Clockwise from top: Rosie Linares, JD Crayne and Jason Mai
Restaurants with kitchen-side seating give customers a front-row view of the cooking and an opportunity for a more personal experience with chefs. Local spots offering this feature include, clockwise from top, Town, Arya Global Cuisine and Top of the Market.
Diners looking for a more unique restaurant experience don’t always have to go searching — they could just head closer to the kitchen.
Restaurants with kitchen-side seating give customers a front-row view of the cooking and an opportunity for a more personal experience with chefs. Local spots offering this feature include Town, Top of the Market and Arya Global Cuisine.
At the American restaurant Town in San Carlos, customers can choose one of 10 counter seats looking into the open kitchen. Executive Chef Jeremy Cheng, 35, said the counter is a "very cool” part of the restaurant and one of the most seated areas. There are many regulars who sit here and some seats even have names on the backs, Cheng said.
Personally, Cheng loves giving customers the counter seating treatment. It’s a different experience for him than in a regular kitchen. He gets the opportunity to meet and talk to people and even serve them himself sometimes, he said.
"It keeps my job very different from day to day,” Cheng said. "It reminds me a lot of a good sushi bar ... or oyster bar where you get to interact with your customers and recognize your regulars and take care of them.”
The chefs are "super aware” of what they’re doing since they’re right in front of the counter and the customers, Cheng said. Cooks can more easily interact with customers once they figure out who does what to make sure different food is done at the same time, he said.
If Town customers sit at the counter (or even at regular tables) they’ll see a lot of energy, Cheng said, and "the art of a professional kitchen.” Sometimes he’ll give regulars samples of food if he’s trying a new recipe or wants their opinion.
Sitting at the counter means seeing a little more action. Customers say they enjoy watching the synchronization of the cooking, Cheng said. He encourages customers to sit here if they’re interested in what the cooks do or have questions, he said.
"It’s almost like theater, I hear a lot,” Cheng said. "Like dinner and a movie almost. Something else is going on, and if you want to talk we can talk.”
The seafood scene
If you’ve got a hankering for seafood and find yourself at Top of the Market in San Mateo (located above the Fish Market), you can also find counter seating. Customers at these seats can see every part of what’s happening in the kitchen, said executive chef Stafford Mather.
When Mather, 45, arrived at Top of the Market just more than a year ago he was told that keeping the counter seating was a priority — to keep the chef and customers engaged with each other, he said.
"People still really love to watch the action here,” Mather said. "I think it’s good for me and it’s good for our cooks ... it’s a nice environment, there’s a view, we can actually talk to people. Our guests love it.”
Mather prefers this open kitchen environment to a separate kitchen. It gives him a chance to be more social and observe what’s happening in the restaurant, he said.
Like Town, customers at the Top of the Market counter seating could be treated with samples. Sometimes Mather will send out tastes of things to customers, especially if they’re interested in what he’s making, he said.
As a cook in this setting you have to be comfortable with yourself, Mather said. And sometimes you have to let customers know you can’t interact with them at that moment.
When Top of the Market customers sit at the counter they can expect to see "all the sights and sounds of a kitchen in action,” Mather said. About 99 percent of people want to interact with the cooks, he said, and even sometimes make friends with other customers sitting there.
"I want people to see what’s going on and if they want to chat us up ... that’s part of it too,” Mather said.
A third option for diners looking for a closer connection with the kitchen is Arya Global Cuisine in Redwood City. The restaurant lives up to its name, serving Italian, American and Persian food. Executive chef Mike Hashemi, 45, opened the restaurant with his wife in February.
Arya customers can sit at the restaurant’s high counter seating and see all the different types of cooking going on, Hashemi said. There is also a chef’s table in front of the kitchen where customers can sit if it’s not reserved to get the kitchen-side experience.
When he’s at the Redwood City location (there’s another in Cupertino) he always talks to the customers at the counter, Hashemi said. And if customers want something that isn’t on the menu "we make it happen,” he said. Customers at these seats can also ask servers for samples of what’s being prepared in the kitchen if they’re interested, Hashemi said.
When people choose these counter seats at Arya Global Cuisine, they’ll see "the whole show” of how the food is made, Hashemi said. Having an open kitchen with counter seating allows cooks and customers to be involved with each other and lets customers see how clean the kitchen is, he said. And Hashemi loves interacting with the customers himself.
"Restaurant business — if you don’t love it you cannot be in there seven days a week, 24 hours,” Hashemi said. "We love people, and we always make sure the guests walk out happy.”
While some customers may just want a quiet dinner others might want to see what’s happening in the kitchen, Hashemi said, and he would encourage these customers to try the counter seating.
"If they want to experience the kitchen ... of course, we built that for that [purpose],” Hashemi said.
Town — 716 Laurel St., San Carlos. (650) 595-3003
Open Monday-Friday 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.
Monday-Saturday 5 p.m.-10 p.m.
Sunday 5 p.m.-9 p.m.
Weekend brunch: Saturday-Sunday 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m.
Top of the Market — 1855 S. Norfolk St., San Mateo (650) 349-1845
Monday-Friday 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.
Monday-Thursday 5 p.m.-9:30 p.m.
Friday-Saturday 5 p.m.-10 p.m.
Sunday 5 p.m.-9:30 p.m.
Arya Global Cuisine — 885 Middlefield Road, Redwood City (650) 367-4939
Sunday-Thursday 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m.
Friday-Saturday 11:30 a.m.-11:30 p.m.