art of the table
as much as i love restaurants, i love not-quite-restaurants even more. call them underground dinners, dinner parties, one pots, or, the term art of the table uses for itself, “intimate dining establishments”.
in many ways, art of the table sounds like the best of both the dinner party and restaurant worlds. on thursday, friday, and saturday, a dinner is served at 7:30, by reservation only. the dining room is tiny, with 25 constituting a crowd, the menu is set and always based around a theme.
conceptually, i love this idea. it’s just that i, myself, am generally running around a significantly larger dining room on those nights, particularly at 7:30, and thus have never made it to art of the table before. this is why mondays are such a beautiful thing.
it is on mondays that art of the table becomes most restaurant like. no reservations are needed and you can order whichever of the seven offered dishes sound appealing. they’re small, and we didn’t want any to feel left out, so we ordered them all.
the room is a mini triangle, sunny yellow with a red ceiling, and extremely pleasant. after a day (make that many months) of rain, the sun was just breaking through as we sat, the first two at the communal table.
once the rosé was in it’s rightful place in front of us, food began to arrive. it was good. the smoked salmon, schmeared on crisp bread, topped with lemon and capers, was excellent, and had all the details – salt, citrus, etc – that i wanted it to. the crust on the lamb tart was flaky, the meat rich, the apricotcompote and neighboring roasted tomatoes perfect compliments.
both the asparagus soup with pine nuts and albacore tuna with couscous had potential greatness. had i had a shaker of salt and a wedge of lemon to use upon them, they may have pulled it off. had the gnocci been given a couple minutes more in the boiling water, they may have as well.
more unconventional eating environments seem to cultivate edgier, more unrestrained and interesting food and this is why i generally prefer them to restaurants. as fresh and satisfying as the food was this monday, it was always just a shade, a drizzle, a dash away from being fantastic. nothing was quirky or unexpected. and while the menu first comes across as affordable, it manages to add up like any other restaurant. yet your server might sill freely tell you she knows nothing about food or wine (just act like you know! confidence can usually see you – or me – through difficult guest questions).
even still, dinner is a soft and comforting experience. i’d been hesitant about making friends with our fellow communal table-sitters – sometimes you just want to have dinner with the person you came to dinner with – but we ended up bonding over top chef talk and enjoying one another. our server meant well and fetched us a co-worker to answer wine questions. and if i lived in wallingford, i would be back on an upcoming monday. if i were to make that special bus trip from downtown again, though, i’d probably end it at tilth.