Try A Progressive Dinner
The next time you travel, schedule each course at a different spot.
November 30th, 2018
Thanks to mouth-watering Instagram posts and what she calls “hit list dining,” people are traveling more and more for the food, says Kristen Hawley, San Francisco-based senior editor at Skift Table, the dining vertical of the travel research company Skift. “There’s an unprecedented interest in food and restaurants—it’s a top reason people travel or choose certain destinations.”
That’s why progressive meals—when you start the evening in one home or restaurant and then move to a different location for each course—can be so appealing, she says. Instead of experiencing one restaurant per night, you can fit in three, four, or even five if you’re feeling ambitious.
To curate your own progressive dining experience, you can plan a mix of reservations and walk-ins. Hawley recommends being upfront with the service staff when you arrive (tell them you’re planning to order light and need to be out at a certain time), tipping generously, and eating at the bar when possible. Stick to one neighborhood as spending too much time traveling between locations will kill the momentum.
Consider the size of your group, adds Katzie Guy-Hamilton, New York City-based food and beverage director at Equinox. She recommends keeping it to six or fewer. (It also makes it easier to get a table.) Have everyone suggest their ideal spots and the courses they’d like to try at each, and see how it all falls out on a map and timeline. If that sounds like a lot of logistical trouble, she recommends travel planning service Journy, whose trip planners are tapped into chef networks and which will put together itineraries for you, including dinner reservations, whether you're traveling or eating locally.
To keep things healthy, plan on one more extravagant course and then keep the rest light. “Think of it as a tasting menu,” says Guy-Hamilton. “Paced, portioned, and balanced.”
Here, two chefs share their ideal progressive dinners in their own cities.
An Asian Feast in New York City
When Thomas Romero, executive chef at Acme in New York City, is looking for a nutritious meal, he often turns towards Japanese or Korean dishes. He’s intrigued by the unique treatment of ingredients in these cuisines, which he applies to his own cooking that’s focused on seasonality, sustainability, and quality. “I always feel really good after eating a Japanese or Korean meal,” he says. “The food feels healthy, nourishing, and revitalizing.” So, he’d target these midtown spots for a healthy progressive meal:
Danji: Start with a modern take on Korean food at this small-plates restaurant, along with some wine. Romero recommends pairing the spicy yellowtail sashimi with crispy potato flakes or the shrimp and scallion pancakes with a glass of Riesling.
Kokage: This casual spot is more suitable for a single course. Try the ohitashi, which is spinach in dashi broth with chrysanthemum petals. “To me, broths and soups are comfort food. I tend to go for the more unusual items on a menu, where the chef gets to show their best ideas,” says Romero.
The Kunjip: Romero suggests ending the night at this authentic Korean restaurant with the hae mool jungol, or spicy seafood casserole, which includes a wide variety of seafood as well as tofu in a spicy red broth. “It’s a big dish, so split it between two or three people,” he says.
A Walkable Tasting in Santa Monica
Los Angeles chef Nyesha Arrington looks to the city’s different neighborhoods, cultures, and cuisines to inspire the menu at Native. Deeply familiar with the Westside—she’s been there for 16 years—some of her favorite spots are within a five-minute walk of her restaurant. Her ideal progressive dinner includes the places where she always runs into neighbors and friends; here’s what she suggests.
Esters Wine Shop & Bar: Start the night with a glass of wine at Esters, a wine shop/bar/restaurant where Arrington says the staff is extremely knowledgeable and welcoming. “There’s a great community feel to the restaurant.” Order a cheese or charcuterie board or any of the other highly shareable menu items, and enjoy everything on the patio.
Cassia: Next, have an appetizer from what Arrington describes as a “very Southeast Asia meets California” menu, which has a big focus on seasonal ingredients. She loves the spicy wontons and the green papaya salad.
Native: For your main, head to Arrington’s own Native, where she recommends the mushroom spaghetti, which includes wild foraged mushrooms, local burrata cheese, snow pea tendrils, and a pile of bright greens on top. “It’s like salad meets pasta,” she says. And if you’re ready for dessert instead, try the banana cake, a combination of caramelized overripe bananas, blackstrap molasses, coconut milk, brown sugar, and brown ale, all topped with a ginger-y sauce, whipped creme fraiche, and toasted almonds. “It’s great for people who don’t love sugary-sweet desserts,” she says. “It’s just a little sweet, with amazing textures.”