Entertainment at the table
My earlier post on bananas Foster inspired Donna Beth Joy Shapiro to write me about the various ways waiters used to entertain us at the table.
The most obvious one is Caesar salad. When it was the It salad, it was always prepared tableside. The waiter started by breaking a raw egg into a bowl to make the dressing. Just the fact that restaurants don't use raw eggs in their salad dressings anymore meant that had to stop. ...
The chopped salad at Marconi's could very well have been chopped in the kitchen. It was just part of the show.
Danny Dickman, when his restaurant Danny's on N. Charles St. was the fanciest restaurant in town, used to prepare steak Diane at the table.
And there were other showy desserts besides bananas Foster (cherries jubilee and baked alaska come to mind) that involved the waiter.
The reasons these have, for the most part, disappeared aren't all that complicated. As MrRational pointed out under the bananas Foster post, that's asking a lot of today's servers. They come and go; and as a restaurant owner, you have to concentrate on the basics when training someone these days.
But the main reason, I think, isn't a practical one. It's more that these dishes are considered a little passe. After all, it was often the owner, not the server, who did the cooking at the table.
I can think of examples of tableside cooking for entertainment even now. At Tersiguel's in Ellicott City our waiter prepared the viande du marche, rib eye with demi-glace and bearnaise. But Tersiguel's has a lot of traditional French dishes on its menu.
More common these days is the boning of a whole fish tableside. Or in the case of Real Seafood in Annapolis, the shelling of a lobster. These aren't so much entertainment as just doing the work for the customer and showing that, yes, the fish or shellfish was whole as ordered.
And the most obvious examples of all nowadays, as Donna Beth pointed out, are the hibachi cooking at Japanese steakhouses and, more interesting to me, the preparation of sushi if you sit at the bar.
Now that's entertainment.
(Barbara Haddock Taylor/Sun photographer)