Restaurant Review

Through the Looking Glass

The Table is an eccentric, fantastical addition to the city’s restaurant scene.

By
From the March 2014 edition

Spatial relations can go on hiatus when you enter The Table.

True to its name, the restaurant is populated by an army of adorable vintage tables and chairs that once occupied kitchens and dining rooms. It is a charming scene that sometimes fails to take into account a diner’s kneecaps or the distance between his or her head and lap. One night, I found myself bending over plates of food located somewhere in the region of my lap because the table simply didn’t fit my average frame (it wasn’t accommodating to my 6-foot-4-inch dining companion, either). Another night, a friend and I were seated at a miniscule two-top even though we were the only diners in the restaurant. I gazed jealously at the other tables.

Size distortion continues on plates, where some portions are very big, some are very small and some are just right. Desserts beckoning from glass cloches along a counter in front of the kitchen are buxom or petite, though all are tempting. Even the old-school cocktail coupes are deceiving; a cocktail can go down very smoothly in such a pretty little glass.

There are a lot of good minds and restaurant pedigree behind The Table, including owners Christen Corey (Jeni’s, Tasi, Pistacia Vera), Sang Lakhani (Bodega, Ravari Room, Hounddog’s) and Jen Marlatt (Basi, Rigsby’s, Haiku). Besides them, the restaurant employs a small army of cooks, bakers and waitstaff. It can seem the place is swirling with more eager employees than customers, making it all the more frustrating to wait 20 minutes after ordering for a first course to arrive.

Things are a bit out of whack at The Table in so many ways, but the food is so good, the drinks so likable and the welcome so genuine I found myself willing to forgive and even embrace the eccentricities. Sometimes a little improvisation and imperfection make a restaurant experience endearing rather than aggravating. That’s the case at The Table, where diners should relax and go with it (just watch your knees).

On every visit, begin with a plate of charcuterie and cheese ($28 for three meats and two cheeses, other sizes available). You can treat the perfectly respectable cheese as a bonus, but the real attraction is the charcuterie. Charcuterie chef Donte Allen is nailing it. Pork rillettes, seasoned and shredded pork confit blended with enough fat to render it spreadable, had a luxurious texture, with tiny brunoise of carrots sprinkled throughout for color and texture. Country pate, studded with pistachios, hovers between sweet and savory, as did a pork belly cured with fruits. The accompaniments are thoughtful, too. One night, two cubes of gelee with tiny flecks of potent jalapeno suspended inside were placed beside a smear of deep purple blackberry jam, itself garnished with a whole blackberry.

Cocktails are another excellent place to start a meal at The Table. One night, the place was so crowded we were pointed to the bar, where a bartender slid two menus across the lacquered surface and our eyebrows rose, catching all the good words: gin, bubbles, frothy, mead, whiskey, Campari. (This and many other words are misspelled on the menu. The world needs editors!) Pressed to choose just two, we gambled on the Fernet-Ginger ($9) and the 5th Fashion ($9) and won on both counts. Fernet Branca, a bitter Italian digestif, is an acquired taste when served solo. But mixed with other spirits, its herbal notes emerge and it can mimic mint. That’s what it does in this superlative cocktail of Fernet, sweet vermouth, ginger syrup and lime. It’ll make a great summer refresher when the sun returns.

In just a few visits, we had traversed most of the menu, but we’d hardly scratched the surface of the desserts, which change constantly and seem to rarely repeat, presenting diners with confounding choices and uneven rewards. A ginger-spiked layer cake had a pleasantly dense crumb and frosting light enough to be eaten in fat forkfuls. Shards of crystallized ginger on top both identified the key ingredient and lent snap to several bites. Chocolate angel-food cake melted magically. Better, it tasted like real chocolate, a flavor absent in a bewildering percentage of “chocolate” desserts. But two desserts, both in pastry crusts, were tough and refused to yield to an assertive push with the side of a fork; a slice of apple galette was all mixed up, with firm pastry and cloying filling that had been minced to near-applesauce consistency.

You could easily build a meal out of the items on the perimeter of the menu. Only two salads have been on the menu, but both are excellent. Forbidden Salad ($9) is sprinkled throughout with nutty, firm black rice as well as fennel, walnuts, apples and a variety of lettuces. Our waiter helpfully recommended it for “people who want a salad-salad.” But true salad lovers will pounce on the Raw Tangle ($9), a haystack of raw julienned vegetables in tangy lemon-yogurt dressing atop a pool of zesty, smoky eggplant puree.

Among small plates, Beef Carpaccio ($13) with roughly broken pieces of spiced and salted lavash, was exceptional. The beef was beautifully seasoned, and was served at just the right temperature (too cold and you can’t get a read on the flavor) with restrained garnish. Too often, beef takes a back seat to gooey sauce or copious capers, as though a chef has assumed anyone ordering carpaccio is doing it for looks and not for, well, the carpaccio.

All of this talking around the edges isn’t a hint to skip the main courses. But pound for pound, they wow less than the smaller stuff. Short Ribs with Buttered Marrow Toast ($30) are slow-cooked to the point at which the collagen has melted smoothly. Ho-hum mashed potatoes and root vegetables on the side pale in comparison to the main attractions. Brick Chicken ($20) is the chicken of urban legend, moist inside, crisp outside, generously seasoned and—as friends might tell you in disbelief—it tastes like chicken, not the bland white weeknight protein you’ve been deceived into thinking tastes like chicken. Sides of succotash and greens were forgettable next to that bird. But Lamb Ragu ($18) is another matter. Do scoop up puffy little Parisienne gnocchi (made with pate a choux) with lamb and greens and a swipe of the creme fraiche perched atop the glorious mound. This is a smart dish that is at once rich, tangy and familiar; it never strays too far any way.

Of course, the restaurant as a whole does stray into some odd directions. Did I mention the lower level? It’s a charmingly odd space that combines dining room on one end with pastry kitchen on the other and a hallway containing a charcuterie room between them. You may be offered a tour by your waiter. What the heck—take him up on it. Then return to your table, large or small as it may be, and dig in. This is a place where people love to feed you.