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La Table Bistro review - 5/2003 (long)

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La Table Bistro review - 5/2003 (long)

Syre | Feb 5, 2003 03:25 AM

A friend and I went to La Table tonight after hearing some good things about it. We did not realize that there are two different kitchens associated with the two different rooms, so we sat in the front (where we were seated without being asked about our preference). We arrived around 9:30, so there were plenty of free tables in both areas.

The space is fairly large and expensively decorated, but the decoration seemed somehow tacky rather than lush. The one piece of decor that really stood out was the stained glass hanging light fixture in the middle of the room, which didn't fit in with the rest. Had the room been designed around its aesthetic, I think they would have done well. The painting over the kitchen area is particularly insipid. But enough about the decor.

We were greeted by a hostess, then a host, who seated us, and then our waitress came over to take drink orders. She was very genial and helpful with the wine list, gave us tastes of wine, and was one of the best things about the meal.

It was a late dinner and we weren't extra-hungry, so we split an arugula salad with feta cheese (described rather unnecessarily as “sheep feta”), avocado, fennel and ruby grapefruit. The salad was nicely dressed, but the cheese was not particularly good feta. It was salty without being tangy. A server offered fresh pepper, twisted the mill once in a symbolic gesture, then walked away. We had to call him back to actually get any pepper on the salad. He said “most people don’t actually like pepper”.

For our main courses, I had a Striped Bass with Mushrooms and my friend had a cassoulet. I only like very fresh fish, so I asked our waitress if it had come in today. She said she was sure it had, because they don’t get fish deliveries on Monday but on Tuesday. This is a good thing to remember!

The dishes came in not too much time. My fish was a rather small slice on a bed of sautéed mushrooms. The fish tasted fine, though nothing much had been done to it. The mushrooms were ordinary white mushrooms with an OK sauce, but since white mushrooms have very little flavor, the rather bland sauce didn’t do much to elevate the dish. It was entirely edible, but not interesting in any way. No fresh pepper was offered.

My friend’s cassoulet looked great – the duck leg confit was well browned and crispy. But upon tasting it revealed itself to be bland and poorly flavored. The beans tasted like baked beans, and were just barely adequately cooked. My friend remarked that the sausage tasted as if it had been purchased at Safeway. The duck leg was crisp, but it was also just barely a confit – the flesh wasn’t really moist enough. The flavors in the dish were separate, as if it hadn’t been cooked long enough to blend them. It was, again, edible but certainly not a success.

As a side dish we ordered sautéed haricots verts with quince. This was, oddly, the most successful dish of the day. The green beans were well cooked, and the quince was chopped finely and sautéed in butter, giving the dish a very interesting flavor.

After we were finished, I overheard our waitress talking with another table about the two separate kitchens, so I asked her if I could see a menu. The menu for the other room is much more interesting, though it is also much more expensive. I had been surprised that was no foie gras on our menu, but there it was on the menu for the other room.

When she asked if we’d enjoyed our meal, I told our waitress that I thought it was ok, but not as good as I’d expected, and I wondered whether this was any indication of the other kitchen’s quality. She said that the chef considered the other room “his baby” and that she liked the food much better there.

That may be, but if so he should have just the one room. Based on the quality I experienced at La Table, I don’t feel inclined to go back again to try his second kitchen.

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