Sometimes a lunch or a dinner is more than just a necessity, it's an unforgettable event. In this roundup, we hat-tip to the restaurants, event planners, theaters and alt-bars that are creating interactive cultural adventures around meal-time. Dining out is certainly "a production" with these folks, and we mean that in the very best way.
|Diner en Blanc - Paris and worldwide|
Originating in France, this popup picnic has been dubbed a "white party for foodies," a chic foodie flash mob and an epicurean phenomenon. Now a quarter-century old, it has become an annual institution in Chicago, New York and other East Coast cities. After drawing more than 1,000 enthusiastic socialites out to Beverly Hills this month -- lugging folding tables and dressed in their finest white evening wear -- Diner en Blanc now heads to San Diego, for perhaps the beachiest soiree in its history.
|Chef's Encounter - Tru, Chicago|
In one of Chicago's most critically acclaimed restaurants, you can't reserve the chef's table or even over-tip the maître d' for it. Chef Anthony Martin chooses who will sit at his table, walking around the dining room and selecting random diners and regulars to visit him for a single course. He comes up with dishes on the spot for them -- and since this is a social-media-savvy restaurant, diners are encouraged to snap smart-phone photos on a specially lit tabletop and share them with "friends."
|Reel Chefs - Theater One and Revere Hotel, Boston|
The "dinner and a movie" classic night out becomes so much more with this series, which has brought everything from "Pulp Fiction" to "The Muppets" into the Revere Hotel's beautiful Theater 1on Boston Common. Special menus match the movie, so this summer's Muppets movie screening ended with the Animal-styled dessert pictured, while the next screening, in October, will be an artistic culinary offering to fit the partnership with Art Week Boston.
|Tableside Cheffing – Casimir & Co., New York City|
Tableside meat carving and Caesar salad preparation are fairly common, but it's rare to see a stateside restaurant prepare a signature red meat dish tableside, with any spicing and garnish choice a guest might want -- but not a moment on the flames. At authentic French bistros such as Casimir & Co., guests can direct the server in preparing their steak tartare tableside, and then send it off to the kitchen to be seared. But seriously, doesn't that defeat the point? To get the true flavor of the dish, eat it raw, per the recipe and tradition.
|Lunch with a Llama – Taos, New Mexico|
Like most New Mexico towns, Taos is known for its outdoor adventures -- and one specialty tour operator is creating quite a buzz with its buck-toothed, furry trail companions. "Take a Llama to Lunch" day hikes are a runaway hit (pun intended) with family vacationers. It's no wonder kids want to hit the northern New Mexico trails with these goofy-cute creatures: they're gentle (when trained to be) and big enough to carry all the gear.
|Dance. Drag. Brunch. – The Palace, Miami|
Every kind of fabulous is welcome at this Miami Beach LGBT institution that's become a perennial mainstream draw. From scenesters winding down their weekend to tourists looking for an eye-popping bit of "real Miami" and locals to the occasional curious family, guests of the Palace get served with endless mimosas and unforgettable drag theatrics. The daylight setting makes it more approachable, but those who want to walk on the wild side can stay for the T-dance and whatever comes next.
|Ninjas, Ninjas Everywhere – Ninja Restaurant, New York City|
Is that a real ninja plating your food, pouring your water or sneaking up behind your table to scare the wits out of you while you're eating? Probably not. But at Manhattan's Ninja Restaurant and Akasaka in Tokyo, people line up nonetheless, for the peculiar pleasure of dining in a replica ninja village from the Samurai era. It's touristy, loud and unsettling (how can you relax when a ninja might rappel from the ceiling and land in your soup?) but it's also unforgettable, and that's what keeps the crowds coming.
|It's Your Privilege to Forage – Bedford Post Inn, Bedford, N.Y.|
Our caveman ancestors would probably have grunted in amusement at this burgeoning trend, which sees affluent, perhaps not very outdoorsy hotel guests spending their days in search of the produce that will make up their meals. At places like Bedford Post Inn in the Northeast (pictured), Mendocino in northern California and Fogo Island in Newfoundland, guests book special packages to get in touch with their latent hunter-gatherer instincts.
|Lobster Safaris – West Sweden|
Saltwater shellfish in West Sweden is incredible – the clear, chilly seas are an ideal habitat for jumbo-sized sweet crayfish, oysters, crab and lobster. The end of summer signifies the start of something delightful for seafood lovers: lobster season. Locals go straight to their favorite local fisherman or fish market stall, while tourists enjoy the thrill of the hunt on the "Seafood Safaris" that have become a popular early autumn day trip.
|Top Chef-style "Cheftestant" Team Building – Tarrytown, N.Y.|
Looking for something different and fun to liven up your semi-annual office retreat? At Tarrytown House, reality TV food shows serve as the inspiration for team-building offerings. The hotel even has a converted former kitchen space customized to host these events, while the F&B team enjoys acting like producers and judges -- creating challenges, scoring the throwdowns and making sure no one packs their knives to go.