Living Rooms Are the New Dining Rooms, and We're Very Cool with That
As a viewer, one of the most appealing aspects of Sofia Coppola's 2006 Marie Antoinette is watching Kirsten Dunst eat cakes on couches, in the comfort of lush studies and drawing room areas. There is something so decadent about eating a meal, or a portion of it, in a lounge-like setting, free from the confines of the dinner table.
You no longer need to be at home—or an eighteenth-century Austrian teen queen—to eat excellent food from the comfort of couches, thanks to the quiet proliferation of a new restaurant trend: the living room as dining room. In restaurants opening around the country, guests are being given the option to enjoy their food or drink or after-dinner coffee outside of the dining room space, recalling the standard from centuries ago, when meals lingered far longer than you could ever sit at a table. Two new restaurants perfectly embody the very best that living room dining can be.
At Troutbeck in Amenia, New York, a resort with a wonderful restaurant run by chef Marcel Agnez, the dining is refined, with French-inflected dishes organized around Hudson Valley's bounty, but the setting is comfortable and cozy. There's a dining room, of course, but there's also a study, and a library, and a fireplace with cushy chairs, if you feel inclined to wander to a room where you can lean back to eat your cheese board or grass-fred pork chop rather than sitting rigidly to meet it. On a recent visit before lunch, I drank wine and ate potato chips in the library, finding an old copy of Sartre's Being and Nothingness that I read on the couch. I stayed in the room for the remainder of lunch.
Anthony Champalimaud said the rural property, which reopened to the public in 2017 after decades as a private estate, was "reimagined to serve as a country house, residential in feel, with a very high standard of service—akin more to what Europe has in this respect than what presently exists here."
This rejection of fanciness, at least as constructed in American fine dining, adds to its appeal.
"Sharing a meal with others is primal, it’s emotional and, essential," added Champalimaud. "It’s a critical component of our cultural dna. Imposing rules is antithetical to our objective. Our kitchen is led by a team that has 'haute cuisine' in their blood but mud on their boots."
Jack Rose, which opened in April, has a space called The Living Room, where guests can enjoy plush seating for their pre-dinner cocktails and snacks in a room fashioned after old New Orleans Lower Garden District home. They can even eat their whole meal there. (That meal should certainly include their crawfish bread, which involves sliced focaccia layered with raclette, cooked on the plancha, and layered with sautéed crawfish tales, creole seasoning, and hot peppers.)
"Having a living and dining room allows our guests to choose their own adventure," said Emery Whalen, founder and CEO of QED Hospitality Group. "Traditional coursed-out dining, casual lounging, just drinks, just snacks; all are options. We have seen diners tailoring their dining experience to their own preferences."
Undoubtedly, sofas have become more common within conventional restaurant dining rooms, too, as the diversification of dining experiences—within the same space—becomes a bigger priority. At a recent visit to the Las Vegas location of Southern fried chicken restaurant Yardbird, I could choose between sitting at the bar, a traditional table, or the couch area. A similar choice was offered to me at D.C.'s HalfSmoke.
Every time, I chose the couch.