At the Table, Wayne, PA – A Review

by artfuldiner on June 12, 2018

in Artful Diner Review, Breaking News, Pennsylvania, Review, Wining and Dining

At the Table

11 Louella Court

Wayne, Pennsylvania

(610) 964-9700

At the Table - InteriorHidden away in a former creperie just off Lancaster Avenue, At the Table is owned by a young couple, Tara Buzan and Alex Hardy, both chefs. She is a successful caterer who presided over A Taste of Britain for seven years; he has plied his significant skills in such innovative eateries as Philadelphia’s Pumpkin and Phoenixville’s Majolica. Together, however, something disarmingly different was what they had in mind…

And At the Table is most assuredly that. For the rather generic two-toned slate-gray walls of the diminutive dining room – a mere 24 seats – belie the avant-garde artistry of Mr. Hardy’s striking Thomas Keller-esque presentations. And since the Main Line would never be accused of being on the culinary cutting-edge, Mr. Hardy’s approach to matters gastronomic is a downright risky proposition. Risky, not only in the sense that his cuisine will probably have little appeal for the diehard grab & growl meat and potatoes crowd; but there is also the distinct possibility that his au courant approach may not sit particularly well with some restaurant critics.

At the Table - Garden SaladInterestingly enough, in Ken Alan’s non-review review published in the February 2017 issue of Main Line Today, the writer seemed quite taken with Mr. Hardy’s cuisine, especially his 25 ingredient Garden Salad. A scant month later, Philadelphia Magazine’s Jason Sheehan had similar thoughts, noting that the salad was so composed and designed as to be more representative of art than food. Still Life with Beets he called it. He also bestowed three stars and encouraged diners to “come from anywhere in the region.”

Conversely, Craig LaBan of the Philadelphia Inquirer (April 20, 2017 review) was a good deal less than complimentary with regard to the above-mentioned salad   – “Because like so many of the precious dishes I encountered at this exceedingly ambitious bistro it was more satisfying to behold than eat.” – bestowing one bell (star) and a “hit or miss” rating upon the restaurant.

Amazing how the same restaurant is capable of generating such widely divergent reviews… But on to more profitable pursuits… Given Mr. Hardy’s meticulous artistic presentations, there is always the danger that form may, upon occasion, take precedence over substance, or that a host of superfluous ingredients may diminish rather than enhance a given dish’s palatability. I sensed this more during my first visit than my second.

At the Table - Ora King SalmonThe Ora King Salmon, for example, found the perfect partner in an intriguing coconut saffron sauce. The garnish of picked fennel, on the other hand, was not only de trop but also inordinately chewy. The seabed of orzo would have made an excellent accompaniment; but even with the inclusion of Pernod and Mascarpone, the result was surprisingly bland. And an appetizer of Hand-Made Gnocchi – despite the presence of such upbeat ingredients as duck confit, mushrooms, chives, goat cheese, and plum – suffered a similar fate.

At the Table - Red SnapperA slight faux pas with salmon notwithstanding, Mr. Hardy appears to have a particular gift for bringing out the very best in seafood, appropriating those subtle embellishments that succeed in caressing rather than smothering the objects of their affection.  His Seared Scallops are marvelously meaty, teamed with wild mushrooms & celery root purée, and then positively blown into orbit by a tantalizingly spicy chorizo dust. Even better, though, is the incomparable pan-seared Red Snapper (pictured). Companioned by such apparently strange bedfellows as avocado salsa and mango purée, the entire dish is a study in textural gestalt subliminally finessed with a splash of red chili oil.

Appetizers range from such familiar items as Prince Edward Island Mussels – in this case jazzed up with white wine, bleu cheese, pickled fennel and tarragon crostini – to A Taste of Crudite, incorporating all the usual suspects plus green goddess dressing and sourdough “dirt.” The table favorite, however, proved to be the Burrata and Tomato Salad, a simple but sublime presentation enhanced with a minimalist sprinkle of balsamic.

At the Table - Foie GrasDespite Craig LaBan’s rather curious remark – “Who needs a quarter-pound of liver to start a meal?” – the Hudson Valley Foie Gras makes an excellent appetizer. I’ve twice partaken of its delicately rich buttery flavor and addictively silky texture, and it was positively exquisite on both occasions. It is, without doubt, a marvelous prelude to any meal and simply not to be missed.

At the Table - Key Lime TartDessert-wise, at various times, Mr. Hardy has offered such items as Apple Tarte Tatin, Crème Brûlée, Angel Food Cake, and a first-rate Cheese Assortment. I have personally sampled his Chocolate Espresso Pot de Crème, which I found to be good but not outstanding; his Caramel Chocolate Tart, which is excellent; and his Key Lime Tart (pictured), which is utterly superb. This latter entry, adorned with raspberry coulis, lemon curd, and toasted almonds, is just the proper color (yellow rather than green), taste (tangy rather than sweet) and texture (silky smooth rather than overly creamy).

At the Table - OwnersMs. Buzan and Mr. Hardy have fashioned an extraordinarily unique dining experience that manages to breath a good deal of fresh air into the Main Line’s business-as-usual culinary status quo. If you’re in search of an incomparably intimate evening at table, At the Table affords diners a marvelous opportunity to get up close and personal with both the chef and his remarkably innovative cuisine. Oh, there are still a few glitches in the machine, and the prices are rather lofty, but the plusses far outweigh the minuses; and the fact that you may tote along a vintage(s) of your own choosing (and there is no corkage fee) will help ease the strain on your pocketbook.

Just be advised… Reservations are de reigueur… And be sure to bring cash, as the restaurant does not accept credit cards.

Bon Appétit!


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