dining together

design sponge had a great round-up of communal dining tables for the home, which got me about the new trend of communal dining at restaurants. i have been to at least 4 upscale places in manhattan (and le pain quotidian, which doesn't count because it's a bakery and it's everywhere) that offer communal dining: buddakan, mercer kitchen, the tasting room and hudson cafeteria. my first exposure to this trend was at mercer kitchen, where i felt lucky that my graduation dinner wasn’t seated at the communal table-i don't know how much my parents would have liked sharing our private function with another group. at the tasting room our group was around 15 people, big enough to justify the communal table. since the table was so big, and the rest of the restaurant was so small, it felt more like we were eating in some amazing cook’s kitchen. for both mercer kitchen and the tasting room, it seems the introduction of the communal table just has to do with space- it makes more sense to have a very large table in the restaurant so that you can accommodate big groups as needed, and book it in smaller fractions, with the added "hip" component, for groups of 2 or 4. however, at buddakan and hudson cafeteria, it is much more about the scene; buddakan is a cavernous space where the communal table is at the bottom of a grand staircase- if you're seated at it, you are sure to be noticed, and sure enough, the time i went it was populated by sex-in-the-city types. for hudson cafeteria, they’re going for ambiance. again, they have more than enough space, but the long, long tables and the high backed throne chairs give you an alice in wonderland feeling- as if you’re at the table with the angry queen of hearts. it's equal parts whimsy and terror, which is rare for a restaurant setting, and probably not what they were hoping for, because ultimately it is not very appetizing since the space distracted from the food, which happens to be very good.

my default brunch place, boerum hill food company, also has a communal table, which i've only sat at once, when my brother was in town and our party was big enough to fill the table with no need for strangers. because that's what they are, like it or not, strangers- even though you’re supposedly going to bond after breaking bread with them. i guess i’m just not nice enough to want to share my meal with someone i don’t know. although it is almost inevitable that the seats at the communal table will be available before seats at a regular table, i've always declined, preferring to wait longer.

it must be obvious by now that i’m not a fan of the communal table- while sitting with strangers might prove interesting, ultimately the whole experience distracts me from the real reason i went to the restaurant in the first place: the food.
Jessie said...

I was surprised to hear you're not a fan of the communal eating. My experiences have been completely different - I suspect because they've all been in decidedly more humble settings than those you describe.

My favorite communal tables are the round banquet tables at Din Tai Fung in Arcadia and any table at Frank on 2nd Ave. Both are very family oriented, so the communal seating doesn't feel contrived.

Neither takes reservations, so the communal table is a way to get to your food faster. I, of course, am always starving; so that's pretty important:)

Both are also very "ethnic." I recognize people don't normally describe Italian as ethnic food. I just mean that both have this strong cultural atmosphere. Neither's culture is my own. So I think I also like the communal table because it makes me feel like more of a part of the experience than a visitor.

Does that make sense?

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