I enjoy good food—and I have a background with enough food service experience for me to appreciate the skills and dedication necessary to produce meals with a focus on quality or quantity. It’s relatively easy to cater a basic meal for 100 people. And it’s not too hard to cook a fancy meal for 4 people, while focusing on their individual tastes and desires.
It’s far harder to cook a fancy meal for 100 people while allowing each of them to tweak their orders and customize their dishes. But doing that with a six-course meal while putting on a show-quality demonstration of cooking techniques and delivering an extensive lecture on both the styles of cooking and the source of the ingredients is, well, remarkable. Yet that’s what happens at The Kitchen, the high end of Randy Selland’s already high quality hospitality network (along with Selland’s Market Café in East Sac and Ella at 12th and K).
I had the good fortune recently to join a group for a holiday party at The Kitchen, after hearing glowing rumors about it for many years. I also was lucky enough to sit at the counter, a seating location that in many establishments would seem like the hangout of the lost and the lonely. But here, it’s a front row seat for Chef Noah Zonca’s main event and an opportunity to watch not just the cooking but also the meticulous attention to detail as individual plates are made up in accordance with multiple dietary preferences and restrictions.
I’m lactose intolerant and not a fan of seafood. I was impressed as they replaced an entire fish course with equally well-prepared substitutes, and even more amazed when told that one of the cooks had prepared an entire batch of coconut and almond milk ice cream of the same flavor as the freshly made dairy version being served to the other guests. This is a meal that normally costs about $125 for six or seven courses, but the attention to detail and the showmanship somehow manage the impossible and make that seem like a bargain – it’s like a superlative-laced banquet and a flawless Vegas show all in the same room, and the menu is presented like a theatrical playbill.
Our event lasted almost five hours and included a break in the already rich action to enjoy sushi, sashimi and tempura by the courtyard fireplace and another break for coffee or custom-recipe pots of tea. Wine was free-flowing, the staff were ready to bring more of anything on (or off) the menu, and guests were welcome to explore the meticulous kitchen itself and talk to the staff about the various tasks being completed.
I had a chance to chat with Noah about a goat cheese documentary we showed at last year’s film festival – not an interaction I expect at most restaurants. Meanwhile, working alongside the chef, cooks, and servers were four culinary students getting the senior externship of their dreams, as every course of every meal challenged the theoretical content learned elsewhere in a classroom. That night they learned the finer points of everything from roasted mushroom-wagyu ribeye tart served with butter-truffled brussel sprout salad, crispy speck, and duck egg foie gras panna cotta (course #2), to maine lobster mac’n’cheese (half of course #5) and peppered bacon brittle (like peanut brittle only with bacon and a minor but critical component of course #6).
I learned a series of lessons in price perception and attention to detail that I will share with my own marketing and hospitality students. I also want to go back, even if I’m paying my own way next time.
2225 Hurley Way, #101
Dinner Wednesday through Sunday