From San Francisco, but not with enough love

February 26, 2011 § 5 Comments

Every special occasion in the small family takes us to one of the ultra expensive restaurants on our to-eat list. A new entrant, who cut the queue, is The Table, at Colaba. The Table has a kitchen governed by a Chef from san Francisco and its progress is being recorded in a blog by the restaurant consultant. http://www.joeyaltman.com/JoeyAltman/The_Table_Blog/Entries/2011/1/9_Opening_Menu.html

So we went, and we ate, and we went: Meh.

Why? How? The pictures on the blog are so pretty!

Let me be honest here. I have no idea what “a Modern San Francisco Style Ingredient Driven Restaurant” is. I haven’t been to San Francisco. This is always the inherent danger of writing a critique of a “niche” restaurant – it’ll always be dismissed as something “you just didn’t get”, which is a convenient excuse. Remember what happened to those who said Meh to Inception? My tongue does know a thing or two about tasty food. And of course we are all free to disagree. That said, here we go:

We’re pretty hungry by the time we are seated (which was smooth, and we had a reservation, which ALWAYS helps. Though the reviews on burrp.com did complain much about last minute calls from the management canceling reservations. Apparently they are over that now.) So we order Gruyere Cheese Puffs as our “snack”…

[OK, a bit about the menu here. The menu is divided into “snacks”, “small plates” and “large plates”. Roughly what to expect is that snacks arrive almost instantaneously, “small plates” are a kind of first course and “large plates” are your mains. The place is very “share your food” friendly and the waiters go out of their way to inform you of the option, which almost seems ridiculous – of course we can share our food you dolts, this is INDIA – we invented the one-by-two. There’s a separate dessert menu, which surfaces after you finish your mains/ask for it, which is kind of mean, because what I usually do is scan the dessert menu even before ordering appetizers and see if there’s anything worth saving space for. What does come with the food menu is the extensive wines menu – The Table only serves wine, no beer, no hard liquor. There’s an impressive collection and even more impressive is the availability of imported wines by the glass and even half a glass. More for the stingy Indian party.]

…and our helpful Steward explains whatever difficulties we have in understanding the menu, and we place orders.

The Puffs are very melt in your mouth, but have a distinct eggy aftertaste. I bought Gruyere once, I can’t say that I can definitely distinguish it from the other fancy cheeses but it doesn’t taste of egg. Of course we are still recovering from an hour long swim, and we need our carbs, so the puffs were wolfed down, eggy aftertaste notwithstanding. Speaking of carbs, a boy with a bread basket stopped by the table and offered us some bread. Three “different” pieces of bread were given to each of us, one of which was a Focaccia with caramelized onions, and two were slices of a white bread french loaf that I couldn’t really tell apart. It was pretty much some bread you could pick up at Ovenfresh (which is a very decent bakery, mind you), nothing to get excited about, not even a patch on what I think is the best bread basket in Mumbai – at 5, the Restaurant. Who needs room temperature bread anyway?

Not much of a wait later, our “small plates” arrive, and both of us have ordered soup. While my partner has ordered the Cauliflower-Leek Bisque with truffle creme, I have opted for the Crab Bisque. Anyone who knows of my Seinfeld obsession would have predicted that order in a second. Unfortunately, it was not a soup that had me buckling at the knees. It was very very ordinary. A bisque doesn’t have the crabmeat floating around, but the flavours do shine through. As if acknowledging its mediocrity, pieces of prawn were thrown in. A part of me wondered if it was meant to appease the possible “seeing is believing” attitude of the consumer, which again left me wondering – why prawns? Maybe the crunchy texture of prawns were meant to be a take on the humble crouton. Whatever. I found myself just trying to get through the soup. The Vegetarian Bisque started off pleasant, and grew on him as he reached the end. I swallowed my pride (which was easier than swallowing the crab bisque) and asked for the last spoonful. The Truffle Cream did add a spark. It was a nice, hearty soup where you could taste every ingredient. Which is the way a bisque should be, you know?

I thought I had got it right on the mains – I ordered the Ciopinno, which is a San Francisco Seafood Stew. “Stew”. Ah. The term, for me, denotes long, slow, loving cooking – resulting in a wonderful stock base, flavours that shine through, and something that is, well, hearty. What I get, is a steak of ravas sitting on top of a bowl of “stew” (we’ll get to that in a moment) and served with “crusty garlic bread” (patience, patience). The Ravas is dry. If they told me a steak was involved I would have told them to go easy on it. The “stew” was prawns and clams in a tomato-onion sauce. The crusty garlic bread was just the bread from the boy’s basket, charred on the edges. I tried really hard, but I just couldn’t eat it. It wasn’t even like I could send it back. It was the nether world of restaurant orders where you don’t know if it is “me” or “you”. The clams and prawns had been tossed into the sauce, the fish had nothing going for it, and that was it. A steward came to us and asked us how the food was. The Pumpkin Ravioli with Sage Brown Butter and Toasted Hazelnuts was very good. I loved the contrast of flavours and textures – the warmth and delicate flavour of the butter, the nutty and crunchy coating of the hazelnuts, and biting into the soft and sweet pumpkin centre. The side of broccoli and capers was also good, but you really shouldn’t be screwing that up anyway. My partner made his positive opinion very clear. The steward turned to me, and my quarter eaten fish, and I looked at him resignedly and told him that it just wasn’t working for me. He shrugged his shoulders, as did I. Can’t blame the guy, He didn’t order this, I did.

Dessert was called for – the almond and fig tart with cinnamon ice cream. The Tart was too heavy – it was too crusty, and the almond filing was always bound to be weighty (unfortunately in this case it was also slightly dry), but I loved the use of fresh figs. What was wrong with the ice cream? There was too little of it.

The decor is stunning, the ambience is wonderful. The place looks so nice that you could actually be led into thinking that the food is marvelous.

I wonder why they didn’t bother hiring a sommelier considering that this is a Vino-Only place, especially since it’s a small menu and it wouldn’t be so hard to work out good pairings. I asked my steward for some help, and he just repeated what the menu said. Having an expert on board would add a nice touch.

In the end, our order of one snack, two small plates, two large plates, a side, a dessert and 3 half glasses of wine came to 4400, inclusive of service charge. In all fairness, we over-ordered, and that is the one thing that I have to complain about the otherwise exceptional staff – they’re so busy being polite that they don’t express their own opinions. That’s where a Joe (Thai Pavilion) or a Johnny (Ling’s) can change a diner’s experience. Especially when the service staff has been trained well in appreciating each dish, which is what the blog tells us.

Word of caution, though: though I think we over-ordered, don’t work on the presumption that a snack+small plate+large plate is too much for one person. I checked our fellow diners orders – some dishes had huge portions, some were absolutely miniscule. Like quizzing in college, there is “no parity”.

As for me, better luck next birthday.

By the by, The Table does make a strong case for turning vegetarian.

PS: The guys at The Table http://insidescoopsf.sfgate.com/blog/2011/02/08/encountering-the-michael-bauer-of-mumbai/ have responded to the barrage of reviews that they’ve been given in the Mumbai press. I’m not a professional, and I’m not inspired enough to spend another 4k two more times to be able to write a “fully informed” review. You may argue that just by sampling 7 dishes on the menu, I can’t come to a correct conclusion about the place. Let me say something here – when the menu is as limited as The Table has (it’s probably one of the shortest menus in Mumbai), every dish better be outstanding. There’s no reason to keep it otherwise. In case the chaps haven’t realized, South Bombay is very unforgiving when it comes to new restaurants.

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§ 5 Responses to From San Francisco, but not with enough love

  • Anita Menon says:

    Excellent review. I myself write rest. reviews on my blog.
    But you write so well. I had to flow with the flow. I saw you ( faceless), eating what you were eating and little thought bubbles popping out, thinking what you were thinking

    Need to come back for inspiration

  • Simran says:

    The Table does make a case for turning vegetarian. I am one, and I had a fabulous time on my birthday.

    You should have ordered the warm chocolate tart 🙂

  • JA says:

    Strange–my sister loved the crab bisque. Give it one more shot, maybe–just not on a birthday night!

  • Amicus Curious says:

    @simran @JA I’m glad you had better times, but frankly, consistency is the key to a successful restaurant. :S

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