In our recent review by Chicago Magazine there is a bit or lot of controversy involved over the communal dining aspect of Elizabeth. I knew dining at this level would turn some off, turn some on (literally), cause headaches, and potentially create new, unparalleled experiences. When I conceptualized how Elizabeth would produce dinner in this environment with the three entirely different menus, there seemed to be no other way than to seat the guests who would partake in the same menus at the same time at the same table. There is also a part of my style and menu planing that revolves around communal aspects considering I had cooked for 12 communally for the past 2 years. I began to fall in love thinking of my menus as a party, a "Mad hatter's Tea Party" really and I couldn't seem to break from it.
I've mentioned in some of my blogs the loose philosophy I have behind the communal dining, which is also a facet of the "New Gatherers Cuisine"and that it's bringing the people together over a common love of food. Hopefully. I'd say Mr. Ruby, the writer of the article, is right. In a crap shoot of communal dining you could end up with crap. However, what he perceived to be crap another entirely different person may have perceived to be joy. I'm not sure if there is a right or wrong. What I can say is that I remember this night clearly. I remember all those guests at the table. I don't remember or recall Mr. Ruby in the slightest. He was very stealth, which I suppose is part of his job.
Personally, I love to watch the interactions of our guests. Most of the time, 90% of the time, it is absolutely wonderful. It's a testament to humanity how well people can converse and experience a meal together having met for the first time. And when it's right on, it's SO right on. It cannot be explained other than as magic. When a table vibes together and is really bonding over their communal experience, it cannot be paralleled.
Of course I don't think one should be afraid of this experience or be put off they will sit next to strangers. There are many many restaurants where the guests sit communally. They might not have their meal together, which is the separating factor however the personal space and energy field does overlap.
Either way there are no rules but here are some things I've seen work.
1) Ask your fellow diners where they live in the City or in the Country
2) Ask your fellow diners what they do or what they like to do
3) Don't talk too much about religion or politics
4) If you want to come to dinner here and know you don't want to talk to others, call us, we can figure something out
5) If you want to talk religion, politics, and sex find 6-8 other friends, all come together, and book out a table
6) You may dislike that i say this but smile, you are out for a nice dinner
7) If you are a crabby person or get easily upset or tend to quickly judge others, this might not be the place for you. OR call and ask for our two top (but then don't sit there and judge or be crabby to me!) thanks
8) Have a drink beforehand
9) Chicago weather is always a good way to start a conversation
10) Ask others what their favorite restaurants or food is
11) If you don't know how you will feel come to the Owl menu first, it's our shortest menu. You will only have to be in the communal setting for 2.5-3 hours, if you don't like it then you know you can come for the 2 top table or come with more friends and secure a table for yourselves
12) Do this. Especially if you are new to the City and want to meet new people
...Again these are all suggestions. For me the most beautiful part of the communal dining is I'm witness to new friendships formed. Guests have called when they forgot to get their dining partners info so they can connect again. I've seen guests who met for the first time all rebook tables together. It's really an amazing experience. It really is.