The grilled octopus looked like hors d'oeuvres served on a silver tray at a fancy dinner party. Dollops of cannellini purée supported little rounds of octopus on top of bite-size, shatteringly crispy lavash crackers. Golden, saffron-infused slivers of onion and bits of olive garnished the little works of art, and it was fun to swipe the crackers through the swaths of aji amarillo sauce on the plate.
The dish was one of the few high points at Table On Post Oak, located in the structure that used to house Philippe Restaurant + Lounge. Little about the space has changed. There's still a casual bar downstairs (which was jumping with white-collar workers and girls'-night-out parties on a recent Wednesday evening visit). Upstairs is the restaurant proper. Gone are the paper placemats with pithy quotes from Chef Philippe Schmit, and the long wall near the kitchen has been transformed into a modern art piece with the glow of electric candles filtered through waffled mesh.
Tall office buildings and a shopping district surround Table On Post Oak. So it's not surprising that one look at the dinner menu reveals the requisite filet mignon, the requisite pork chop, the requisite scallops and the requisite prime rib eye. There's also a great deal of seafood on the menu, with distinctive Mediterranean additions like rosemary, chickpeas, fennel, feta and olives. Sometimes it works. Too often, it doesn't.
Nothing here is terrible, but not enough is wonderful. The platings are entirely sexy and gorgeous, but the flavors of even the more expensive entrées fall short.
The service aspect was nearly perfect. Table dared to hire servers with personality. There are no stilted speeches that sound as if they came from a cue card. Instead, there's a "whatever you need" attitude with a bit of humor thrown in.
The restaurant seemed understaffed on both visits, though. Having one more server on the floor probably would have smoothed out a few ten-minute delays in placing orders and getting refills.
On a dinner visit, a refreshing and savory amuse-bouche of tomato water with cucumber, strawberry and a dash of basil oil effectively whetted the appetite and built anticipation for the rest of the meal. After that, it was a roller coaster -- unfortunately, with more low points than high ones.
The tomato and parmesan soup duo, which was served in one bowl, looked rather like a yin and yang symbol. The extreme thickness of the Parmesan soup held the brothy tomato in place. While functional, it would be better used as an Alfredo sauce. It was rich and cheesy but unpleasantly thick as a soup. The tomato side had the opposite problem. It was thin, and while it had a smoky flavor, an overabundance of stock undercut any pleasing acidity or sweetness that the tomatoes would have contributed. Mixing the two soups together produced better flavor, but the resulting color was an unappealing pinkish orange. The whole was not better than the sum of its parts.
The ponzu crab appetizer, however, offered a generous dash of sunshiny yuzu that made the chilled, mouth-filling lumps of sweet crab a joyous experience, while chunks of seared shishito pepper and cheerful little wedges of cherry tomatoes were welcome additions.
Unfortunately, after this high point it was not until dessert that there would be another dish at the same level of brilliance. In fact, the entrée order got off to a rocky start when our server informed us that the lamb lasagna was unavailable -- and it was only 7 p.m.
We ended up with the duck breast, part of the original plan, and the red snapper, which sounded promising enough: littleneck clams, vegetable medley, green olive tapenade, pancetta and garlic chili broth.
Visually, the dish was stunning. The snapper was a hair overcooked but boasted beautiful, pink, crispy skin -- the wafting scent of garlic held vast promise. That's as far as it went, though. "Vegetable medley" translated to a smattering of whole chickpeas, thick slices of green and black olives, and a spoonful of tapenade on top of the fish. Crowning it all was a slice of crisp bacon.
The individual components stayed stubbornly disparate, proving that throwing Mediterranean ingredients at a dish doesn't make it Mediterranean. No chili was detected in the thin garlic chili broth at all. For that matter, there wasn't much garlic, either. Had the broth been thicker and more complex, it might have helped bring the dish together, but instead it just sat in a puddle at the bottom of the bowl, contributing nothing.
(The yuzu-spiked sauce with the ponzu crab was so appealing that we called for spoons to scoop it up, and the crab soaked up a bit of it, too. With this one, we didn't bother.)
Thin sauces are a theme here. When a dish is served in a bowl and comes with a fork, a sauce is pretty useless if it's not enhancing the food or is scoop-worthy unto itself. There was a repeat of that with the duck breast. Once again, it was a beauty queen, with attendant bok choy, beech mushrooms and freshwater chestnuts standing at attention on cut ends.
The pool of smoked tea broth that rested under the duck breast was quite seductive. As with the red snapper, though, the broth added little flavor to the meat. And the blackberry ponzu glaze was simply not intense enough to take it from the middle road to the fast lane.
Ordering the green tea panna cotta for dessert was a mistake that no one could have predicted. There was nary a hint of green tea to be found, save for a dusting of it on the side of the plate. Instead, there was overwhelming cloying creaminess and, as if to drive the point home, a big dollop of whipped cream on top, too. Even the accompanying blackberries couldn't provide enough fruitiness or acidity to save it.
Finally, there was a glimmer of light. It's not hard to make friends with a warm chocolate cake. Table turns up the volume and spikes its version with Dr Pepper. It works surprisingly well and adds deep cherry and prune notes. Riding alongside is a refreshing (albeit chunky) Dr Pepper granita.
The wine list is well-edited and reasonably priced for fine dining. A $47 bottle of Domaine Castell-Reynoard Bandol Rosé was a pleasing companion for the duration of dinner. You may find yourself refilling your own glass, though.
The tomato and burrata flatbread at lunch had the bright, sweet, acidic flavors and creamy balance we'd looked so hard for in the soup during the prior meal. ("Aha, tomato flavor! There you are!") Uneven chunks of firm, housemade burrata lent a cool balance to heirloom cherry tomatoes on top of the bread. Table used a clever trick, too. The bread was exactly the right width to ensure there were no "inside" pieces after it was cut. Every slice had at least one crispy edge. Genius.
The spicy lamb burger was comforting after so many dishes that had needed more seasoning. There was a good heft and weightiness to the patty and just the right amount of cabbage slaw. The limp, unsalted, Parmesan rosemary fries stood in stark contrast, completely unworthy of being on the same plate.
Table is fine. Table is acceptable. There is little edge or risk. If it ever wants to be more than that, it must stop being tentative with flavors. The components are all there. There are good ideas here, and service is top-notch. The wine list is well thought out and competitive. It's as if Table is afraid of offending someone by being daring. There are 14 main courses on the dinner menu. Six are $24 or under, and the remaining eight are $32 and higher.
Add a glass of wine, an appetizer, an entrée and a dessert, and a diner is unlikely to escape for less than $66 plus tax and tip. If that's the ballpark in which Table wishes to play, it must produce more dishes that are consistently memorable and compelling. In the mean-time, you might visit the bar for a glass of wine, a flatbread, the ponzu crab and a Dr Pepper cake.
Beet & goat cheese salad $9 (lunch)/$10 (dinner) Grilled octopus $9 Tomato and parmesan soup duo $9 Ponzu crab $15 Tomato and burrata flatbread $11 Spicy lamb burger $15 Crispy salmon $17 Duck breast $33 Red snapper $32 Sea scallops $32 Grilled pork chop $34 Prime filet mignon $40 Prime grilled rib eye $45
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