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The Tasting Counter Trend Is Officially Dead Thanks to Taco Bell

It was fun while it lasted

[Taco photo via Taco Bell/Facebook]

One of the big trends in high-end gastronomy over the last decade and a half is the move away from regal dining rooms and toward intimate chef’s counters like you find at Brooklyn Fare in NYC, Saison in San Francisco, and MiniBar in D.C. Chefs young and old across America are embracing this format, and it’s not uncommon to find a few tasting menu experience on “best restaurants” in America lists, like Eater’s National 38. And now, there is a new player in the tasting menu scene, whose name might sound familiar. It’s a Southern California-based restaurant group serving quirky Mexican-American cuisine with sly molecular gastronomy flourishes called Taco Bell.

The Taco Bell test kitchen experience is a textbook example of how a culinary trend can travel from tiny independent restaurants all the way to massive food corporations. Here are five things you need to know about this new, eye roll-inducing stunt:

1. Taco Bell’s test kitchen is housed inside the company’s headquarters in Irvine, California. The company has previously held dish previews and press events in this space, but it has never been open to the public before. Here’s what it looks like:

2. Starting May 19, the company will offer sporadic meals for the public, with reservations available on OpenTable, just like at many fancy actual tasting menu restaurants. Here’s the official video announcement:

3. The meal will feature five courses of new dishes “inspired and plated by Taco Bell’s top creators and chefs” with optional drink pairings, including booze for diners over 21. No word yet on just what, exactly, will be on the menu, but a press kit for the kitchen shows some type of DIY soft taco. That video also has a shot of some corn being tossed in a pan, and what looks like a petit filet mignon being torn apart. And here’s what the experience might look like from the diner’s perspective:

Had a fun visit to @tacobell HQ today. Thanks for letting us play in the test kitchen!

A post shared by ajasenak (@ajasenak) on

4. Unlike every other chef’s tasting counter experience in America, this one is free, because this is really just one big publicity stunt.

5. The reservation page will go live on May 5. Only 23 slots are available (with plus ones), but anyone who’s shut out can apply for the waiting list.

For more on what to expect from Taco Bell’s exclusive culinary bunker, check out Conan‘s tour of the test kitchen from two years ago:

Taco Bell to serve a 5-course meal to 32 super fans inside Irvine test kitchen [OCR]
All Coverage of Taco Bell [E]

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