FOCUS: CREATING A MEMORABLE DINING EXPERIENCE
We have all read dozens of articles about how millennials would rather spend their hard-earned dollars on new and exciting experiences rather than accumulate stuff that ultimately weighs them down. I would argue that most people I speak to these days are looking to have greater life experiences instead of another pair of shoes. It is readily apparent that the dining community has tapped into this thinking in recent years, completely changing the way we think about dining.
People are not only interested in eating at a famous chef’s restaurant anymore, but they are also in search of unique and interesting dining experiences that go above and beyond great food. Especially in big cities, there are restaurants in secret locations, to supper clubs with special entertainment during cocktail hour, to dining in a chef’s very own living room. The more creative the better.
When asked what my favorite recent dining experience was, I can’t help but blurt out “Tokyo Record Bar!” While not brand new on the dining scene (they opened in 2017), the focus on the customer experience makes this place so special. Located in the heart of Greenwich Village, Tokyo Record Bar sits beneath its sister cocktail bar, Air’s Champagne Parlor. Here's a bit about my experience.
We begin our evening upstairs with a bottle of moderately priced sparkling wine and of course some caviar and king crab legs, which were both excellent. The lounge aims to make champagne and caviar accessible to those of us who don’t have expense accounts. The ambiance is on trend with palms, chandeliers, and neon signs with hints of bubbly themed décor spread throughout. The staff are very friendly and knowledgeable about the nuances of the menu items which is always appreciated.
At exactly 8:30 we are whisked downstairs to the cozy subterranean, cherry blossom lined izakaya and directed where to take our seats. We are greeted by a friendly server who places down several little snacks in front of us, pours a welcome shot of sake, and hands us two pieces of paper. We are first instructed to take a look at the drink menu and secondly to look at the vinyl menu – a meticulously curated list of songs by decade, obviously from their vinyl collection. Once everyone has submitted their selections our DJ assembles the perfect dining playlist just long enough to last throughout our seven-course tasting.
The meal itself is a creative menu that changes frequently. Some smaller bites at the start include, yes, more caviar, oysters, and an amuse-bouche sized cup of rich sunchoke soup. Larger sharing items were served, like beef tartare with fried shishito peppers, and cod katsu with a sweet ginger sauce. Dessert was an incredible pot-de-crème with delicate flower petals. Before we can count how many courses we've had, the music comes to a halt and the chef presents the last dish – a slice of cheesy homemade pizza – an effort to keep us all from going hungry after the tasting menu. Definitely the way I would always like to end my meals.
The focus on not only delicious food, but also the crowd-pleasing playlist, the personal interaction with the chef, and friendly servers all make this a unique dining experience I would highly recommend.
For those of you who are wondering, next up on my list of experiential dining is Zauo, a Japanese transplant with over 20 locations throughout Japan. The idea: climb aboard a boat, grab a fishing rod, catch your dinner, and they prepare it for you right there. Oh, did I mention this all takes place inside the restaurant?? Surely a unique experience.
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