Dining » Cafe

Table Three: Where the Wildwood elite eat meat?



The Main Street address of Wildwood's Table Three might conjure images of a quaint small town, a Norman Rockwell fantasy of families bustling among storefront displays of hand-dipped chocolates, leather-bound books and toy trains. This, however, is 2010, and Wildwood's "Main Street" is a mixed-use development meant to evoke a small-town feel but still new enough that you can practically smell the drywall. While there are some flashes back to the past — the town opened a new city hall here — it's a thoroughly contemporary enterprise: Next door to Table Three is a sleek-seeming chiropractic center called 212 Degrees Of Wellness, which I mistook for a Bikram-yoga studio until I realized that, while Bikram aficionados do like it hot, they probably prefer the temperature to be somewhere south of boiling.

Table Three itself is certainly no throwback; it's a restaurant in the modern American vein, pitched somewhere between casual and upscale. You can wear jeans, watch football at the bar and read the daily specials off a chalkboard, but that lamb "porterhouse" entrée you ordered, with mashed potatoes and the vegetable of the day, will set you back $28.

The décor checks most boxes on the list of last decade's trends. Just inside the entrance, the wine selection is displayed in mahogany cabinets. The lounge has a curving bar, flat-screen TVs and striking wallpaper. The dining room where I was seated (another appeared to be reserved for private parties) features high ceilings, plush red banquettes, cast-iron fixtures, the aforementioned chalkboard and a view into the kitchen. The total effect is impersonal, the sort of dining space you might expect to find in the display unit of a trendy loft condo complex.

Owner Beth Williams has operated Creve Coeur-based Cuisine d'Art Café and Catering since 1993. At Table Three, her first dinner restaurant — and her third venture overall, counting the original and current incarnations of Cuisine d'Art; hence the name — she and head chef John Buchanan offer a safe selection of reliable favorites: steaks, chicken, seafood. Indeed, the appetizer menu reads as though lifted from a mid-priced suburban chain, with mac & cheese, fried green beans and goat-cheese dip. I'll go against my usual bias and recommend the "Crab Cake Three," a trio of miniature crab cakes, each with the circumference of a half-dollar coin and about an inch in height, topped with roasted garlic aioli and served over a citrus-spiked slaw. The sweetness of good crab meat is only lightly cut by filler, while a quick pan-searing gives the exterior crunch and an extra hit of flavor.

Roasted-tomato soup, also from the appetizer menu, is beautifully presented, a brick-red purée of roasted tomato and red pepper, topped with a dollop of crème fraîche and a thin crisp of Parmesan cheese. The soup has body but no depth, its flavor a simplistic note of tangy tomato.

Entrées include three different steaks: a tenderloin filet, a New York strip and a rib eye, each with a different preparation. I opted for the first, which is served with a balsamic demiglace, a prosciutto "cake" — something like a prosciutto hash brown and, frankly, a waste of good ham — and (deep breath) "roasted garlic Yukon mashers." The steak was cooked exactly to my requested medium-rare, which let the flavor of the beef carry this dish. The balsamic demi-glace adds a smoky, tannic background note.

The "roasted garlic Yukon mashers" were mashed potatoes. Get used to 'em.

The lamb "porterhouse" steaks are two six-ounce loin chops. Though this might seem like a lot of meat, once you subtract the weight of the bone and the thicker bands of fat, you have a modest-size (appropriately so, to my taste) entrée. The lamb is served in a rosemary-herb demi-glace, a sensible pairing that complements the meat's verdant, ever-so-gamy flavor. As with the steak, the kitchen displayed excellent technique, the chops' exteriors showing a perfect crosshatch char, while the interiors were a gorgeous purple-shading-to-red. The rest of the plate was uninspired: Those mashed potatoes again and al dente green beans heavily seasoned with garlic.

The "Sunday Chicken" is chicken-fried chicken: chicken breast beaten thin, battered and then fried, topped with thick gravy studded with black pepper. The breading is thin and crisp but possesses a jarring sweetness that reminded me of Frosted Flakes. On the side...green beans (here amped up with bacon) and mashed taters.

"Sea Bass Provençal" is less than the sum of its parts: an eight-ounce sea bass fillet with kalamata olives, shallots and cherry tomatoes. Yet aside from the occasional briny kick from the olives, the mild fish relied mostly on a white wine broth for flavor, resulting in a pleasant but utterly forgettable dish. A pedestrian side dish of long grain and wild rice (along with the vegetable du jour: again, green beans) calls the $26 price tag into question.

The dessert selection is charmingly homey, with both brownies and chocolate-chip cookies available. There is also, of course, crème brûlée. I went for the bread pudding, which features a lovely piece of pumpkin-custard bread drizzled with a just-sweet-enough Maker's Mark glaze.

There are two wine lists, the regular and the reserve. The former is notable for a wide selection of wines by the glass; the prices are slightly higher than the usual by-the-glass selection, but you receive an eight-ounce pour in a small carafe. The reserve list features mostly California wines at $100 a bottle and up.

Service on my visits was problematic, varying between pushy and absentee. When I ordered a glass of wine, the server responded, "Would you like a bottle?" No, a glass. On another visit, when I committed the sin of ordering club soda instead of booze, a flicker of disappointment crossed my server's face before she recovered. The level of professionalism was lacking — "Would you like an app?" — in a restaurant where two people can easily spend $100.

A larger disconnect between ambition and execution hangs over Table Three. The restaurant clearly wants to be a destination and is designed and priced accordingly. As someone who, believe it or not, tires of always recommending restaurants in the same areas of the city and the inner suburbs, I applaud this. Yet right now the lack of imagination in the kitchen undercuts those aspirations.

Call it a "main street," but a strip mall is a strip mall. And meat and potatoes, even when the plate is drizzled with sauce and sprinkled with chopped parsley, is still...meat and potatoes.

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