Shop Talk: 520 Chef's Table now more affordable

This week's retail news

Chef Clive Berkman of the Garden Court Hotel has decided to offer his monthly, gourmet, multi-course meal for half the previous price.

PRICES SLASHED AT COMMUNAL DINNER ... With an attentive nod to the tastes of the local dining community, Garden Court Hotel, 520 Cowper St., Palo Alto, has revamped its once-a-month, ten-course, gourmet meal. The 520 Chef's Table dinners, which start at 6:30 p.m. and last about three hours, take place on the third Thursday of each month. Until recently, the cost of the dinner was not cheap. "It came to about $300 a couple," said hotel Chef Clive Berkman. "We realized we were cutting some people out at that price. So now we have a lower price at $65 a person." While that represents a more than 50 percent price reduction, the meal still includes a specialty cocktail and featured wines. The number of courses has been decreased, Berkman explained. "We now serve a five-course meal instead of 10 courses. It was just too much food for too high a price." Another change is the introduction of themes for each month's event.

The first newly revised dinner was vegan. "It's not easy preparing a great dinner without using butter or meat or seafood, but we experimented a lot in the kitchen and came up with some creative dishes," Berkman said. Themes for the next few months include "Tomatoes, Tomatoes, Tomatoes," in which every dish will have tomato as an ingredient, "All Seafood," highlighting local fish from the Bay, and perhaps most intriguingly, "Head to Hoof," where different body parts of the animal will be included in each course of the dinner, including dessert.

At last week's vegan dinner, 18 diners were seated around a long wooden table in a private room at Garden Court. The setting for the fixed price meal is intentionally kept cozy. "We still want the dinners to remain intimate," said Berkman, who interacted enthusiastically with guests. He came out before each course was served to describe the ingredients, why he chose the specific combination of items, how the dish was prepared and why it would go well with the featured wine. "It's all very exciting. I bring the kitchen to you," he said, emphasizing what he calls a palate memory, in which he attempts to create each course with taste components of sweet, sour, salty and bitter. The wait staff were equally solicitous: Wine glasses were kept full, new silverware was delivered before each course and water glasses were never empty.

Got leads on interesting and news-worthy retail developments? Daryl Savage will check them out. Email shoptalk@paweekly.com.

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