after dinner sneeze

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Posts Tagged ‘Kennett Square

Talula’s Table: A Whole New World

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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:


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…

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!”

Written by afterdinnersneeze

14 September 2010 at 11:59pm

Awesomest First Day of Spring … Ever!

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t says: Today was a beautiful day in Philly.  We got together with kp and some friends and took advantage of it.  It went like this:

– Packed a cooler with ice, eating utensils and plates, and a blanket (in case we needed to sit on grass).

– Left Philadelphia at 10:40ish.  Drove to Kennett Square with the sunroof open and windows cracked.

– Arrived at Talula’s Table and purchased assorted goodies, including sandwiches (e.g. filet mignon roast beef, chicken salad, chicken pesto), yogurts, bread, cheese, pastries, and cookies.

– Walked around the cute main drag in Kennett Square – found a few places going out of business (sadness!), but did score some more Vosges chocolate!

– Traveled to Va La vineyard.  Did a tasting of 3 reds and a white (one of the reds was bonus!) which included sampling some cheeses and chocolate! As the DD, I had only two sips of each – but they were good!

– We then walked to Va La’s outdoor patio and ate the Talula’s Table food and Va La wine on their picnic table.  The girls sat on the sunny side.  The guys sat on the shady side.  The other Va La patrons who did NOT bring food sat inside and stared at us with longing eyes, green with envy.  It was … the best lunch

– Returned to Philadelphia.  Napped.

– Woke up, ate more pastries, cookies and bread.

– Watched stuff on hulu.  Wrote on the blog.

All in all – it was the awesomest first day of spring … ever!

Written by afterdinnersneeze

21 March 2010 at 1:46am

Talula’s Table: Totally Worth Waking Up at 4am

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t says: There’s a pseudo-restaurant called Talula’s Table.  It’s located in Kennett Square, PA, just outside of Philadelphia (so I still consider it “in Philadelphia”).  It is our most favorite place to eat dinner … ever.  Over the past few years, it’s been recognized as the “Toughest Reservation in America”, ahead of The French Laundry, Per Se, Daniel, etc (although I think Momofuku Ko is nearly as difficult – but I have at least come across open reservations for Ko, so it’s not quite as elusive).  Why is it so difficult?

Back in the early 2000’s, there was a BYOB named Django.  It had the highest food rating of all Philadelphia restaurants according to the Zagat guide.  Laban gave it four (out of four) bells, a mark that no BYOB had earned.  Better yet, diners did not need to don tuxes or suit jackets or even button-down shirts to go!  It was the envy of the Philadelphia restaurant scene.  And then … owners Bryan Sikora and Aimee Olexy sold it, signing a non-compete clause in which they could not open up a restaurant within a certain number of miles (?40?) from Philadelphia.  They moved to Kennett Square and opened Talula’s Table, a cafe and market during the day, but a venue for a “catered dinner” in the evening.  The catch?  Only a single reservation per night is available for the single table of 8-12 people (it’s not even a fancy-looking table).  You can guess what happens when supply is so limited, but demand is so high: they are booked solid to a year in advance.  And every morning when they open up shop, the phone rings off the hook for people looking to get that single reservation 365 days into the future.  Meanwhile, Django in the city closed – clearly, something about Sikora and Olexy is magical.

Well, I got one of these reservations.  How’d I do it?  Those who know me realize that I’m not one leave a thing like this up to the meager “chance” that I’d be the first person to call Talula’s in the morning.  No, that’s not my style.  You see, there is a more guaranteed way to get a reservation at Talula’s.  One must simply be waiting outside their door when they open – if so, then the phones are disregarded in favor of a visiting patron.  Of course, showing up at 7 wasn’t guaranteed enough for me – I was shooting for the Saturday of Labor Day weekend 2009.  Clearly I should get there extra early so that I’m actually the first one there.  6:30?  No.  6?  No.  5:30?  No.  5.  Yep.  I woke up at 4am, drove out to Kennett Square, parked right in front of the tiny little shop, and passed the time with some reading and my iPod shuffle.  g had contemplated making a shirt for me that said, “Yes, I’m in line for Talula’s – so back off!”.  As you might have guessed, that reservation was mine.  (In a twist of fate, some months later, when k got engaged to cm, they decided to get married on Labor Day weekend … 2009 … we “returned” our reservation to Talula’s – they post cancellations on their website or in their shop – so that we could attend their wedding – but of course, that was also totally worth it – what a great time!).

So then how do I know it’s worth waking up at 4am for?  Well, you see, Talula’s also has what I like to call “a back door”.  They have a “Chef’s Table” for 2-4 right in the kitchen.  You call up, put your name on the “list”, and whenever they have an opening, they call you – and you have to decide right then and there (or in a reasonable amount of time – I imagine they give you ’til the end of the day) if you can make it.  I put my name on the list, and a few months later … We got the call.  The reservation was 1.5 weeks in advance for the middle of the week.  I hesitated – did I want to trek out to Kennett Square on a weeknight in December and have to drive back to Philly afterwards?  I called up one of our favorite food-friends for a consultation – were we crazy?  He replied that for Talula’s, he’d take off from work – it didn’t matter what day, what time, or how he got there.  Apparently, we were crazy.  And it ended up being so good that g and I returned again in June 2009 (for our anniversary) as well.  And it was so good the second time that the weekend we drove up to k and cm’s wedding on Labor Day weekend, I showed up at Talula’s early in the morning again (although only 6am this time), and got the big-table reservation for … Labor Day weekend 2010 (I wonder if anyone’s going to get married this time?)

So, our two visits to Talula’s were over 6 and 12 months ago (12/2008 and 6/2009).  It’s far too difficult to remember the nuances of the dishes (each meal is 8 courses – 6 savory, 1 cheese, 1 dessert).  But I can say that each meal was phenomenal.  My personaol top 5 savory courses from our visits include the following:

Sausage fried scallops, creamy polenta, toasted almonds, and chile emulsion

Confit of Meadowset lamb, rosemary dumplings, and parmesan crusted Vollmecke hubbard

Crayfish bisque “a la Sazerac”, Anson Mills polenta pudding, and fava beans

“All things asparagus” (asparagus prepared 3 ways: roasted, tempura, and FLAN accompanied by bacon dust and mustard foam)

Crispy fried hudson valley moulard, baked beans, and molasses

Also, both of the cheese plates offered such an incredible variety of textures and tastes (Aimee knows her cheese).  And the desserts were also not mere afterthoughts – they were Zahav-good.  Actually, technically Talula’s was first, so perhaps Zahav’s desserts are Talula’s-good.  One was a napoleon of strawberry gelee, strawberry-rhubarb mousse, and wine roasted berries, and the other was a ricotta charlotte with a hazelnut-sea salt crust and blood orange sorbet.

But what makes Talula’s great is NOT just the food – it’s the whole experience.  Having dined twice in the kitchen, we were able to see Brian (and Aimee) in action –  they are the greatest people ever.  Brian’s control of the kitchen is calm and cool.  He’ll be the first to admit that he has absolute faith that the kitchen could cook the entire meal without him; he’s super-humble.  And then, when we got him philosophizing about the importance of focusing on “food” in restaurants (and not things like atmosphere or props – perhaps a subtle jab at Stephen Starr?), we could see that he’s not in the biz for ego or money – he actually likes food (either that, or he’s a great actor)!  Meanwhile, every single member of the staff was pleasant and very courteous and professional (despite not donning bow ties and jackets) – friendly top notch service!  Add in the fact that we were able to bring our own wine (and visit great local wineries beforehand – Va La is awesome) and walk to a nearby bed-and-breakfast afterwards (shout out to Gilja of Kennett House!) and what you have is not just a dinner, rather, an unbelievable gastronomic experience.  I’m actually a little worried about eating at the big-table – we’d lose out on the connection with the staff and being able to see how everything was made.

By the way, if you do get a chance to go – get some scones to go.  They were day-old’s … and they were still awesome.  My fave was banana-chocolate, while g’s went ga-ga for the lemon-ginger!  I’ve also tasted them at 7am  when they are fresh from the oven – I actually considered moving to Kennett Square and commuting to Philadelphia …

Written by afterdinnersneeze

21 February 2010 at 10:02pm