Westend Bistro, the posh eatery inside the Ritz-Carlton on 22nd Street NW, has introduced a hyper-personalized dining experience that drills down into prospective customers’ culinary history.
The decade-old restaurant, originally helmed by celebrity chef Eric Ripert, launched a new menu option a few months ago that’s designed for only a select few each night. While the rest of the restaurant is dining on its high-end American fare, each “Chef’s Table” experience — five courses for $90, or eight for $125 — is taking place at a new six-seat marble counter that’s being booked one to three times a week and lasts about three hours. But the prep work required to deliver each diners’ ideal meal begins days before the actual visit.
The custom menu, the six-month-old brain child of Westend chef de cuisine Alvin Dela Cruz, starts like this: Those interested in booking first email Shannon.Draley@ritzcarlton.com, who contacts them at least 48 hours before the reservation to ask about individual dining preferences and the specifics of the occasion (birthday, anniversary, other). She then fills in Dela Cruz, who follows up with the customer to further hone their requests.
“I ask them what are the top three meals you’ve ever had. I recently asked a client if he was going to die tomorrow what he would get,” Dela Cruz tells Eater. Answers have ranged from “mom’s pasta” to a lobster roll “from this one place they grew up in in Maine,” he says.
Alongside the standard “any allergies or dietary restrictions” probing, inquiries document: guest’s favorite (and least favorite) proteins; textures; styles of cuisine; things they’ve never tried before; and desserts. Beer, wine, and liquor preferences are also in the mix.
Dela Cruz also gauges their appetite for adventure. One open-minded customer’s reward: a plate of lamb hearts. And via a charity group the Ritz-Carlton worked with, Dela Cruz got to close down the entire restaurant one night to cook for a sick child, whose goal is to eat at 50 restaurants in 50 states.
“We did a chef’s table on steroids for him — because there was no other service we were able to pull out all the stops,” Dela Cruz says.
An alum of the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay in Northern California, Dela Cruz says he likes the fact that he and his kitchen staff get to take a break from the set menu once in a while.
“It’s normally things that don’t fly in the restaurant,” he says of the chef’s table creations. The bookings also allow Dela Cruz to grow artistically in other ways; once he’s gathered all the information required to construct a fantasy menu, Dela Cruz sketches the future meal he has in mind in pencil on a canvas.
Some of the dishes also integrate personal touches from his kitchen staff, including influences picked up while traveling abroad.
“Each chef’s table evolves into something bigger and bigger. We have to figure out where the ceiling is,” he says. The service likely hasn’t expanded to sibling Ritz-Carlton restaurants because of the substantial time investment involved.
“I told them what we are doing and they recognize it’s cool and it’s fun but it’s a lot of work,” Dela Cruz says.
Attendees can tack on wine pairings (house wines for $30 or fine wines for $50), cocktail pairings ($40 per person), or beer pairings ($30 per person) with each meal. A mocktail pairing ($30 per person) was just added as an option, following intel from a chef’s table that included 18-year-old twins celebrating their birthday.