(Published by South Bay Accent in May, 2013)
In great eating-focused locales like San Francisco and Berkeley/Oakland, diners can get sublime grub while underdressed in low-key neighborhood joints. You’ll find many a modern gastropub — casual eateries with serious menus and top-shelf cocktails — dotting trendy areas like San Francisco’s Mission and Oakland’s Uptown district. Now, add San Jose’s Willow Glen neighborhood to the list.
Opening in an emerging foodie zone last summer was The Table, which has the hallmarks of thriving gastropubs to the north: a farm-to-table menu with never-make-it-in-the-burbs dishes like roasted bone marrow and kimchee, artisanal drinks, abundant noise, a communal table and simple decor. The brainchild of longtime local chef/restaurateur Jim Stump (Los Gatos Brewing Company and the former AP Stump’s), The Table could successfully exist in San Francisco or Berkeley but what’s exciting is that it’s doing just fine, thank you, in Willow Glen. Plus, parking is easier here.
The menu is small but mighty and rotates with local ingredients throughout the seasons. It starts with a quartet of “snacks,” which provide a few tasty bites, moves to “shares” that aren’t a lot bigger but utterly delicious — so don’t quibble — and includes five filling entrees plus a few killer desserts. Prices aren’t overblown, so take the opportunity to order several things and blissfully share. Given how extraordinary some items are, like the sous-vide duck confit and braised beef cheeks, some diners might prefer hogging the whole dish.
Tragically, every order of the popular Brussels sprouts leaves with shaved pecorino — flashed-fried leaves sprinkled with cheese — had already been gobbled up during our visit but the wedge potatoes “snack” helped us forget. A few soft-crisp potato pieces are paired with a lush sour cream and onion dip recalling that nostalgic “French onion dip” from childhood based on dehydrated soup but a million times better.
Given the sometimes-slow ordering and food delivery, we doubly appreciated being able to inhale crunchy Acme epi rolls with the accompanying crock of salted ricotta and olive oil until our several “shares” dishes finally arrived. Local baby beets roasted in orange juice with tart/sweet persimmon jam and creamy cheese was delightful. Ditto cumin-rich Manila clams with smoked pork featuring subtle traces of citrus and fennel, and juicy, crispy, wonderful rabbit fritters. We also loved the tender, intensely ducky sous-vide version of duck confit, as well as dinosaur kale softened in cream and subtle spices with earthy pieces of sunchoke and pine nuts.
The main courses were a bit bigger in size and equally enticing in taste. The kitchen, under the direction of chef Anthony Jimenez, switches around proteins and ingredients depending on availability so the menu’s pan-roasted mahi mahi was substituted with cobia during our visit, similar to shark but a sustainable species. Nicely cooked, the meaty fish was terrific with bacon-braised red cabbage and a tart sour-apple salad. Sometimes switched with chicken breast, game hen is juicy and full of taste, particularly with chunky ratatouille and spectacular house-made zucchini bread, which diners often fight over to see to gets the last morsel.
And then there’s the now-famous beef cheeks. Beefy, fatty but fork-tender, this dish epitomizes the cow elements that people love. The beef is perfectly paired with tart picked beets and subtle buttermilk horseradish sauce that temper the rich meat. In a similar vein is slow-roasted pork belly, here served with fresh shelling beans and braised greens that also help balance a high-fat dish.
The parade of deliciousness keeps rolling into dessert. Deeply chocolate pot de creme came with candied hazelnuts and little homemade marshmallows, then things got even better — a truly spectacular bread pudding made with sweet batard that was everything this dish should be: warm, multi textured and flavorful.
The food is so good that patrons like to linger, which can create a bottleneck near the entrance. Grab a barstool (if one is available) at the front of the room and perk up the wait with a well-executed cocktail. The restaurant is just one big room, so it’s easy to track your table’s progress.
Vegetarians and parents are among the few who grumble about The Table, whose menu is meat heavy and without kiddie items and accompanying child paraphernalia. Moms might take the hint and head to Chili’s and the like because The Table is focused on adults who appreciate non-formulaic, delectable cuisine. Perhaps the restaurant’s painful wooden chairs are also by design, encouraging turnover to accommodate an expanding, appreciative crowd.
The Table, 1110 Willow St., San Jose, (408) 638-7911, http://www.thetablesj.com
HOURS: Lunch, Wednesday-Friday, 11:30-2. Brunch weekends, 9-2. Dinner, Monday-Thursday, 5:30-10; Friday-Saturday, 5-11; Sunday, 5-9. Reservations recommended.
PRICES: “Snacks,” $4-5; “share,” $9-14; entrees, $14-22; desserts, $5-7.