Five Faves: Lively Restaurant Counters

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If you’re in a social mood and are seeking some live entertainment, it can be great fun to sit at a restaurant counter and chat with the cooks as they prepare the restaurant’s meals. It’s also a good way to pick up some fancy cooking techniques.

Tuli Bistro
This cozy counter fills up quickly – arrive early to watch chefs dance around each other (the space is tiny) and make the restaurant’s popular thin-crust pizzas and super-fresh salads (don’t miss the spring-inspired wood-fired asparagus salad, tossed in a Meyer lemon vinaigrette, with shaved Parmesan, salty bits of bacon and a warm poached egg).
2031 S Street (at the corner of 21st and S Streets), Sacramento, (916) 451-8854 www.tulibistro.com

The Kitchen
The ultimate counter dining experience, The Kitchen is part live theater, part restaurant. There’s nothing else like it in the Sacramento region – pricey and ultra-indulgent, it’s a foodie’s dream come true. Bring your sweetie, and be prepared to be blown away.
2225 Hurley Way #101; Sacramento, (916) 568 -7171; www.thekitchenrestaurant.com

Formoli’s Bistro
Visitors to this friendly East Sac bistro get a birds-eye view of Formoli’s compact demonstration kitchen. It’s fascinating to watch the cooks’ quick hands as they assemble the restaurant’s eclectic plates, from the delicious sweet-salty warm Medjool dates, stuffed with goat cheese and pancetta; to the comforting pasta dishes. If you’re hankering for red meat, order the wildly popular whiskey burger.
3260 J Street; Sacramento, (916) 448-5699

Mikuni Japanese Restaurant & Sushi Bar
Multiple greetings in Japanese are loudly called out as you are led to your seat at Mikuni’s counter, and that’s just the beginning of the festive experience you’ll enjoy at the region’s Mikuni restaurants. Sushi chefs are chatty and deft, the menu items are predictably fresh and tasty, and the restaurants’ vibe is always upbeat. For something a little different, try the agedashi tofu, a finger-licking deep-fried tofu appetizer.
Several locations in the region: visit http://www.mikunisushi.com for details

California Pizza Kitchen
This is a great place to bring the kids – it’s fun to watch the pizza cooks run dough through the sheeter, then toss it in the air before smearing on the tomato sauce and adding the toppings. Pizzas are them gingerly placed in the restaurant’s huge oven, only to be pulled out moments later, crackly and ready-to-eat. It’ll make you wish you had your own pizza oven at home.
Market Square at Arden Fair, 1735 Arden Way, #220, Sacramento, (916) 568-0932; http://www.cpk.com