California cuisine has long been celebrated for its use of extraordinary ingredients, from sustainably farmed produce and meats to artisanal cheeses. The state’s edible bounty is a huge draw for top chefs, which has made California a top destination for food lovers.
What better way to experience the Golden State’s cuisine than in the intimate setting of a chef’s table? There, attended by some of the state’s most renowned culinary masters, you’ll get a behind-the-scenes look at how artfully crafted dishes come to life.
From north to south, here are five of the state’s top experiences.
Manzanita, Lake Tahoe
Set in the Ritz-Carlton resort, Manzanita presents California cuisine with a modern, mountain-style twist. Reserve the private Chef’s Table, next to the restaurant’s exposition kitchen, and you (and as many as seven other guests) can interact with the chef as he prepares an innovative tasting menu. If you’re up for a more casual evening, the Chef’s Tasting Counter features communal seating and an interactive tapas tasting—all with a mountain view. Contact Manzanita directly for reservations.
The French Laundry, Napa Valley
If you’ve ever dreamed of having Thomas Keller’s celebrated French-inspired restaurant all to yourself, this is the next best thing. In an intimate private room overlooking the culinary gardens, your party of 8–12 guests will feast on a customized nine-course tasting menu, featuring the day’s freshest ingredients. Check availability online for this once-in-a-lifetime dining experience in Yountville.
One Market Restaurant, San Francisco
Six nights a week, at a table in a corner of its bustling exhibition kitchen, you can see what goes on behind the burners. Your visit will include a kitchen tour and the opportunity to get hands on with one of the evening’s dishes—complete with donning chef’s attire. Then you’ll be treated to a seven-course tasting menu of contemporary American dishes, served by the chefs themselves. The view from the chef’s table is part of the appeal—you can spot the Ferry Building clock tower from the restaurant’s 20-foot windows. Contact One Market Restaurant directly to reserve (note that the chef’s table accommodates up to seven diners). For more about fine dining in the San Francisco Bay Area, listen to this episode of the California Now podcast.
Wine Cask, Santa Barbara
Local, in-season ingredients are the focus of this neighborhood restaurant, which is why it offers a weekly Farmers Market Foodie Stroll. You’ll tour the Tuesday afternoon farmers' market with executive chef Brandon Cogan, helping to select prime ingredients for the night’s meal. You’ll then head back to the restaurant, where he’ll transform them into a three-course dinner, paired with local wines at the Chef’s Feasting Bar. Contact Wine Cask to reserve for a group of 6–16 people.
n/naka, Los Angeles
Every table is special at n/naka, which is why it is considered one of L.A.’s best chef’s tables. Each night, Chef Niki Nakayama meticulously prepares a 13-course tasting menu based on the traditional Japanese culinary concept of kaiseki, which takes the freshest seasonal ingredients and presents them in their most natural state. Nakayama balances classical and modern techniques to create jewel-like dishes that command attention with their beauty and purity of flavor. Her artistic cooking style led to a feature on the Netflix documentary series Chef’s Table. Book reservations online—they are taken up to three months in advance.