Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Rarest Reservation: Talula's Table

Conde Nast: Portfolio "The country's hardest-to-get reservation isn't in New York or Los Angeles. Call Talula's Table, in Pennsylvania horse country, to dine in 2009." It's a great article go ahead and read it.

Ok, I am seriously not bragging. I am just trying to drive home how amazing this place is. I was there when they first opened and were not yet serving dinner. I was there when they were in Philly in their restaurant Django. Now I finally was able to see what everyone was talking about when it came to their new dinner style.

What Talula's Table (owned by married couple Brian Sikora and Aimee Olexy) does is create 2 meals a night one for a table of up to 12 and one for a table of 4, 6 days a week. The table for 12 is called "The Farmhouse Table" It is out in the main part of what during the day is their gourmet market. The table for 4 is in the inner sanctum, the kitchen, hence, The Kitchen Table. Someday I'd love to have a big party of 12 but Friday night, I was in heaven in the kitchen.

We were greeted by Aimee when we arrived as if we were coming for dinner in a friend's home. She led us back to the kitchen and our table. The four of us had half the large butcher block table that is usually used for making what you see in the market. Brian is the head chef and had a little prep area going on his end of the table and was able to talk with us between courses and also during the meal. He, Aimee and the other staff explained each course and kept up with our wine selections (that is to say, made sure nary a glass was empty). Now if you are not a foodie and you are bored with food descriptions, skip to the end (I'll start in bold so you can see it). We had eight courses and sitting to my left is the menu for the evening which I am going to transcribe here. I apologize for not getting more pics. We were so focused on the food we forgot. :(

First Course
Eastern Shore Scallop in the Shell, Scallop and Coral Emulsion and Caviar - If a gun was put to my head to pick my favorite course this might have been it. The scallops were unbelievably fresh, perfectly seared. The Coral emulsion was prepared with the coral from the scallops and the seawater they still had in the shell. It gave an unbelievable depth to the flavor. He also added fresh enoki mushrooms (the restaurant is located in the heart of the mushroom capital of the country). Any other mushroom would have over powered the flavor but the enoki was so delicate, it just added to the layers.

Second Course
Summersweet Corn and Crab Souffle, Annalees Herbs and Cherokee Tomato Syrup - We still have fresh corn here believe it or not, and you could tell in this course. I am a fan of interesting sweet corn dishes since another restaurant introduced me to all the possibilities. This was the best souffle I have ever had. I literally watched them pull it out of the oven, piping hot. The smell was your first indication that it was going to be amazing. The 'syrup' had the consistency of homemade catsup but was sweeter and richer. We took the little spoon the syrup was placed in and put it into the heart of the souffle, unleashing more of the heavenly aroma. The combination of fresh crab, corn, paprika and tomatoes was truly an incredible experience.

Third Course
Handmade Orecchiette, Birchrun Veal Meatballs, Roasted Brussel Sprouts, Blanquette, Veal Glazed Sweetbreads - Before anyone gets on my case about the veal. I already know. I would not have eaten is but it is from a local farm that does none of the inhumane things we all know happen to baby cows. I am not promoting veal. I am glad to say that the owners of this establishment pride themselves on using organic and humanely harvested meats and produce. We spoke extensively about it at our meal. So, this dish I actually have a picture of as well. Anyway, the meatballs were presented on the plate along with the tiniest and most tasty brussel sprouts you have ever had in your life. Their flavor coupled with the veal and sweet breads (not going into that either, bring on the mad cow) were an inspired choice. Also included were Parmesan crisps that did something wonderful to the veal sauce that accompanied the meat. An interesting addition was the handmade orecchette. This was the perfect pasta to add to this dish. They had a heft somewhere between gnocchi and shells but had more flavor than I have ever tasted in any pasta. It was a good thing there were only a few to the plate because that was all that was needed.

Fourth Course
Alaskan Halibut, Our Chard, Pomme de Terre, Braised Smoked Bacon and Sherry Red Pepper Essence - I am ruined for halibut. I don't think I can have it anywhere else. The texture was perfect and it was the perfect vehicle for the pomme de terre and the red pepper. Now that I am doing a CSA I am looking forward to the chard I am sure to get as long as I can cook it the way they did. It had the familiar texture of spinach but more so if that makes sense. The bacon was this tiny piece but because of the braising and smoking process the flavor that it lended the dish floated over all the parts, enhancing the whole experience rather than taking over.

Fifth Course Tender Guinea Hen, Dr. Martin Lima Bean Terrine, Natural Hen Sauce - This was the first time I had the experience of having anything cooked sous vide (the practice of cooking food at low temperatures in vacuum-packed plastic bags). I had read about it but had not come across it. Now, I want to learn it. It imparted a flavor and a tenderness that you can get nowhere else. The natural hen sauce was essentially drippings from a roasted hen. The Terrine was like nothing I'd had before. Ham and diced lima beans absolutely wonderful. The 'Doc Martin' limas were local and now I need to find them. I hated lima beans as kid (the kind from cans). My association is much different now.

Sixth Course
Chester County Lamb Finished Three Ways and Vegetables Provencal - Lamb is one of my favorite things. I wrote a post about being torn about seeing their cute fuzzy faces on a daily basis and imagining them with rosemary and lemon. This blew me away. The three ways were, tenderloin, rolled shank and (you must pardon me, I had several glasses of wine and although in my memory I can still taste the third way, I cannot remember the name. Feel free to snap my butt with a wet napkin). The vegetables were presented inside a cup made from the end of a zucchini. Again, these were local sheep, grass finished. There is a difference.
Seventh Course
Little Stinkers, Fig Toast, Apple Fennel Jam and Goldenrod Honey - Again, presented with much wine I cannot remember the names of the cheeses. I have an email out to the owners to find out. If you are interested, email me. What I can tell you is that they were all deliciously smelly and paired with the items you see above. I loved each and every one.

Eighth Course
Chocolate Torte, Cashew butter, Roasted Apricots, Coulis and Salted Cashews - Now I have mentioned before on this blog that I do not believe in chocolate and fruit together. I make one exception, the roasted apricot coulis that accompanied this tort. It truly added a wonderful flavor to the dish. The cashew butter was actually more of a brittle and was in the middle of the torte. It was perfect for this though because it broke as soon as your fork hit that layer, allowing you to get all the layers in one bite without ruining the layers that were left.

We had coffee and they brought out truffles for us as well. Along with the check, they gave each of us pretzel bread. This was truly an amazing evening. Although I mentioned at the top that I look forward to someday sitting at The Farmhouse Table, I am torn. With my love of cooking and chefs (and Brian was not hard to look at, let me tell you) being in the kitchen and being able to chat with them about the food we were eating and their position on the local food movement and raising a family in the restaurant business was truly part of what made that meal so memorable. We left, full, happy and feeling like we'd had a meal at a friend's home...an uber professional chef-friend's home but their home none the less.


Los said...

My wife would absolutely LOVE this place. I would go, but I'm pretty picky about my food (which bothers my wife a lot ... and me too - I wish I wasn't so picky).

Anonymous said...

It sounds really good! What an experience!

Thanks for your commentary and pictures!

Brian in Mpls said...


BS5 Blogger said...

I love the passion in you when you write about food. Delightful!

Capricorn said...

Are you familiar with the Gonk and the Geefel?
Yes, they changed the way me and shannon said nectarines for years.

Sarah Mae said...

That place sounds so cool! I live in PA, so I'm glad you introduced me; maybe one day I will get to go!

Mrs Parks said...

It kind of sounds like you came to my house for dinner and we went out to the pasture for each course!

I love fancy food and the incredible flavors that you don't normally get to enjoy.
One of my best friends is a fancy pants chef with his own eccentric restaurant and I love the variety and surprise that you just can't get at "The Olive Garden" ;}

L.R. M-J said...

uh...excuse me, I have to go get some cleaner to MOP UP THE DROOL on my keyboard!...PHEnomenal Z...we are so going to dinner there next time I visit! A couple yrs ago when my Dad visited we went to a similar type meal in a Michelin starred chef's place here in France...I still get teary at how amazing the experience was...the kitchen presence was 1/2 the magic, the other 1/2 was in my mouth...sacre bleue!!

Jen said...

that sounds absolutely amazing. I so wish that I could go there. Yum!

Live.Love.Eat said...

This place is RIGHT up my alley. I would be in heaven!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Their website looks awesome! If I lived in NY still I would drive just to go there.

Kristen Andrews said...

wow that sounds really neat! I love really unique things just like that.

Sue said...

Sounds like fun hanging in the kitchen and all, Oh and the wine of course. I am definitely more of a boring eater, but I will hope for you to make it out to the big table some day for another fun food experience!

Lindsay said...

My husband and I would absolutely LOVE this place! He is a huge foodie and a great chef, and I think it'd be the next best thing to cooking classes for him. If we're ever in the area (and able to get reservations) we'll definitely have to try this out.

-Bridget said...

That sounds so awesome! What a special treat.

Snooty Primadona said...

OMG! I'm afraid I'd just have to die after dinner at Talula's. I'd have no where to go up from there. Truly sounds fabulous.