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The hardest DC reservation to get is at Minibar, José Andrés’s six-seat, 30-course epicurean playground in Penn Quarter. Now other chefs are following his lead, creating micro-restaurants with more dishes than there are seats.

For more than a year, Bryan Voltaggio, chef/owner of Volt in Frederick, has been taking reservations for Table 21, where guests are treated to a two-hour hypermodern cooking show inside the kitchen. Demand for the experience—thanks in large part to Voltaggio’s second-place finish on Top Chef—prompted him to double the number of seats recently from four to eight.

About five months ago, chef Robert Weland started serving a 20 Bites menu at Penn Quarter’s Poste, a dinner available for up to four people a night. While he doesn’t stretch his culinary legs as much as Voltaggio—some of the 20 bites are also on the dinner menu—he uses it to experiment with new ingredients.

In March, Vidalia chef R.J. Cooper debuted Vidalia 24 at the downtown DC spot. The table for six on Friday and Saturday isn’t as modern as Minibar or Volt—“it’s still real food,” says Cooper.

What’s the appeal of these restaurants within restaurants? Besides an extravagant meal and an entertaining culinary performance, customers get to interact with chefs—maybe even the ones they’ve seen on TV.

This article appears in the May, 2010 issue of The Washingtonian.  

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