Sure, big showpiece restaurants helmed by celebrity chefs are glamorous and exciting. Their atmosphere makes for great theater, plus they turn out some seriously delicious food. But if you’ve had enough showboating and are seeking less swagger, then check out our picks for the coziest tiny restaurants around the country, where the food is micro-prepped, the atmosphere is intimate, and the experience often includes a ringside seat to the chef’s open kitchen.
MKT, Seattle, Washington
With only 28 seats (six tables and ten seats at the chef’s counter), MKT makes it feel like you’re sitting around the kitchen island of a very good cook rather than in a renowned outpost of chef Ethan Stowell’s mini-empire. And that’s why diners love it. “When people are seated at tables or in booths, they’re in their own little world,” says chef Alvin Go, who interacts with guests as he preps, and watches complete strangers connect while asking questions about each other’s meals. “At MKT, everyone interacts with each other.” To complement all this coziness, MKT is offering plenty of items cooked on its wood fire grill, including seared duck breast with pickled huckleberry. There’s also porcini ricotta ravioli, and several dishes integrate local apples, and quince (which comes from neighbors’ fruit trees.).Make a reservation at MKT.
Loosie’s Kitchen, Brooklyn, New York
Steps away from the Williamsburg Bridge, hidden behind Loosie’s Rouge, a bar with killer cocktails and Cajun-inspired small plates…there’s Loosie’s Kitchen, which has just 30 seats in the off-season (the number doubles in summertime thanks to an outdoor area). Come for the family-style dishes of fried chicken with house pickles and hot sauce, the duck confit with a shepherd’s pie, the macaroni with bacon, and the Nutella beignets — but stay for the impromptu games of Twister, the Hangover Brunch (dress code: pajamas), or maybe even a yoga class (No kidding. The staff puts these events on at random, which adds to the tight-knit community vibe). If you go, also prepare to be dazzled by high design, both in the décor and on the plate. There’s lots of white (painted bricks, oversized plates) paired with splashes of color and warm, natural wood. And given all that Loosie’s has going on, count on leaving full and with a slew of new BFFs. Make a reservation at Loosie’s Kitchen
Joe and Misses Doe, New York, New York
The best way to describe this place: a quirky mom-and-pop establishment smack dab in the middle of the big city with ambitious and totally successful food. Ya feelin’ the vibe yet? With only 26 seats and a 100-square-foot kitchen, Joe and Misses Doe will dazzle you with its four-course chef’s menu (choice of appetizer and entrée, set dessert, and a bread courses) that changes every two weeks. “Our space is unassuming,” explains Jill Dobias, who owns the restaurant with her husband, chef Joe Dobias, “but prepare to be wowed by what Joe creates.” Because it’s small, the restaurant gets to work with highly-focused purveyors who turn out top quality products in small batches. The result: a devoted clientele who sometimes cram in several visits during a two-week period to enjoy a menu a few times before it’s switched out. Make a reservation at Joe and Misses Doe.
Little Beast, Los Angeles, California
With 94 seats Little Beast isn’t exactly a tiny restaurant, but its setting — a 1911 craftsman bungalow in the Eagle Rock section of Los Angeles — is so cozy that it feels like one. “It’s like its own world inside,” explains Jose Perez, chef de cuisine, who makes food to match. “It’s homey and familiar, but because of our prep and ingredients, it’s also surprising. Everything is kicked up a notch.” Last season, Perez created a vegetarian Bolognese using crimini and porcini mushrooms over house-made pasta shells. He also incorporated the season’s apples into an Apple Wellington filled with frangipane (a custard made with almonds, butter, sugar, and eggs) and topped with apple cider sorbet. He always looks forward to incorporating ramps into as many dishes as possible. “Our small size means we can immediately act on any feedback we get from diners,” says Perez. Make a reservation at Little Beast.
Ten Tables, Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts
With a big focus on organic and biodynamic ingredients, Ten Tables (which actually now boasts a few more seats plus a chef’s counter) was doing farm-to-table cooking before it was cool. Hyper-local with a neighborhood vibe, the brick-and-wood intimate dining room serves up snout-to-tail inspired dishes like duck fat dumplings with cognac cream and selections of charcuterie, all of which is cured in-house. Book on a Tuesday for the four-course set menu paired with four wines all centered around a changing theme like a full-blown pig roast or ice apple ciders. “Guests are welcome to go up to the kitchen and talk to the chef,” explains manager Caitlin Amaral. If they don’t, chances are he still might deliver the dishes tableside and explain some of his choices and techniques. “It’s so much harder at larger restaurants to offer the same attentiveness and attention,” says Amaral. “We’re about connecting with the neighborhood, offering great food from local purveyors, and making certain everyone feels welcome.” Make a reservation at Ten Tables.
Audrey D. Brashich covers pop culture and lifestyle issues for outlets including Yahoo, The Washington Post, and The Vancouver Sun. Follow her on Twitter @AudreyBrashich.
Photo credits: Ten Tables (Zagat).