Sunday, December 28, 2014

The ever-changing Talula's Table

So why does every multicourse dinner I savor here seem more inspired than the last?

Gallery Image
Owner Aimee Olexy readies for the evening’s Farmhouse Table guests at Talula’s Table. (David M Warren / Staff Photographer)
Gallery Image Gallery: Talula’s Table
Talula's Table Video: Talula's Table
About the restaurant
102 W. State St.
Kennett Square, PA 19348
610-444-8255
Rating:
Neighborhood: Kennett Square Parking: Street parking or lots on Union Street.
Hours: Market open daily, 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Dinners Tuesday to Sunday, 7 p.m.-11 p.m.Farm table available one year in advance to date (phone line opens at 7 a.m.) Kitchen Table available on a limited basis by request, minimum three months in advance.
Prices: $$$$
Payment methods:
American Express
Discover
MasterCard
Visa
Cuisine type: American
Meals Served: Breakfast Lunch Dinner
Style: The single-seating farm table dinners at Aimee Olexy’s crafty food market in the heart of horse country have stoked year-long reservation waits for good reason. The ever-changing tasting menus reflect the best of farm-to-table seasonal cooking in 10-course whimsies of elegant little plates, and have only become more stunning over the course of the last five years. House-made pastries and artisan sausages, the region’s best cheese plates and warm-but-sophisticated servers tending the intimate space and BYO wines help create a sensation of being at the ultimate dinner party. The smaller table inside the kitchen is an even more intriguing treat. It's $130 per person, including tax, tip and corkage.
Specialties: (Menus rarely repeat, but here are some recent highlights): Turnip-apple butter “ravioli”; lobster-mushroom terrine; chicken liver bonbons in concord grape gelee; steelhead trout tartare; salt cod croquettes with horseradish-creamed kale; lobster casoncelli; pot au feu of skate; tuna with lamb sausage; smoked ribeye with poblano and polenta; cheese plate; just-baked sticky buns with salty maple ice cream.
Alcohol: BYOB.

Not previously reviewed.

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.

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  • 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 Inquirer Restaurant Critic
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