Cooking with an audience doesn't throw Shane Lyons, chef-owner of Tribeca's Distilled NY; two years as a regular performer on Nickelodeon's All That live-action sketch show squeezes performance anxiety right out of you. The chef may not be an actor anymore, but his kitchen is certainly putting on a show from their new Chef's Counter, an intimate, four-seat affair for diners to watch meticulous (but fun!) plates of food materialize before their eyes.
Unlike some other chef's tables, whose hallowed seats can be of the stuffier variety, the Chef's Counter at distilled has a more casual vibe, likely because the restaurant itself manages to turn out haute cuisine in a lively atmosphere; case in point: bowls of free popcorn and the gastropub's chicken wings are some of the more popular items. Still, the plates of food don't resemble typical public house fare and the flavors—aided by a current partnership with Welsh-based Halen Môn salt—aren't garden variety pub grub either.
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During a recent press preview, lobes of foie gras had been seared to a deep mahogany then served on an umami-rich sauce of miso caramel and sprinkled with vanilla salt. It's richness defined on a plate and the kind of wanton dish you'll feel guilty eating—but in a good way. Halen Môn unique salts—the crystals are quite large and crunchy, yet with a subtle salinity—lend something unique to each of the courses. The Chili-Garlic salt lent a serious kick to a sweet potato soup and a smoked sea salt made with oak, which gives the salt a nice roundness, was perfection in cutting through the richness of duck breast.
Chef Lyons can be a bit of a tough nut to crack, but he's passionate about food and if he's not busy conducting the orchestra of chefs and kitchen staff, will show you around the plate and explain what you're eating. The menu won't be the same each evening but through November 20th, Lyons will employ Halen Môn salts in all the dishes, after which a new partnership with an artisanal purveyor will start. The intimate counter only seats four diners per evening and meals can last a few hours if punctuated by some of the restaurant's signature cocktails. The experience costs $90 per person (drinks, tax and gratuity not included); email the restaurant for reservation information.