“It wasn’t a good match,” De Pue says of his short time at Smith Commons. “The freedom wasn’t there.” At Table, “I cook what I want.”
One of several touches that set this place apart from the pack is its physical menu. Hats off to the scribe who took the time to detail not just the food, but also the dozens of wines, in graceful cursive on 60 original menus. (And a pox on those diners who filched all but 14 of them. “Theft is high,” De Pue says.)
Behind the penmanship are some winning plates, the flavors of which lean to the Mediterranean but are not slaves to that part of the map. Witness one night’s flaky and buttery rafts of pastry decked out with sliced veal shoulder, wisps of greens, diced cucumbers and dabs of tart Greek yogurt. The first course is two tartlettes, and even if there’s just one of you, you’ll wish the plate held more. A silvery, tail-on sardine, kissed with olive oil, thyme and garlic, glides to the table on a nest of frisee and white beans. The composition is finished with a sunny mango-and-carrot sauce that takes you briefly to the tropics. Rich duck rillettes show up with a tiny salad and house-made potato chips that practically float off the plate.
De Pue says he titled his new restaurant Table for its “simple, clean name.” The description applies just as well to much of his food, including cavatelli strewn with tender mussels and clams in their shells. Sublime on its own, the dish benefits from a broth flavored with the juices of the seafood plus sweet corn and tarragon.
I appreciate a chef who likes to mix up his menu, but be forewarned: The dish you love at Table today may not be around for you on your next outing.
Vegetarians who feel disrespected when they dine out will feel embraced at Table, where one of my happiest recollections is an entree of fresh asparagus poised on a card-size square of spinach flan and ringed with bright crushed tomato. Yellow corn shoots crisscrossed the dish, which also slipped in coins of asparagus. The result is a garden of good eating. Another night, another wonder: hearts of palm affixed to their plate with smoky eggplant puree and embellished with diced red bell peppers, shreds of fresh basil and airy croutons.
Vegetables stole attention from another main course: dense and overcooked pork with a thin barbecue sauce not far removed from ketchup. The disappointing hunk of meat was balanced on its plate by a sunny succotash of corn, peas and carrots. Is the breast of guinea hen roasted a moment past optimal? It is. But the main course is redeemed in part by its juicy meatball, made from the leg, and sauteed baby fennel and shiitake mushrooms. Lamb loin is cooked as pink as we ask, and I dig the jalapeño sauce on its plate, but the slices rest atop a bed of white lentils that go down like hot cereal.