Restaurants as we know them today were, by many accounts, invented by the private chefs whose noble employers were guillotined during the French Revolution. Suddenly out of work, they created places for people to congregate and be "restored" by food (the root of the word "restaurant"). But that paradigm shifted drastically in around 2009 when the first "tasting menu" joints were opened by such culinary luminaries as Thomas Keller (The French Laundry) and Ferran Andria (El Buli). No longer was the point of a restaurant meal to gather with others, feed hunger, and chat about life. Instead, diners became audiences, with restaurants set up in such a way that the artistry of the chef was the focus.

The Tasting Counter, from chef Peter Ungar, is the latest in a line of eateries-cum-theatres. Like so many of its kind, the setting is deliberately simple: a spotlit steel kitchen surrounded on three sides by a shiny white counter, with deeply cushioned high chairs positioned around it for guests. The food? Deliberately complex. The majority of the conversation here is between waiter, sommelier, and diner, as they parse each dish and drink—where it was sourced and how each ingredient was coddled/tortured into what you see before you on the plate. That might mean a fish dish that gets its flavor from fermented rice but has nary a grain of the stuff on the plate. Or a truffled squash soup with a breaded chunk of foie gras which, when burst, imbues the broth with a burst of creamy liquid fat. It's dramatic, with a lot of Asian influences, and usually tasty—I'd give it a 70% in terms of dishes I'd want to eat again. Though it is not a cheap meal, since the price includes either a beer, wine, or sake tasting, it is significantly less expensive than restaurants of its kind are in other cities. So while it doesn't innovate much on this kind of culinary experience, it is well done overall and a good place to bring someone for a special occasion—especially if you're hoping not to have to make conversation with them.