Sometimes the best tables are in the kitchen. Particularly when that kitchen spans a full city block in midtown Manhattan in the basement of the historic Waldorf=Astoria hotel. And more particularly when that kitchen is run by executive chef John Doherty.
Doherty opens his kitchen to the public about twice monthly, inviting guests not only to tour the facility but also to watch the chefs in action and dine at tables set up amid the food prep stations. The Waldorf=Astoria's chef's table dinners are also available for private events that include a maximum of 35 people. Each menu is unique and based on seasonal ingredients, and courses are all paired with complementary wines.
To dine in the kitchen is to enter the chef's domain. "There are no tastings for this; there is no mutual planning. I taste the wine and I taste the food," Doherty explains. "If you're going to do it, you're going to do it my way. You come down and eat what I feed you." This approach may make planners nervous, as it did for the planner for NASCAR's Champion's Dinner, who balked when she saw that the menu for last year's annual feast included a rabbit dish. But after 20 years of running the Waldorf=Astoria's kitchen, Doherty knows how to impress his guests without alienating them. "I know that this particular audience likes familiar foods, but I told her that it wouldn't freak everybody out, and that we were going to leave it on the menu," says Doherty. He prepared a chicken dish as an alternative, just in case, but not one bird was requested. "Not only did they like the dish, but they got a kick out of the fact that they were eating rabbit and loving it." (Doherty paired the rabbit with a 2004 California Pinot Noir.)
Before the rabbit course, Doherty first served a prosciutto-wrapped monkfish with Honshimeji mushrooms, baby Brussels sprouts, red grapes, and piquillo pepper sauce. The fall vegetables added color and texture to the mild monkfish, while the prosciutto added a saltiness that was counterbalanced by the spicy and sweet elements of the pepper sauce. Doherty paired the dish with a 2003 Wattle Creek Viognier from California that he says had enough acidity and sweetness to highlight and bring together all the flavors in a dish. Which is what, he says, a wine should do: "If the flavor of the food comes back into the palate on its own after the wine is tasted, then the wine is just right."