Peter Ungár always had his eye on opening a restaurant someday. What he didn’t always know was that when he did, he’d be part of a new ticketing trend that’s turning the restaurant concept on its head. Journeyman was the first local eatery to adopt a ticketing model, making the shift from reservations last fall, but Ungár’s Tasting Counter will offer ticketing from day one when it opens early this month in a 1,000-square-foot space within Somerville’s Aeronaut Brewery.
“We’re telling our guests to leave your wallet at home. When you buy your ticket, it’s like going to a show, a sporting event, a concert,” says Ungár, who helmed private dining service the Dining Alternative for a decade after working at the Bristol Lounge. “It’s about focusing in on our guests’ experience.”
Customers who’ve purchased tickets for one of the two dinner seatings (6 and 8 pm) will be greeted at the door by a sommelier or any member of the kitchen staff who happens to be free at the moment. They’ll be taken to a 20-seat counter that’s right in the middle of the open-kitchen action. The nine courses will come one after another shortly after the customers are seated. About two hours later, after the second dessert is served, dinner will be done—no waiting for the bill.
“There’s no time spent looking for a menu, ordering, waiting for a check. All of that is completely out the door,” Ungár says. “You walk in, and the guest’s dining experience starts immediately. And when you’re done, the end of the meal is apparent and the guest is done and leaves.”
Ungár wants the focus to be on the New American-style cuisine, which will use global techniques on local and seasonal ingredients. Of the nine courses at dinner, there will be three appetizers, two fish courses, two meat courses and two desserts. Each preparation will be quite different from the next—a lightly steamed sea bream might be followed by a crispy roasted monkfish served on the bone. And the courses will be paired with flights of wine, beer, sake or non-alcoholic cocktails, so any customers returning before the menu changes each month can get a fresh tasting experience if they choose a different flight.
Despite his hope for a regular clientele, Ungár knows that with fine-dining prices, his restaurant is sure to get tagged as a special occasion destination rather than a neighborhood spot. (Advance tickets are $150-$165 for dinner and $50-$55 for a three-course lunch; walk-ins based on availability will entail a small surcharge.) So he’s embracing the idea of offering his customers an experience.
“It’s really about the guest witnessing their entire menu come together. For me, the more you know about where a dish is coming from, the more comfortable you are with it and the more you’re going to enjoy it and be satisfied with it,” Ungár says. “As a joke as a kid, you say, ‘Close your eyes and open your mouth.’ I’m like, ‘No. No way.’ ”
Tasting Counter 14 Tyler St., Somerville (617-299-6362) tastingcounter.com