food

The ever-changing Talula's Table

Craig LaBan, Food Critic

Updated: Friday, February 3, 2012, 11:46 AM

Not previously reviewed.

Owner Aimee Olexy readies for the evening's Farmhouse Table guests at Talula's Table. (David M Warren / Staff Photographer)
Inverbrook chicken lver bon-bon, concord grape gelee, Chris' Mom's walnut zucchni's bread, as served with the Autumn menu at Talula's Table. (David M Warren / Staff Photographer)
Roasted chicken with chutney made for the market at Talula's Table. (David M Warren / Staff Photographer)
Swallow Hill's Honey Bear squash made for the market at Talula's Table. (David M Warren / Staff Photographer)
Dark chocolate tart made for the market at Talula's Table. (David M Warren / Staff Photographer)
Pumpkin pie tart made for the market at Talula's Table. (David M Warren / Staff Photographer)
Quinault steelhead, soft eggs, smoked roes, crème fraiche and potato wafers, as served from the Winter tasting menu at Talula's Table. (David M Warren / Staff Photographer)
Salt cod croquettes with creamed kale, horseradish, tomato fondue, as served from the Winter tasting menu at Talula's Table. (David M Warren / Staff Photographer)
Lobster and mushroom terrine on a crisp rosti potato, shaved brussel sprout and winter truffle, as served from the Winter tasting menu at Talula's Table. (David M Warren / Staff Photographer)
Turnip ravioli with apple butter, romaine salad, as served from the Winter tasting menu at Talula's Table. (David M Warren / Staff Photographer)
Line caught tuna, curried lamb sausage, green grape sauce and crisp capers, as served from the Winter tasting menu at Talula's Table. (David M Warren / Staff Photographer)
Smoked ribeye, roasted poblano, Anson Mills polenta and crispy bits, as served from the Winter tasting menu at Talula's Table. (David M Warren / Staff Photographer)
Just-baked baby pecan sticky bun and salty maple ice cream, as served from the Winter tasting menu at Talula's Table. (David M Warren / Staff Photographer)
Chef Josh Behm in the kitchen of Talula's Table. (David M Warren / Staff Photographer)
Table setting on the farmer's table at Talula's Table. (David M Warren / Staff Photographer)
(left to right) Chef Josh Behm, sous chef Tim Esterly and owner Aimee Oxley prepare the Quinault steelhead for the guests dining at the kitchen table at Talula's Table. (David M Warren / Staff Photographer)
Members of a moms club from Lower Merion and the Main Line dine at the farmer's table at Talula's Table. (David M Warren / Staff Photographer)
Owner Aimee Oxley chats with guests dining at the kitchen table at Talula's Table. (David M Warren / Staff Photographer)
Talula's Table owner, Aimee Olexy. (David M Warren / Staff Photographer)
Photo Gallery: Talula’s Table

When I sat down for that first dreamy tasting meal in 2007 - buttery lobster knuckles with sweet corn custard and hickory-smoked local bison - I knew. The intimate farm-table dinners, held at the back of Talula's Table market in Kennett Square, had that four-bell feeling.

But not the rating. Not yet. After all, with the 12-seat table booked a solid year in advance, and only one seating a night, it was impossible to make a required second visit.

Flash forward to 2012. I've managed several meals here thanks to friends (and their friends), and watched Talula's evolve. An eight-seat butcher-block table has been added to the kitchen to accommodate more guests, and it is also now booked months in advance. But since opening chef Bryan Sikora left after a divorce from his Talula's cofounder, Aimee Olexy, this kitchen has seen three chefs.

So why does every multicourse dinner I savor here seem more inspired than the last? It's not just that I've dug deeper for better wines to bring to this ultimate BYOB (versatile pinot noirs have served me well).

The real answer is Aimee Olexy. Long regarded as the front-house genie of the cheese plate, she has also proven to be the enduring heart behind the Table's ever-changing menus.

With pastry chef and partner Claire Shears also lending continuity, Talula's has continued to refine its magical knack for capturing the seasonal essence of local farms in 10 elegant courses of little plates. And whether it's haddock with panzanella and candied green tomatoes (ex-chef Matt Moon), pot-au-feu of Barnegat skate (the six-week blip of Chris D'Ambro), or the salt cod croquettes with horseradish-creamed kale of current chef Josh Behm, the personality of these plates is consistent, focused, witty, pure.

Under Behm, 30, a Talula's and Django alum (also Gayle, Southwark, and Cafe Estelle), every morsel was memorable. Translucent rounds of shaved raw turnip sandwiched dabs of apple butter in the delicate crunch of ravioli. A cool lobster-mushroom terrine set over a warm potato cake, dusted with shavings of Burgundy truffles and Brussels sprouts, was an ethereal gulp of earth and sea. There were tiny snails over barley risotto touched with garlic and chive. A dilled tartare of steelhead trout and apples was refreshing against the soft-scrambled warmth of Lancaster eggs topped with the salty pop of trout roe. Tender smoked rib eye leaned Southwestern over cheddary polenta and vivid poblano puree.

And before Behm's homey finale of just-baked sticky buns with salty maple ice cream, Olexy's cheese course - drawn from 150-plus artisan curds behind the market's counter - would take its much-anticipated bow.

Tonight: a rare Leelanau raclette from northern Michigan, oozing warm over crispy fingerlings and country ham.

A year from tomorrow, that being the soonest reservation: My guess is the seasonal delights at Talula's Table will be riper than ever.

Craig LaBan, Food Critic

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