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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Table: Restaurant Review

Finding great restaurants on short notice is always a challenge. Before I came to Asheville, North Carolina, I read as many restaurant reviews as I could. When I got here, I asked folks where they like to eat and several places were mentioned time and again. My goal was to get a sense of the restaurant scene here, but also experience some real stand out cuisine that reflected a sense of place, with a strong point of view. Asheville restaurants are eclectic to say the least, you can find sushi, pizza, Indian, French, Spanish, German, Mexican and more. But upscale dining with truly local roots is still limited to just a handful of places. One restaurant that seemed to be flying just below the radar? Table.

Though they describe their cuisine as "market-driven seasonal New American" the chefs at Table are cooking in the French tradition, with a great respect for Southern and Mountain food. What does that mean? Dishes like line-caught red fish, roasted baby fennel, chiogga beets, green olives and aioli ($23), frogmore stew with shrimp, mussels, housemade sausage and hominy ($11), slow-cooked duck leg, pommes Sardelaise, arugula and lemon confit ($22) and roasted veal chop, white asparagus grain and morel sauce Forrestier ($26). Also available is their burger, with homemade bun and pickles and fries that take three days to make--no need to rush the peeling, soaking, oil poaching and frying!

The "sweet raw" turnips I saw at the local farmers market in the afternoon showed up with a hangar steak and seriously the best greens I have ever had--fresh but not too soft, cooked with chewy crisp bacon, of course.

Another favorite dish I sampled was crispy seared sweetbreads,with a cream sauce much like a soubise with Spring green onions tender but still squeaky fresh. The balance of oniony sweetness, creaminess and perfect seasoning with hints of nutmeg and brandy was tongue tinglingly good.

The restaurant itself is clean and modern looking with dark chocolate walls, plenty of glass and wood. An open kitchen in the front features a bar where I sat, able to see the speed, precision and coordination between chefs Jacob Sessoms and Matthew Dawes. Jacob spent time with Jonathan Waxman in New York after college in Asheville and attended The French Culinary Institute. Matthew attended the same college in Asheville, attended Johnson and Wales culinary school and worked at Four Square in Durham. He also worked with a European importer which helps to explain the outstanding cheeses they serve. While they have no pastry chef, Matthew completed an intensive course in French pastry arts, his talent showing up in a luscious peach ice cream that paid homage to the very essence of the fruit.

It was refreshing to see a menu that not only had so much impeccably fresh local produce, meat and fish, but also a level of creativity that you would expect to find in a larger more cosmopolitan city like New York, San Francisco or Atlanta. While a local menu to be sure, the impressive wine list was filled with mostly European selections. Open for just two years, Table may just be Asheville's best kept secret, but I can't imagine it will be for long.

48 College St @ Rankin
Asheville NC

Weds - Mon 11:00-2:30
Weds - Mon 5:30-11:30* (open late friday and saturday)
brunch Saturday and Sunday 9:30-3:00