Thursday, December 27, 2007

Late Fall Tasting Menu at Talula’s Table

One recent night, a tad burned out from a long holiday retail season, I felt the need to commiserate with some friends who would understand. And after a long day on my feet selling wine, I was also hungry. It made perfect sense then, at least to me, to head out to Kennett Square to check in on the holiday rush at Talula’s Table. It gave me the perfect opportunity to catch up with the team there, to pick up some tasty provisions for the home front and, as luck would have it, to taste what was coming out of the kitchen for the large party at the farmhouse table, one of the last reservations for Talula’s November/December tasting menu.

Grapefruit Margarita and Nantucket Bay Scallop Ceviche
This first course, scallop ceviche, seemed on paper to be decidedly un-wintry. However, the bitterness provided by a bath in tequila and the accompanying matchsticks of kohlrabi, along with a spike of winter grapefruit, brought the dish into seasonal line. I would like to have seen the scallops play more of a starring role. Nonetheless, it provided a serious wake-up call for my weary taste buds.

Roasted Chanterelles, Our Smoked Country Ham, Creamed Greens and Spoon Bread
This brought the comfort level I expect from Chef Sikora’s cooking back into play. It also highlighted his talent for combining creativity and the occasional rarefied ingredient with an anchoring sense of hominess. An early slam dunk, the butter roasted fungi were lip-smackingly good. This was one of my favorite dishes of the night.

Buttery Leek and Wine Poached Chatham Cod, Petite Pommes Frites and American Caviar
All about simple preparation and good sourcing of ingredients, gentle poaching showcased the perfectly fresh and tender flesh of Chatham Cod. Salty little fries and briny trout roe, which Bryan’s been making good use of throughout the year, provided dueling contrast to the mild, buttery richness of the leeks and fish.

Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Artisan Ricotta and Maple Glazed Winter Vegetables
Expectations were foiled again, as with the first dish of the night. Served in a scalloped ramekin, this was more of a topless pot pie, starring savory, fall vegetables, than the pasta course I had anticipated. A few soft pillows of gnocchi, made from roughly equal parts sweet potato, flour and ricotta, played the starch role in place of the missing pastry crust. The embers of cinnamon bark adorning the plate were meant to provide aromatic nuance, an effect mainly lost through torching and quick burnout in the kitchen.

Cinnamon Smoked Pheasant Bastilla, Medjool Date Glazed Pheasant Breast, Crispy Phyllo and Toasty Almonds
Bastilla is a traditional Moroccan dish, usually made with pigeon, which, awkwardly put, is a little like a poultry, egg and nut baklava. It was an element on this plate, particularly given the tasteful substitution of pheasant, which I’d be happy to see scaled-up as a hearty, stand-alone main course. That it was serving here as a side to the leading medallion of delicately smoked and perfectly roasted pheasant breast is testament to the intricacy and layers of preparation allowed in the context of a kitchen serving only one menu to one table per evening. A little morsel of seared foie gras, set atop the pheasant breast, provided a perfectly acceptable touch of excess.

Grilled Veal Steak, Porcini and Taleggio Ravioli and Braised Veal Shank
A medium-rare veal steak and an intensely dense and creamy raviolo, both served atop a mound of braised veal shank and then bathed by veal demi-glace made this course nearly over-the-top in texture and richness. For a touch more balance than a toss of quick-pickled cauliflower provided on its own, I might have liked a streak of winter chard to cut the fat and weight of the taleggio in the stuffed pasta. For sheer, groaning belly indulgence though, I’d have happily downed a second helping.

Scent of a Cheese: A Quintet of the Unusual
Though there was a loose theme at play here – aromatic distinction – the evening’s cheese course reminded me more of Aimee Olexy’s beautiful cheese plates at Django than did the cheese plates served at my earlier outings to Talula’s. Tonight it was not so much about presentation or preparation as it was a simple expression of the shop’s selection of well made, well chosen and well cared for artisanal cheeses.

Gianduja and Dark Chocolate Caramel Tart, Nutmeg Anglaise, Port Poached Cranberries
I must admit that by this point in the meal, my attention to detail was on the wane. Nonetheless, this tart stood out for its uncontrived tastiness. I’d be happy to find a place for it on my Thanksgiving table in place of one of the more traditional desserts, as its ingredients certainly fit the season. It avoided the pitfall of extreme density which plagues many chocolate tarts via a well-packed but tender crumbliness that reminded me of the texture, albeit moister, of a good graham cracker pie crust. The nutmeg spiked crème anglaise was just icing on the cake.

The tasting menu as designed by Rosali Middleman

* * *

As I reported after my last visit, the private dinners at Talula’s Table were quickly booked solid all the way through June 2008 in the aftermath of Craig Laban’s rather glowing review in the Philadelphia Inquirer. If you’ve read this far, then you deserve to know that the calendar at Talula’s Table will soon re-open. At the start of business – that’s 7:00 AM – on January 2, 2008, the reservation books will open for the second half of 2008. Not that I want the staff at TT to be any more swamped but I might suggest calling early – and availing yourself of the redial function on your phone.

Finally, in the interest of journalistic integrity and full disclosure, I'd like you to know that this meal was comped by the owners of Talula's Table.

Talula's Table
102 W. State Street
Kennett Square, PA 19348

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Anonymous said...

You know, I've been thinking about trying to get a reservation, so I guess it's fortuitous that I read your review! Everything looks excellent!

David McDuff said...

Glad to have been of service, Nicole. Thanks for stopping by.

Anonymous said...

actually looks a little more contemporary than brian's normal style.
or i could just be jaded by the onslaught of what passes for holiday repasts at xmas work parties, etc.

David McDuff said...

Hey Bill,
There were certainly some contemporary touches, as in the ceviche course and the cinnamon "smoke" part of the gnocchi dish, but I found the meal overall to be very much in keeping with Bryan's core style.

Anonymous said...

Here's a story NPR did about a visit to Talula's - worth a look and listen

David McDuff said...

Funny timing, Anon, as I just posted about the NPR story a couple of hours ago. Thanks anyway for reading and for sharing the link.

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