Well, here I am back in CT after a fabulously relaxing and enjoyable vacation with my family down in West Palm Beach. While I was down there, in addition to relaxing, I made sure to meet up with a couple of my friends from my MasterChef family. After paying a visit with Penny Suzuki and Drew Rosenthal, it reminded me of what an amazing experience being on the show really was. Alright, I am sure you are wondering what this has to do with Table 26, the answer… Everything. When Drew and I met up he told me of one of his new favorite restaurants in the area, and naturally, 2 nights later, I made my reservation and had to try it. And I am beyond happy I did, not only was it the best meal I had while I was down in Florida, but it was simply an all around great meal. The food, the presentation, the atmosphere, the service, everything was phenomenal. Located at 1700 South Dixie Highway in West Palm Beach, FL, Table 26 is a must visit if you are anywhere near the area. It will be worth the trip. Let’s start with the atmosphere and service:
This intimate restaurant is definitely the kind of place where you NEED to make a reservation. It has about 15 tables and a bar inside (with great specialty drinks and an extensive wine list. I had a wonderful glass of Malbec), as well as a few tables out on a patio. I meant to ask if there were a total of 26 tables, but completely forgot to. Either way, each table is lit with a beautiful sand anchored candle (pictured above) to remind you that you are in Florida and by the beach. Beautifully simple artwork lines the walls. Also, despite the fact that the restaurant is smaller, it is still spacious. Wisely so, Table 26 does not try to pack too many tables into their space, even though I am sure they would be filled if they did. Instead there is plenty of room for your party to enjoy the meal and conversation without being elbow to elbow with your dining neighbor. That being said, as described before, the setting is intimate. So the dining room, while constantly abuzz with talk of the amazing food, also still allows for easy conversation. As for the service, I was beyond impressed. This restaurant is just barely 2 months in. I have worked in restaurants for 12 years, including being a part of the opening staff for a few. Usually, it takes some time for the machine to start running smoothly. This was not the case at Table 26. The service staff was attentive and knowledgeable without being overbearing. My water was never empty, we were checked on with each course to make sure everything was cooked to our liking, and whenever I had a question for my server about the food or the restaurant, she was ready with the answer. The food came out a steady pace, and always fresh. This machine runs smoothly at two months, I can’t wait to see where they will be in a year. I know one of the goals for the near future is opening for lunch, and I have no doubts that they can do that without losing a step. Ok… Now onto the most important part, the food!
We were started off with two different types of freshly baked a bread: A cheddar bread (on the left) and a wheat bread (on the right), both of which were warm, fluffy, and delicious. In addition to butter, you also see above a dish of eggplant “caviar” (basically an herb and seasoned eggplant puree). Most of you who know me, know that eggplant and I usually do not gel because of the texture, but in this puree, that issues was eliminated and it was fabulous. The we moved on to our appetizers, a Maryland Style Lump Crab Cake and Blackened Shrimp over Sweet Corn Grits with a Tomato Confit.
First off, just look at the plating (something we all found out is not my specialty). The dishes look beautiful. And they tasted even better. I make it well known that I very rarely order “Maryland Style Crab Cakes” outside of Maryland because having lived in Baltimore for 4 years, usually it simply does not live up to its name. That was not the case here. Notice the huge chunks of crab held together by basically nothing else. Most crab cakes end up using so much bread and filling that you lose the natural buttery sweetness of the crab… Not at Table 26. This crab cake is just what it is supposed to be, CRAB! With a lemongrass butter sauce and a bit of Cajun seasoning, it is not Baltimore “Style” it is straight up out of Baltimore. Then we get to what was possibly my favorite part of the meal, the blackened shrimp appetizer. Not only were the shrimp flavorful and perfectly cooked, but this is one of those dishes where while each component is delicious on its own, when you get that perfect bite of everything together, it is simply magic. The spice and char of the shrimp, combined with the creamy sweetness of the corn grits, finished with the rich decadence and acidity of the tomato confit… the flavors just play off each other so well. To be fair, I am yet to find anything confit that I do not like, but that is besides the point. The point is, this dish was well thought out, well executed, and enjoyed thoroughly, leading perfectly into out entrees: a Double Cut Pork Chop served with warm applesauce and a chorizo & jicama potato salad, and a Beef Short Rib Stroganoff.
Starting with the pork chop, which was perfectly cooked with a wonderful sear and glaze on the outside. The chop itself was juicy and well seasoned, the applesauce rivaled (but did not top) my mom’s homemade applesauce (There really is nothing better than my mom’s applesauce), the asparagus was crisp, fresh, and flavorful, but the star of this dish in my opinion are the potatoes. The first thing I tasted when the entrees came was the potato, and it was also the last thing I tasted. In my opinion, the potatoes are the pure representation of what the entire menu at Table 26 accomplishes: taking rustic classics and using fresh and different ingredients, herbs, and spices to make it something special. Not only did everything pair well together, but they also transported you back to the rustic family meals of childhood. That is what these potatoes and the applesauce did for me, bring me back to wonderful memories of family dinners growing up while still intriguing and satisfying my much more adult and complicated palate. Onto the Stroganoff. This dish was my wild card pick for the evening, not knowing what to expect, and I would recommend it anyone. The egg noodles were cooked to a perfect al dente, the gravy was thick, rich, and flavorful without being overpowering (something that is often overlooked, but like any pasta dish, the sauce can make or break it, and this one makes it), and most importantly, the short rib, in addition to allowing the flavor of the beef to speak for itself, was so tender it fell apart at the touch of my fork. This was the dish my friend Drew told me I would not be disappointed in, and he was right. I will be back, and I will be ordering this again. Another item I will be ordering again, is dessert! This time around we got the Strawberry Shortcake.
There is a saying when it comes to cooking that we oh so often forget and take for granted… “KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid!” That is because there is something to be said for the simple elegance of letting ingredients speak for themselves. This dessert does just that. It is simple: Nothing more than a wonderfully fresh baked shortbread, glazed strawberries, and vanilla ice cream with a leaf of fresh mint, but it does not need anything more. The salty, sweet buttery shortbread, combined with ripe glazed fresh strawberries, and that smooth vanilla cream creates a refreshing and simple end to a fantastic meal. Instead of feeling weighed down after such a hearty, rustic meal, this dessert is weightless (although I am sure enough of it would still add a few pounds to your waist line). I can not wait to try the other house-made desserts Table 26 has to offer. Speaking of house-made desserts, allow me to introduce you to the wonderful people who prepared this meal.
First up, Executive Chef Steven Polowy (pictured with me above). Steven was nice enough to come out after the meal to talk with me about the restaurant, the food, his background, and the background of how Table 26 came to be. A graduate of the New England Culinary Institute, Steven definitely showed me that he and his wife know how to prepare fantastic, innovative food. That’s right, I said, “and his wife”! Steven’s wife Jo Polowy, also a graduate of the New England Culinary Institute, is the Pastry Chef at Table 26 and the mastermind behind the delicately flavorful shortcake I am now so fond of (Jo, I will be asking for the recipe at some point… Hopefully, after you’ve been open for a bit, you will allow me the secrets of at least that one). Plus, since they both went to school and lived up in New England, we were able to talk about the transition down to Florida (something that I must admit, I would be open to, even though I love the cold and Winter and Autumn) Thank you both once again for sharing the restaurant, your food, and your stories with me. Be sure to check out the entirety of the Table 26 menu for a taste of what they have to offer. Then… CALL TO MAKE A RESERVATION!!! (561)855-2660. In addition to their website you can also find Table 26 and like them on facebook or follow them on twitter @table26palmbch for their latest news.
So if I were to leave you with one thought about Table 26 it would be this: Great food can have a magical quality that transports you to another place, another time, a memory, or a fantasy… If you want to share in that experience, go out and try Table 26… then try it again. Thank you again to Steven, Jo, and the entire team at Table 26 for an evening I will not be forgetting.
Until next time, this is Jason “MaurPowerFoodie” Maur signing off.