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Tuna tartare, sea urchin dressing, pickled radish and kushi oyster

Table’s Manner

by David Hagedorn | Photo: Greg Powers | DC magazine | April 30, 2013

Chef Frederik de Pue never slows down. He’s currently in the throes of tweaking the new Azur in Penn Quarter and continues to operate his 42° Catering company based in Rockville, Md. In January, de Pue opened Table, cleverly converting a former mechanic’s garage into a 44-seat boutique restaurant at Ninth and N streets in Shaw, a stone’s throw from the Convention Center and R.J. Cooper’s hip-swank Rogue 24.

The small, two-floor building’s exterior telegraphs chic simplicity and freshness: a brick gray storefront bordered with a contrasting white stripe, a paned garage door as the front window (it opens in good weather) and the giant letters t-a-b-l-e painted in white lowercase Century Regular font. Originally, the word was to be pronounced as in French: “tahb-luh”; now, mercifully, it’s “tay-bull.”

The skinny on Table was good from the start. Seats were hard to score, thanks to an onerous—and now abandoned—no-reservations policy. Neighbors were relieved to find a restaurant in Shaw that served seasonal food prepared with care and simplicity in pleasant, architecturally clean surroundings.

The main floor of Table seats 28: 18 along a banquette on one wall, a six-top in the front and two high-top deuces set squarely and without barriers in front of the open kitchen’s line, where five to six cooks, including de Pue (at least as of this writing) quietly turn out the food. It’s like enjoying an open-concept kitchen at a friend’s home. An upstairs room seats 16 and a rooftop deck another 30.

The decor is modern, minimal, Parsons-style tables and banquette seating starkly fashioned from pine, with white Eames-style molded plastic chairs, exposed ductwork and reclaimed wood-floor planks suspended from the ceiling. (De Pue acquired them from a renovation project at his ex-girlfriend’s house.) A large metal basin holds opened bottles of wine served by the glass. Table does not serve liquor. The wine list, which heavily favors French varieties, is well chosen, even if it’s a challenge to find a red under $50.

The whole place inspires tranquility, unless you’re sitting on the banquette, which is so hard you might feel like a pioneer crossing the country on buckboard. (I suggest a cushion.)

You can’t help but be charmed by the menu, meant to mimic marbled composition notebooks of yore. One person painstakingly filled the removable lined sheets inside with the wine list, food and beverage menus, all written in neat, smudge-free (clearly not left-handed) cursive. Try to see them before they’re all stolen.

The cooking at Table is solid, attractive and generally enjoyable. De Pue has a good pedigree. The 36-year-old studied cooking at a hotel school in his native Belgium and worked in notable European kitchens, among them Alain Ducasse’s famed Louis XV in Monte Carlo. His most recent stint was as the executive chef of Smith Commons in the Atlas District.

De Pue takes what is seasonal and adds his mostly French- and Mediterranean-inspired touches to them. He pulls off many first-course items successfully. Roasted garlic deliciously enriches a smooth velouté of cauliflower adorned with strips of red pepper and chives. A little Le Creuset casserole dish holds a piping-hot tartiflette, a traditional Haute-Savoie dish of oniony potatoes and bacon (de Pue uses smoked pancetta) baked with a topping of Raclette cheese. Tender, nicely seared squid—stuffed with a pesto of manchego cheese, chard and prosciutto—rests on a piperade that complements the seafood’s sweetness. Whole, head-on tiger prawns glisten in a sauce that resembles squid ink, but is, in fact, a butter sauce with pureed black garlic. Batons of braised salsify, typically underused in other restaurants, serve as garnishes.

Main-course hits include the coq au vin: the chicken seared and braised into richness, the red wine sauce full-bodied and hearty, and the vegetables cooked individually and, therefore, not stewed into oblivion. This is most definitely a pro’s rendition of a classic.

A vegetarian entree of buttery roasted acorn squash wedges filled with practically every vegetable found elsewhere on the menu (fennel, spinach, radish slices, pearl onions, Brussels sprouts, baby carrots, salsify, mushrooms) is a tad simplistic as a main course, but as a side to share for the table, it soars.

Such abundance is a recurrent theme here. A salad, already lovely with frisée, braised Belgian apples, hazelnuts, bits of Petit Basque cheese and crisped bresaola, also includes poached pears, quail egg and soupçon of truffle oil.

All of de Pue’s dishes are visually stunning, and some benefit from a halo effect. So, it takes a few bites for it to dawn on you that, occasionally, a counterpoint—such as acid, crunch or heat—is missing. For example, Thai mussels in lemongrass, coconut milk, ginger and parsley sauce lack the zing of green curry paste. Pork belly and clams in ginger miso broth with bok choy and lily bulb wind up on the wan side for the same reason.

Throughout the meal, well-informed servers answer all questions enthusiastically. That they remove the salt and pepper shakers before dessert endears—a service detail virtually ignored elsewhere.

For dessert, tender caramelized apples wrapped in butter-laden phyllo and topped with honey-truffle gelato form a terrific crostata. Ricotta fritters with orange-blossom honey are light, airy and refreshingly straightforward— kind of like Table itself.

903 N St. NW

Dinner: Tue.-Wed., 5-11pm; Thu.-Sat., 5pm-midnight;
Sun., 5-10pm

Appetizers: $9-$16
Entrees: $18-$38
Dessert: $6-$8

Brunch is served each Saturday and Sunday, from 11am to 2pm, from a set menu ($34 per person) that includes a selection of fresh pastries, a starter and choice of main dishes. Side dishes and desserts are priced à la carte.

Private Parties
The second-floor dining room may be reserved for private dining for up to 20 guests. The outdoor-dining deck may also be reserved separately, as can second-level indoor and outdoor spaces.

In the front sidewalk space, framed by a flowering wall structure and a line of planter boxes, guests can enjoy a glass of wine or a beer at high-tops, while waiting for their table.