TALULA’S TABLE – BYOB
A lot of mushrooms have been picked and packed and shipped all over the world since our last visit to Talula’s Table in Kennett Square, PA. A great deal has changed, too, at this highly regarded food emporium in Chester County since we dined here in November of 2008. Let’s begin by explaining a little about Talula’s Table. The restaurant/gourmet food market was the brainchild of Aimee Olexy and Bryan Sikura, husband and wife team who sold their immensely popular BYOB, Django, of South Street fame, several years ago, and headed out to horse-farm country to continue their passion. During the day, Talula’s Table (named after their daughter) sells gourmet meats and cheeses, luncheon sandwiches and a wide-array of sometimes hard to find foods that the locals have come to enjoy. When the store closes at 7:00 P.M. each evening, the epicurean feast begins.
This is the table that Conde Nast Magazine called “the toughest dinner reservation in America”. It seats 8 to 12 and can only be reserved by being the first caller each morning at 7:00 A.M.; and if you are fortunate enough to be THAT caller, you now have the table for the exact same date……NEXT YEAR!! Of course, looking on the bright side, that gives you time to round up friends and work up an appetite for the eight courses that will be presented. The menu changes several times each year to match the seasons but, aside from allowances for specific food allergies, you will be eating just what they give you. There is no selection other than that specific evening’s menu. Not to fear, you’ll be pleased with their choices.
I mentioned earlier that there had been several changes at Talula’s Table in the past few years. Primary among them would be that Aimee and Bryan are no longer together as spouses or business partners. He has re-married and is in the process of opening a new restaurant in Rittenhouse Square. Aimee has partnered with restaurant guru, Stephen Starr, and has opened a new place, Talula’s Garden, on Washington Square. Bryan’s former role as chef at Talula’s Table is now being held by Matt Moon.
Matt was the sous-chef when Bryan was doing the cooking and based on what we enjoyed on this Spring Friday, Matt was paying attention during his time in the kitchen because everything he prepared was fantastic. The food was perhaps even better than on our first visit. Thank you, Matt for a great evening of excellent dishes. Aimee was not there on this evening as she was in the city over-seeing her other restaurant. Both she and Stephen Starr have a lot invested in the Philly project and I can’t wait to give Talula’s Garden a try.
There were nine of us for dinner and we were looking forward with great anticipation to the evening. We had ten bottles of wine between us so each course would have an appropriate vino to enhance the dining experience.
As I mentioned earlier we had ten bottle of wine with us. Time and energy do not permit me to list them all but I will mention that the absolute star of the night was Gerry’s 2007 Merus, Cabernet Sauvignon an absolutely stunning wine that he generously shared with the table. We had some nice Chardonnay’s with the early courses including a 1999 Chassagne-Montrachet and some Malbecs, a Barbaresco, a nice Pinot Noir and a 2002 Inniskillen, Vidal, Ice Wine to go with our dessert course.
The evening began shortly after 7:00 P.M. with a little amuse bouche, three of them to be exact. The first was a very tasty octopus salad served on a slice of cucumber. Ironically, as part of the pre-dinner preparation the staff inquires a couple of days prior to your reservation if anyone in your party has any specific food allergies. We had one person that we reported to them with a cucumber allergy. The chef evidently remembered and his salad was served wrapped in a lettuce leaf (about 11:00 o’clock in the picture above).
Next up was an excellent mushroom ravioli, each served on its own individual spoon. Two bites and we were ready for our final pre-course offering of the night.
We were treated to a refreshing pineapple cream soda with sugar-coated rim. Aside from tasting delicious this helped cleanse our palate and prepare us for the first of our eight courses for the evening.
Don’t ask me how it happened but I totally forgot to take a picture of our first course. What you would be looking at had I not been so neglectful was the Fava Bean Custard, Louisiana Crawfish, Local Watercress and Sauce Nantua. The crawfish were tasty, the custard surprisingly good and we were off to a good start.
This might have been my favorite course of the evening. Spring Potato Soup, Abalone Frites, Wild Fennel, and Green Garlic Toast. The soup was outstanding and the garlic toast went so well with it. I think all were happy to see that the portion was more than any of us would have expected. The entire table was very pleased with this particular offering.
Next came another crowd favorite; Morel Risotto, Sweet Peas, Charred Ramps, and Fresh Pennsylvania Goat Cheese. The rice was cooked perfectly and the combination of flavors with the peas, ramps and cheese was memorable. Right about this point we have nine happy diners.
I won’t speak for the others but I stayed very happy with course number four, King Salmon, Petite Rye Kugel, Smoked Sour Cream, and Pickled Egg. This unusual combination clicked and the smoky flavor made the salmon and the entire dish a real culinary treat. High marks to Chef Moon for this course.
Very nicely presented on the plate was the Roasted Boar Loin, Rhubarb Glaze, Asparagus and Bacon Lardons. Parts of this dish were fine, there is never anything wrong with bacon, but the boar was, for me, a little too chewy. It may be that is just the nature of boar meat but this was not one of my favorite dishes. I think from speaking with some of the others that they had a similar reaction.
I felt much better about the next entree, Lamb Baklava, Swarmbustin Honey Glazed Turnips and Gold beets, with Nettle Puree. Lots of good flavors in this offering with the beets and turnips adding just the right tastes and textures to the lamb.
Course #7 was the Spring Picnic: Artisan Cheese Collection, Candied Nuts, Berries, Talula’s Sausage, and Mustard. Very creative and the little slices of sausage and dabs of mustard in combination with the variety of cheeses made this a great prelude to the dessert portion of the meal.
Almost too pretty to eat was the dessert course of Steamed Lemon Pudding Cake, Rhubarb Sorbet, and Lavender Anglaise. Everything on this plate was delicious and how often do you get to have rhubarb sorbet?
Our very capable server, Kate, and her entire team, did a fantastic job all evening presenting and explaining the intricacies of each course. Water glasses were kept full, wines poured as needed with extra glasses appearing without prompting. It’s obvious that the entire staff at Talula’s takes pride in their performance. It must be nice for Aimee to know she can devote the bulk of her time to making sure her new project gets off to a good start and that her staff back at Talula’s Table are doing a great job in maintaining the high standards she has set.
Our meal was not completely over because as we finished off the last of our wines, out came a taste-tempting array of chocolate candies to make sure that we ended our night on a sweet note.
The final offering was an individually wrapped chocolate brownie. It went perfectly with coffee the next morning at home.
I would have to say that this second visit to Talula’s Table was even better than the first. It seemed the portions were larger and flavors were better all around. I would suggest you call some morning at 7:00 A.M. and catch one of these hard-to-get reservations. The year of waiting will go by quickly in anticipation. Meanwhile, do as I am doing and make plans to try Aimee’s other dining spot at Talula’s Garden in Philly.