own sky light and own access to the kitchen, the space is perfect for celebratory tasting meals. Courses like tuna tartar with wasabi avocado and diver scallops with lemon and artichoke risotto will impress, as will the post-dinner view of the city from the top deck.
Moshulu is located at 401 South Columbus Boulevard, Philadelphia, 215.923.2500, www.moshulu.com