Add Panache To Dinner? Bring Back The Glory Of The Trolley

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Seeking to add panache to your holiday dinner? Choose those wonderful dishes whipped up or carved table side on vintage silver and mahogany trolleys.

Table service has evolved greatly since the French royal service à la française when all dishes were set before the guests entered the dining room, and servants ran around slicing venison roasts and carving guinea hens. Then around 1860, came the Russian version: service à la russe with its parade of courses and roasts carved in advance in the kitchen. 

“Rolling carving tables and trolleys were invented to facilitate meal service in the first trains,” said Anne Gros, in charge of Heritage at Christofle in Paris. “And we still make them!”

At Daniel, table service is definitely a part of the experience, not an element of scenery. One recent evening, bartender Andrey Matseyev pushed a dark wooden trolley in my direction. On top, an elegant glass carafe in the shape of a duck held mysterious smoke. Coasters made from sliced logs supported a series of flasks and a square marshmallow. I had ordered the S’more Envy, a December special consisting of speculoos-infused Angel’s Envy Bourbon, Amaro Averna, and cherry-cocoa bitters served with smoke fire roasted marshmallow.

“Table service fosters conversation,” said Mr. Matseyev as he whipped out a mini blowtorch to roast the marshmallow. A few more moves and he poured the drink first into the smoke-filled carafe and then in my glass. Delighted, I inhaled the wintry atmosphere of a cozy chalet. The taste was smoky but smooth, and round with just a hint of bitter.

By the time I emerged from my dreamy, snowy state, all eyes were on Pascal Vittu, fromager and maître d’ who, under the watchful eye of general manager Karim Guedouar, was cooking flambéed foie gras on a trolley table side. His hands seemed to dance between two gleaming pans on hotplates; one pouring spoonfuls of liquid fire over the caramelized, tender meat, the other pitching the pan just so.

“Nostalgic chefs and restaurateurs miss the elegance and the theatrics of the past,” said Ken Albala, Professor of Food History. “They are bringing back the flambées and the large pieces of meat carved at the table.”

During weekday lunches at Orsay, the appetizer trolley is a hit. As many as eighteen salads and appetizers, each nestled within small rectangular china bowls, revolve around a central pivot. 

“We tried to retire it,” said Managing Partner Bernard Collin, “but our guests were all up in arms.” 

On Wednesday nights Orsay offers prime rib served from a stunning Christofle 1920s trolley and at the recently reopened La Goulue, the carving tables are in use most evenings. On a recent Tuesday, a shiny silver dome revealed crispy, aromatic canard à l’orange

“We are opening soon in Palm Beach,” said Mr. Collin. “And we are getting ready to ship our trolleys there!”

Not everybody uses vintage ones though. In Midtown, The Grill’s trolleys are custom made by RCP Design in Brooklyn. The restaurant was a symbol of modernity when it first opened in 1959 but when it reopened in 2017, the new team strived to respect the past while ensuring there would be a future.

“A big part of the mid-century service style was tableside preparations,” said chef and co-owner Mario Carbone. “It gave a customer the chance to inspect the product and oversee its preparation. We bring that idea back in full force at The Grill.”

At Benoit several dishes are finished table side but it’s the flamboyant roasted chicken that’s given the royal treatment. Carved delicately table side, it commands attention from the entire dining room. 

“Besides the sense of theatre that it creates, table side service is also the opportunity for the maître d’ to connect with the diner,” said chef Alain Ducasse.  “Table side service is timeless.”

 

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Seeking to add panache to your holiday dinner? Choose those wonderful dishes whipped up or carved table side on vintage silver and mahogany trolleys.

At Benoit, manager Olivier Gresselin carves the chicken table side.

Manager Olivier Gresselin gives the chicken the royal treatment at Benoit

Benoit

Table service has evolved greatly since the French royal service à la française when all dishes were set before the guests entered the dining room, and servants ran around slicing venison roasts and carving guinea hens. Then around 1860, came the Russian version: service à la russe with its parade of courses and roasts carved in advance in the kitchen. 

“Rolling carving tables and trolleys were invented to facilitate meal service in the first trains,” said Anne Gros, in charge of Heritage at Christofle in Paris. “And we still make them!”

At Daniel, table service is definitely a part of the experience, not an element of scenery. One recent evening, bartender Andrey Matseyev pushed a dark wooden trolley in my direction. On top, an elegant glass carafe in the shape of a duck held mysterious smoke. Coasters made from sliced logs supported a series of flasks and a square marshmallow. I had ordered the S’more Envy, a December special consisting of speculoos-infused Angel’s Envy Bourbon, Amaro Averna, and cherry-cocoa bitters served with smoke fire roasted marshmallow.

The S'More Envy cocktail at Daniel is prepared table side.

Everything is ready for the S’More Envy cocktail at Daniel in New York

Sylvie Bigar

“Table service fosters conversation,” said Mr. Matseyev as he whipped out a mini blowtorch to roast the marshmallow. A few more moves and he poured the drink first into the smoke-filled carafe and then in my glass. Delighted, I inhaled the wintry atmosphere of a cozy chalet. The taste was smoky but smooth, and round with just a hint of bitter.

By the time I emerged from my dreamy, snowy state, all eyes were on Pascal Vittu, fromager and maître d’ who, under the watchful eye of general manager Karim Guedouar, was cooking flambéed foie gras on a trolley table side. His hands seemed to dance between two gleaming pans on hotplates; one pouring spoonfuls of liquid fire over the caramelized, tender meat, the other pitching the pan just so.

At Daniel in New York, seared foie gras is finished table side.

Karim Guedouar and Pascal Vittu finishing seared foie gras table side at Daniel in New York.

Sylvie Bigar

“Nostalgic chefs and restaurateurs miss the elegance and the theatrics of the past,” said Ken Albala, Professor of Food History. “They are bringing back the flambées and the large pieces of meat carved at the table.”

During weekday lunches at Orsay, the appetizer trolley is a hit. As many as eighteen salads and appetizers, each nestled within small rectangular china bowls, revolve around a central pivot. 

Only available at lunch on weekdays, the appetizer trolley is a hit at Orsay in New York.

The appetizer trolley at Orsay in New York offers about 18 different salads.

Sylvie Bigar

“We tried to retire it,” said Managing Partner Bernard Collin, “but our guests were all up in arms.” 

On Wednesday nights Orsay offers prime rib served from a stunning Christofle 1920s trolley and at the recently reopened La Goulue, the carving tables are in use most evenings. On a recent Tuesday, a shiny silver dome revealed crispy, aromatic canard à l’orange

At La Goulue in New York, canard à l'orange awaits the carving knife under a silver plated dome.

Kept warm under the trolley’s silver plated dome, canard à l’orange awaits the carving knife at La … [+] Goulue in New York.

Sylvie Bigar

“We are opening soon in Palm Beach,” said Mr. Collin. “And we are getting ready to ship our trolleys there!”

Not everybody uses vintage ones though. In Midtown, The Grill’s trolleys are custom made by RCP Design in Brooklyn. The restaurant was a symbol of modernity when it first opened in 1959 but when it reopened in 2017, the new team strived to respect the past while ensuring there would be a future.

“A big part of the mid-century service style was tableside preparations,” said chef and co-owner Mario Carbone. “It gave a customer the chance to inspect the product and oversee its preparation. We bring that idea back in full force at The Grill.”

At Benoit several dishes are finished table side but it’s the flamboyant roasted chicken that’s given the royal treatment. Carved delicately table side, it commands attention from the entire dining room. 

“Besides the sense of theatre that it creates, table side service is also the opportunity for the maître d’ to connect with the diner,” said chef Alain Ducasse.  “Table side service is timeless.”

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