after dinner sneeze

a lot of g says, t says

Talula’s Table: A Whole New World

with 3 comments

t says: We came, we saw, we conquered … Talula’s Table. After several years of waiting, we finally managed to do one of their farm table dinners … and it was awesome. But let’s back up for a second and bring everyone up to speed …

What is Talula’s Table? Read here. Ok … now everyone’s up to speed. Moving on …

g and I have been to the chef’s table at Talula’s twice before (once with kp), and both times were fantastic. We were able to hang out (ok – “spectate and politely converse” is more accurate) with Aimee, Bryan, and the staff while they prepared the meal for us (and those sitting at the farm table, who we weren’t associated with). Simply put, the food was unbelievable. From the very first bite on the very first evening, we knew that this was a special place and that we needed to bring as many people to it as possible … we needed the farm table for ourselves.

Now, the farm table is a tough reservation to get – reservations are made one year in advance to the day. That said, when I want something, I’m going to play the game (I’m a player) to maximize my likelihood of success. For instance – while most reservations are made over the phone, if you show up in person when they open at 7am, you automatically trump the phone lines. But, for me, showing up at 6:45 leaves too great a margin for getting scooped by another eager reservation-seeker. Just to make sure that no one in their right mind could beat me to the 7am opening, I woke up at 4:30 to get to Kennett Square by 5:30. To pass the time, I listened to some podcasts and read a book, sitting right outside Talula’s door in dark, peaceful Kennett Square. I think people must have thought I was crazy (surprisingly, there are a few people in the area that early in the morning – most of which were old people visiting the barber shop across the street). Good. You wouldn’t dare consider cutting a crazy person in line. I also wanted g to make me a t-shirt that said, “Step Off – Talula’s is Mine” … but she wouldn’t. She was probably afraid I’d get beaten up. She’s thoughtful like that.

So … after waiting two years (the first time I made a reservation, we had to cancel because k and cm were getting married that very weekend – one of the very few acceptable reasons to bail out on Talula’s), we pulled together a gang of friends, assigned DD’s (there were two – I was one) and the sommelier-for-a-night (thanks, a!), and off we went!

First, a pic of the place:

It

I realize now that in the pic, the table doesn’t look like much. That’s because it’s not. It’s a wood table. Those are wood chairs. That’s it. There’s no white table cloth, no leather cushions. It’s an ode to old-school simplicity, not the super-modern, hip, chic “simplicite”. It was more Django and less Steven Starr Pop-up. And you know what – it suited the venue and the atmosphere perfectly. The focus is clearly on friends and food, not how cool you are for being there or being seen there. I approve! For me, it was kind of like sitting at my Meema’s house (shout out to Big Bang Theory viewers out there … actually, my grandmom – we didn’t call her Meema- did have an old-school large wooden dining room table), getting ready for a family meal … except my Southern grandmother and her heavy cast iron skillets were replaced by a well-trained chef and staff and a professional kitchen. It was going get interesting …

Our wine for the evening was selected by a. He’s pretty knowledgeable when it comes to fermented fruits of the vine. Armed with the menu for the night, he picked out a variety of wines that coupled well with the courses we were going to encounter. But that’s not all. With the help of v, they generated these cute little wine lists with super-simple descriptors (e.g. pear, pineapple, vanilla) that allowed all of us, including those not super-familiar with wine, to pick and choose what we’d like to have throughout the evening. They even put down what courses they felt the wines paired with (those are the numbers 1-9). I actually don’t think that the format of the wine organization could have been any better – great job dudes! And, of course, the wait staff deserves much credit for deciphering the wine list and keeping the right ones flowing at the right times, all night!

Our wine list for the evening ...

and on to the food. The courses were:

1) Sweet Maine Jonah Crab Cake, Tartar Sauce Froth, and Crab Spice Dressed Heirlooms
2) Husk Roasted White Corn Soup, Bacon Bits, and Pan-Fried Scallop Sausage
3) Ratatouille Cannelloni, Farmstand Vegetables, and Amazing Acres Goat Cheese
4) Seared Rockfish?Tilefish?, New Jersey Clams, Chanterelles, and Clam Butter Sauce
5) Crispy Pork Belly, Refried Black Beans, Avocado Salsa, and Chile Relleno
6) Bison Tenderloin, Horseradish Root Crisp, Whipped Potatoes, and Sweet Summer Onion Rings
7) Not Your Granny’s Cheese Plate: Classic Pairings Done Right
8) Melon Terrine with Milk and Honey, Prosciutto Jimmies, Cantaloupe Broth, Cataloupe Ice

Rather than go through each, I’ll allow anyone who wants to to just tell you about the highlights and lowlights. Me first!

I liked the first course as an introduction to the meal (well – we did have three rounds of hors d’oeuvres which were all delicious, too). The crab cake was light and had a delicate flavor and texture – very different than other 100% crabmeat cakes that I have had that, while also delicious, have always been kind of rich and heavy. And the heirloom tomato salad with the tomato extract gelee had some zing to it – a great “here’s a tomato in your face!” moment.

The second course – the corn soup – blew me away. It’s ironic how something so delicious could be simply described as “husk roasted white corn soup”, as even when armed with all of the words of the English language, it’s hard for me to portray what it was about the soup that was so good. Maybe some other cast member will be able to do it. And that scallop sausage still fooled me! Even though I was told it was not a normal scallop, it still looked a bit like a scallop, so I was caught completely caught off-guard by its sausage-like texture. It’s definitely something I’d want to see again.

The tilefish was cooked perfectly, but it was the clam buerre blanc sauce that stole the show – it was beautifully textured and wonderfully mouth-coating without the sense of “I’m eating butter” – definitely my favorite liquid of the evening. My favorite solid of the evening goes to the pork belly. But is that really fair? Pork belly is pretty much uncured bacon, and when it’s executed well, it’s going to taste wonderful – period. I feel, however, that this porkbelly was extra remarkable, as it was tied with my personal best-ever-pork-belly from Morimoto, and it didn’t have the extra help from the Asian flavors that Morimoto utilized. Talula’s pork belly stood on its own four piggy feet by itself and did a great job.

The cheese plate had too many cheeses to recall. But the faves down at my end of the table were the 5-yr gouda with the caramel sauce (yes, you read the right – cheese and caramel) and the sheep’s milk brie with the raspberry butter (two people actually bought some raspberry butter to take home with them).

And the dessert was … intriguing. There was a triple-melon terrine (layers of panna cotta and fruit gelees pressed in a rectangular mold) as well as shaved cataloupe “ice” and a chilled cantaloupe soup. But what made the dish were the “prosciutto jimmies”. That’s right. Tiny bits of prosciutto deep fried and candied. Overall, the dish was a souped up (ha ha – I’m funny, too!) prosciutto-and-melon. Really, the only thing missing from the dessert was some kind of cookie. Not “cookie” where they give you a super-hard, super-thin wafer, but an actual cookie – just to give me something to really chew on as the textures of the rest of dessert, aside from the jimmies, was soft or liquid. Nevertheless, it was a most pleasant swan song to summer.

Now, don’t get me wrong, the rest of the food that we had was absolutely delicious and completely worth the cost of admission. But I did notice a difference between this meal and past ones that we had at Talula’s. In the past, Talula’s “shtick” for us was always “surprise”. You see something on the plate, and you’re surprised because that’s not how you had imagined it would look when you read the menu’s simple list of ingredients. Then you put it in your mouth and you’re surprised because even though you knew and saw everything that went in your mouth, the tastes that were delivered were completely unexpected. And then … they’d change in your mouth over time, as you chewed. It was like how the flavors in a fine wine evolves on your palateafter you swallow. Every dish was an adventure! This time, things were different. The focus wasn’t so much on “surprise” (yes, there were some surprising preparations like bacon jimmies and scallop sauasage), but the tastes, themselves, were less unexpected (i.e. they were expected). On a whole, the food was less “fooled around with”, if you will. Each dish paid respectful homage to whatever the star ingredient of the course was. For instance, when you ate the pork belly – you tasted an excellent, unadulterated pork belly. The fish was an excellently prepared piece of fish. The buerre blanc’s clam had the taste of clam without overhwelming the fish. The melon tasted like … melon. Now, part of this may be due to the ingredients of the evening; with a summer menu featuring such light and delicate flavors, you might not want to mess around with them too much or risk losing the focus (our past experiences had heavier components that begged to be played with). Part of this may also be due to a change in chef; Bryan seemed very good at novelty, while perhaps Matt is more comfortable with shining the light on the ingredient, itself. I’m not saying one approach is better or worse – they are different and, in my opinion, equally successful.

Finally – which is better – the chef’s table or the farm table? They, too, are equal but different. To be honest, I was initially hesitant about the farm table: would be as much fun as the chef’s table? The experience of being in the kitchen was truly unique. We were afraid that the farm table would come off as “restaurant-y”. Fortunately, this was absolutely not the case.  There’s something about being in that space with the lights turned down low and the sun setting in Kennett Square. It felt like we were at a good friend’s home. We were relaxed, we were loud. This level of comfort could not have been had in any restaurant I’ve ever been in, because how many other places give you that feeling that the entire place is yours? Yes, we knew there was another table in the kitchen (we saw some older patrons using the bathroom), but we just didn’t care. With the farm table comes an entirely new experience; it’s the anti-restaurant.

a says: I found the first and third course to be the weakest. Their execution was inventive but the flavors were not compelling or intriguing. I thought courses 2 and 4 were the best: The white corn soup had great smoky corn flavor and the “scallop sausage” was lovely. I had never had tilefish before but will certainly have it again after Talula’s – cooked to perfection over a luscious clam butter sauce. The pork belly was outstanding but that seems like a given at a top-notch restaurant and the portion was on the small side. This was also true for the Bison which was tender and juicy but just as easily could have been (a very small) filet mignon. The setting is perfect for a group of 10 close friends or 10 acquaintances hoping to become closer. Aimee was a gracious host and the wait staff never missed a beat. I can’t wait to return with my parents and any friends that want an $130 education in gastronomy.

And of course the wine pairing was exquisite as it complimented each dish, accentuated every flavor, and satisfied every palate…
Ha.

t says: Finally, here are some excerpts from our dinner conversations:

Re: Food/Drink:
-“Scallop and sausage in the same sentence?!”
-“It was corn like I’ve never had it before.”
-“Holy crap.”
-“It was awesome – it was 110% of everything I thought it could be.”
-“Ah, pig. Is there any part of you that isn’t delicious?”
-::Cough Cough:: “Pork belly!” ::Cough Cough::

Re: Purchasing Talula’s Products:
-“Yes, I’ll buy a jar of raspberry guilt.”

Re: Our table-mates:
-“He’s either Chinese or Eric Clapton.”
-Directed to a doctor at the table: “Working at In-and-Out Burger would be a step up for you.”

Re: The wine service:
-“Excuse me, why are the glasses getting bigger?”
-“One time we had a lady that brought pre-mixed Appletinis … I kind of didn’t want to serve it to her.”

Re: Too Much Wine:
-“That’s what she said.”
-Three of us (not me or g) sang out loud the refrain from “A Whole New World” … when I apologized to the server for our horrible/embarassing singing, she replied: “That’s ok, I like Aladdin!”

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Written by afterdinnersneeze

14 September 2010 at 11:59pm

3 Responses

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  1. v says: My favorite dish was the corn soup – almost like a new take on vichyssoise. The pork belly was awesome – or as g says “holy crap” – but then again, can you really mess up pork belly? My favorite amuse was the steak tartar with capers and mustard seed. You could really taste the different layers of flavor. I would definitely go back, but would actually like to sit at the chef’s table to see how the magic happens. Oh, and, I think they should do the bill at the beginning. And, not because he’s my bf, but I really liked the concept of pairing the wine with the dinner – especially knowing descriptions (the same goes with each course, I loved that they came out and described everything in detail. My eyes got wider and wider with each adjective) – it made eating and drinking wayyy more fun for me. Next time, t drinks and v sips!

    afterdinnersneeze

    15 September 2010 at 7:51am

  2. I am dying to get a reservation here! My friends and I have been brainstorming the best way to get one… we’re hoping for a weekend. I think we’ll show up in person when they open one morning, but do you really think we need to be out there at 5:30?! Of course, we don’t want to get there to find someone else already waiting, but we also don’t want to be exhausted going into work later. Any advice?

    How did you guys get the first reservation, which you (so sadly) had to cancel? We just began calling every morning, I’m wondering how long it will take before we can get through!

    Julia

    9 February 2012 at 9:50am

    • t says: Hi Julia,

      Back in the old days, you didn’t have to get there so early – although both times I went, there were people who came in RIGHT as they were opening trying to get reservations. Both times I went early, I was the only person there up until they opened. I will definitely say that calling in the morning is tough – if you’re not being answered exactly at 7, then chances are you lost the reservation (their phone starts ringing at 6:57 … trust me – I’ve heard it ringing from my vantage point outside – fortunately, people waiting outside get priority over phone calls). Good luck!

      P.S. For a small fee, I could be convinced to journey to Talula’s one morning in March and wait for you. All I need is the price of gas, 2 scones (one for g), 1 tea, a brownie (for later), and a quarter pound of a cheese (for g for later). J/K.

      afterdinnersneeze

      10 February 2012 at 8:42pm


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