Less than a month ago, Restaurant Associates, collaborating with Marcus Samuelsson, opened up American Table, the new cafe at Alice Tulley Hall in the Lincoln Center. The format: a cafe and bar, served fast food style. Order at the counter, pay at the cash register, take a number and when your food is ready your server will bring you your grub. The space is beautiful: high ceilings, huge windows, bright happy lighting and comfy chairs right in the lobby of Alice Tulley Hall. The food, not surprisingly, is a bit expensive for what it is: I mean, the not-so-substantive bowl of scallop soup (below) was $17! And the name is a bit of a misnomer, or maybe it was intentionally sarcastic: American Table? More like eclectic “world”-inspired fusion food - the menu was kinda all over the place!
So last week, after a work benefit in the Lincoln Center, ATO and I headed out to find some dinner (there were only cocktails and passed hor’s doeurves at the function). We were off to our favorite wine bar when we walked right past American Table and decided to be adventurous and try something new!
ATO asked the girl at the cash register how many dishes were typical for 2 people. She said 2. So we ordered 3 plus dessert. We love to eat.
Above is the scallop sausage curry stew with water chestnuts and charred scallions. My first reaction: this is just like plain cheap Thai food I could find anywhere in Hell’s Kitchen! But as I enjoyed spoonful after spoonful, I soon realized that this was no run-of-the mill Thai: the flavors were lighter, more nuanced and less of an assault on your palate. And those wonderful water chestnuts just really hit the spot: they kept their cool crispness but soaked up all that nice curry flavor like a hungry sponge. Delicious. However, I really wish it came out hot, and with a few more pieces of scallop sausage to justify that hefty price tag!
Next up, the Taco doro wat with an Ethiopian twist: pulled pork with crumbled hard boiled egg. While the flavor profile of the dish was right on, again, this plate came out lukewarm and the “taco” shells were a bit too chewy, like they were overheated in a microwave. And so a common theme arises: conceptually good food but poor execution. Phooey.
Classic grilled cheese with a pickled tomato soup. I’m like a broken record: can we please get some consistently warm food here? The pickling of the soup was a bit weird - made it all a little too tart. It was fine paired with the grilled cheese, but was really hard to take down on its own: imagine trying to eat an entire bowl of sauce. And the grilled cheese… just look at the picture! The cheese had some nice flavor, but it was cold and rubbery and just plain sad in the limp pieces of white bread. I actually went back up to the counter and asked them to re-melt it all for me, but it only came back a tiny bit hotter but still cold and hard inside. Boooo.
For dessert, the spiced bread pudding with salted caramel and whipped cream. This was probably the best dish of the night. It was like a Cinnabon on crack: what you’ve always wanted it to taste like, but what it’s always failed to be. Man, if only it were served hot, and not all cold and dense in the middle….. it could have been fantastic!
Oh well, sometimes you swing and you miss.