The Table has landed.
Back in January, Philippe restaurant, having failed in its attempts to rebrand itself in the wake of founding chef Philippe Schmit's sudden departure last September, closed to transform into a new restaurant called Table that promised to move away from French food and into a more American direction.
The restaurant recently completed some friends and family previews and has been quietly accepting walk-ins this week. While the grand opening won't take place until May 15, after the new, downstairs bar has been built, the restaurant will begin taking reservations this week. Intrigued by the new direction, I accepted an invitation to sample some of the new dishes and get a first look at the space.
Generally, the goal appears to have been to make the restaurant a more casual, less stuffy space. The biggest change is a new glass wall along the stairwell that will shield the dining room from whatever noise is created in the bar. Gone are the mirrors and most of the artwork; in their place, all new furniture in subdued shades of brown. The layout has been reworked, with booths along the window and two and four-top tables placed around the dining room.
Generally, the new room is attractive, if a little generic, particularly compared to the luxuriously appointed former occupant.
Table clearly wants to broaden its appeal with the expanded lunch menu and reworked bar that aims to match the happy hour vibe at places like Caracol and Mo's.
Which is sort of the point, since the more casual dining room indicates the less expensive prices on the menu. Unlike Philippe, Table doesn't feel like a restaurant where a jacket is appropriate.
The prices are friendlier, too, with entrees clustered between $15 and $20 at lunch and $25 to $35 at dinner. That's consistent with Osteria Mazzantini and Caracol, two other recent additions to Post Oak that are helping to raise the quality of the dining options near the Galleria.
Chef Manuel Pucha, who remains in his role as executive chef, tells CultureMap that at Table it's "my menu all the way through." That menu blends Asian, Mexican and traditional American influences through Pucha's French training. Proteins are what one expects to find at a higher end restaurant: Scallops, salmon, short ribs, steak, etc, but they're presented in unusual ways at Table.
Seared scallops are a staple on menus, but Pucha prepares his in a spicy guajillo chile sauce over a corn cake with corn salsa. The fear is that the sauce will overwhelm the scallop's natural sweetness, but they work surprisingly well together.
Another surprisingly successful dish is the tuna carpaccio flatbread. Raw tuna didn't sound like a great topping, but the thin, crispy crust adds a little crunch without getting in the way of the tuna's flavor. The dish would make a great starter to split between a couple of people or a sufficient lunch for one.
The ponzu crab appetizer further illustrates Table's new direction. Sweet crab meat, tart ponzu vinaigrette, creamy avocado and spicy shisito peppers make for a Japanese-inspired dish, but the careful plating of the crab in the vinaigrette reflects Pucha's French technique and desire to make each plate visually appealing.
Pastry chef Jami Kling is another holdover, and her desserts are worth a visit. Pancakes and bacon features maple flan, candied bacon and small blini pancakes in a dish that brings together some of the most appealing parts of breakfast. The rich, chocolatey Dr. Pepper cake is another can't miss item.
Philippe, as former GM Dallas Easterly famously quipped, had become a destination restaurant for suburban diners celebrating special occasions. Table clearly wants to broaden its appeal with the expanded lunch menu and reworked bar that aims to match the happy hour vibe at places like Caracol and Mo's. Pucha says that things are going well so far, with "99 percent positive" feedback from diners who have been "blown away flavor wise."
Whether it works remains to be seen, but the kitchen is off to a good start with its mix of global flavors, familiar proteins and artful plating.