“We spent six months figuring out a way to collectively get peoples’ dislikes in a simple
fashion,” says Hebert, who opened Posh in 2008. “Since people are used to the paper menu you
get in a sushi bar, we took that concept and made some adjustments to it.”
With that simple slip of paper, Hebert invites guests to participate in an individualized multicourse
tasting adventure featuring exotic ingredients such as monkfish liver, uni, trout roe, kangaroo,
even peacock eggs. Familiar ingredients such as clams and Kobe beef also are commonplace, but
no dish is ever the same.
It goes something like this: Guests note choices sushi-bar style, including the number of courses
desired, optional wine pairings, allergy concerns and preferred level of “doneness.” Then, they cross
off “dislikes” from a list of seasonal main ingredients ranging from shrimp to lamb tongue. What
they won’t find: chicken, salmon and fries. Anything ordinary is off the table.
“We have exotic ingredients on the menu,” says Hebert, who admits that this form of dining is not
for the risk-averse or those who mostly eat chicken and fish. “If you’re the type of person who crosses
everything off the list but New York steak and shrimp, you should probably go to a steakhouse.”
Similarly, the improvisation experience is not designed for people on exclusionary diets, though
Hebert claims he knocks vegan cuisine out of the park. “If you come to Posh, cross everything off,
and see if it’s good, you just shot yourself in the foot,” he says.
prepping for the adventurous palate
Improvisational dining is easy and fun for guests. After all, they don’t have to guess which
menu items they’ll like best. But it’s labor-intensive for chefs who are charged with cooking in
front of a live, often hungry, audience.
Hebert and his team of five chefs spend four to five hours every day creating 30-40 dishes
from available ingredients, and they riff on those dishes, as well. Posh might seat 50-80 people
on Friday and Saturday nights with a six- to seven-course average (some diners order as many as
15 courses). That means Hebert and his team whip up 600-800 different plates a night. “It’s an
insane format, and we had to reconstruct the wheel to make it work,” he says.
Not only does it work, the concept is wildly successful. The restaurant has received four- to
five-star reviews on Yelp, OpenTable and Urbanspoon. And for good reason; after just one visit,
patrons fall in love with both the food and the chef.
While few chefs have the wherewithal or drive to cook for an entire restaurant of people on the
fly, a growing number are realizing the benefits of providing exclusive tastings for VIP guests. Take
Kitchen 218, for example, which offers the Chef’s Affair, a five-course menu tailored to a limited
number of guests. Eighty people might be dining in the restaurant on any given night, and 40 of them
are indulging in the Chef’s Affair.
Rebolledo’s secret to minimizing the complication factor is playing with the ingredients already
appearing on Kitchen 218’s standard menu. “I work with what I have on hand, whether that’s salsas,
garnishes or Chilean sea bass,” he says. Then, he seasons food simply with herbs from the restaurant’s
garden to create something special. He’s even been known to prepare guests’ own fresh catch.
“I never know what I’m going to come up with. For me, it’s great, because I get to play with
ingredients in a different way every night,” says Rebolledo, who admits that he doesn’t always
remember what he puts in a given dish.
Michael Santoro of New York’s Andaz 5th Avenue takes a different approach, prepping his
multicourse Chef’s Table days or even weeks in advance. Before each dinner, he speaks with guests
to determine needs, preferences and dietary restrictions, then tailors menus accordingly. The extra
time and detailed conversations enable him to figure out which flavors, styles and ingredients
guests prefer. And at $95 for four courses and $135 for five, he makes dishes sing.
“Depending on their likes and dislikes, I might offer dishes with asparagus, morels, sweetbreads
or frog’s legs with rhubarb,” says Santoro, who requires at least 48 hours’ notice before such an event.
sPeCial MeNus doing improv
n u e oPPosi Te: andaz 5th avenue offers housemade ricotta with country toast.
aNDaz 5Th aveNue
firs T Courses
•;Crostini with mashed walnuts, lardo,
•;The Shop vitello tonnato, sweet
potato, mission fig, goat cheese,
sunflower seeds, balsamic
•;Red’s Best scallop gratinée, Pernod
cream, savory breadcrumbs
•;Open-face ravioli of rabbit,
castelvetrano olive, young pecorino
•;Brussels sprouts crumble, salsify,
yellow foot mushroom, pistachio
•;Black bass baked in a salt dough
•;A presentation of suckling pig, red
cabbage, celery root puree
•;Cipollini onions with blue cheese
•;Glazed kaleidoscope carrots
four Th Course
•;A seasonally inspired dessert by
Vanarin Kuch, pastry chef