Flavor: Seasonal American
Ambiance: Upscale urban
Service: Very good and knowledgeable
What do you get when you combine urban style and sensibilities with a down-to-earth yet sophisticated approach to both food and service? You get a restaurant like Table, the gifted brainchild of husband-and-wife team Jacob and Julia Sessoms, with expert help from co-chef Matthew Dawes, co-manager David Winkleman, and a rather small cast of talented supporting characters.
The interior of the downtown Asheville restaurant is somewhat urban contemporary, what you might call “minimalist swank.” The walls are painted in almost moody colors, though the windows that dominate one wall and the maple tables bring light and balance. There’s a lovely wooden bar with a short row of stools where you can order a drink while you wait for your table; you can also eat at that spot, with it’s clear view of the chefs, if you want to engage in some kitchen voyeurism.
The restaurant is generally bustling, though not in an overly harried way. Table does indeed get busy, and seems to be that way quite often, but the place is small enough that one tends not to feel overlooked.
Of course, mistakes can and do happen. For example, once, an incorrect appetizer was delivered to me – a common mishap that wouldn’t have been irritating, were it not for a waiter’s initial (and mild, mind you) insistence that the erroneous app did indeed belong on my table. But this is the kind of place that you just can’t stay mad at, especially once the food arrives.
Table’s Web site describes the food as “market-driven seasonal new American” cuisine. While entirely appropriate, that seems an unwieldy way to speak of a place whose greatest triumphs rest on the ability to do refreshingly simple food well.
The concept is food from-the-ground-up, with high-quality and artisanal ingredients acting as foundations for un-fussy preparations. The food can even be downright rustic at times, with carbonara popping up from time to time over pasta on the ever-changing menu, or various forms of cured meats on a bread board alongside a chunk of good cheese or a handful of appropriately unusual olives.
In fact, the folks at Table are confident enough in the ability of plain good food to trump the overblown kind that they serve burgers and fries on their dinner menu (though it’s not just any old burger – it’s house-ground).
Along the same lines, so what if balsamic reduction is a little passé? It still tastes good, so why not use it where (and thankfully, only where) it’s justified? It’s much more welcome on my plate than say, some Ferran Adria-inspired foam concoction. The reduction certainly felt right at home drizzled around my grilled country ham; the meat enveloped molten mozzarella and fennel and was placed over perfect little leaves of baby arugula. The flavor of the appetizer transported me home to family dinners, where we tended to eat plenty of ham and plenty of grilled meat or fish (even in winter, my Dad would crank that thing up), and sometimes even grilled ham. The flavor of the fennel somehow failed to materialize, so its contribution was merely textural.
Another fine example of the merits of simplicity came in the form of grilled crostini topped with tuna butter and a dollop of olive tapenade, a selection from the small “tastes” portion of the menu, which I highly recommend sampling. Tuna and olives are a natural pair, and the addition of creamy butter slowly melting over the hot grilled crostini was enough to make me swoon (and nearly enough to make me forget that the bread had been haphazardly singed).
No matter. Entrees of various degrees of attractiveness beckoned me onward: lamb two ways (a chop and braised) with rosemary, olives and polenta, and a cannelloni dish with ricotta, shrimp and spinach. There was that burger again, described rather bluntly as “burger and fries,” a refreshingly uncomplicated approach to menu-writing, in my eyes. When food is described with breathlessly overwrought prose, with every cooking method and last iota of seasoning dutifully recorded on the menu, it generally doesn’t bode well.
I ordered the barramundi, an Australian sea bass. It was outstanding, with grilled fennel that this time held its own, olives, roasted potatoes and roasted red peppers tossed with a mélange of well-seasoned, sautéed greens. The fennel made a second appearance, shaved, in a lightly dressed baby-arugula salad that crowned my undeniably moist and well-seasoned fish.
My Picky Companion opted for the hangar steak, which, according to our waitress, is an almost permanent item on the menu. It was served with a generous mound of fries, a not-so-generous serving of greens (“Good,” commented my companion – “shame there wasn’t more of it”), and a salsa verde that was perhaps a bit too minty, but still good. And what a sure hand with meat they have in that kitchen! Perfectly seasoned and cooked, the hangar did not disappoint.
For dessert, I ordered the chocolate budino, which our server described as somewhat like a molten brownie. It didn’t take me long to settle on that one, especially when the two other desserts were only marginally creative spins on bread and rice pudding. The budino was incredibly rich, especially with vanilla cream drizzled over the top, so I only managed to polish off half of it, along with a tiny glass of port from the restaurant’s dessert-wine menu. I consider the amount of food I managed to consume nearly Herculean – I cleaned every plate.
That’s yet another thing to appreciate about Table: The preparations are somewhat light, so even after consumption on a fairly grand scale, you can comfortably get up and walk to the car unaided. The approach also allows for a liberal exploration of Sessoms’ and Dawes’ cuisine. And with the reasonably priced menu and an ever-changing array of options, exploring Table is quite a delightful prospect.