Sunday, March 6, 2011
Dining Journal: Lunch at Jean-Robert's Table
Some say laughter is the best medicine. I say, sometimes indulgence is better medicine. With friend Cindie healing after a painful medical procedure and, I’m sorry to hear, other blogger friends dealing with their own ailments, it’s high time to post about one of the very best meals Cindie and I shared in the last few months – lunch at Jean-Robert’s Table.
J-R’s Table serves lunch Monday through Friday, but, alas for our mutual schedules, not usually on weekends. Happily, the restaurant expanded to weekend lunch service in December (and offered Valentine’s lunch as well). Our holiday gift to ourselves was a mid-day meal one pre-Christmas Saturday after a trip to Findlay Market and Avril’s.
Although Cindie and I elected to work our way through a number of courses, any one of them would have made a satisfying weekday lunch. Prices are much more affordable than the Maisonette and Pigall’s, two of chef Jean-Robert de Cavel’s award-winning former restaurants, and the menu includes casual fare such as burgers and sandwiches. While Jean-Robert has chosen a less fine-dining concept for his newest venture, my take is that he has not relinquished his standards for the quality and care that go into both food and service. He’s simply adapted them to a lower price point and a more approachable format.
In other words, you don’t need to consider Jean-Robert’s Table a special-occasion restaurant. Although we were happy to. And we weren’t the only ones. An impeccably dressed three-generation family was seated at a prime corner booth for their pre-Nutcracker Ballet meal. I could easily imagine the presiding grand-mere had, once upon a time, been treated to a similar outing at the Maisonette when she was the age of her granddaughters.
Other nearby patrons included a quiet young couple with tattoos and piercings, and a threesome of thirtysomethings, one of whom was an exuberantly loud woman. J-R's Table isn't about stuffy service, and one need not feel compelled to speak in hushed tones. Still, we were glad when the loud party decided to move from the booth behind us (those old windows can be drafty) and into the warmer interior bar area.
Either of our soups would have been a great lunch in itself. The portions were large and satisfying. Cindie ordered the “classic” French onion soup, and classic it was – piping hot, with a crust of melted cheese overlaying a serious crouton, and thick, caramelized oniony goodness underneath.
I chose the French Country Style Soup, rich and hearty with white beans and duck confit. I loved the well developed flavors, although it would have been even better had it been hotter.
Next, we shared an appetizer and a salad. We both loved the beef tartare with cucumber, radish and avocado – succulent and well-seasoned.
Our salad, the Goat Cheese “In Brick”, was another dish large enough to be a meal on its own. We were curious to try the “In Brick” preparation, which turned out to be tangy goat cheese enveloped in phyllo-like triangles that paired beautifully with the apples. We thought the accompanying endive and romaine could have benefited from a tad more cider dressing, but definitely enjoyed it.
While we could have stopped there, we had no intention of doing so, eager to try the lunch versions of two entrees that also appear on the dinner menu. Cindie ordered seafood crepes with Bechamel and mushrooms over spinach – rich but delicious (and heavier on salmon than other seafood for the lunch portion, as befits the lunch price point).
My entrée choice was Braised Beef Short Rib with Creamy Spinach and Shiitake, Confit Tomatoes and Country Potatoes – spectacular comfort food, with components just slightly scaled down from the dinner version, and a rich broth poured tableside nonetheless.
We had arrived before noon and by this time it was after 3:00. Acknowledging we couldn’t possibly finish our entrees after everything else we’d eaten, we asked for to-go boxes. But our lunch of indulgence wasn't over yet.
We settled on one dessert to share, because, well, how could we let this meal go without one? When presented with the possibility of white and chocolate mousses accompanied by white and chocolate ganache and fresh berries, who in their right mind says no?
With the addition of some libations we wouldn't indulge in for a work-week lunch (two glasses of wine for me, a Grand Marnier for Cindie), our bill came to $105 - no doubt less than if we had ordered this extravagantly during dinner service. But you could easily have a satisfying lunch at J-R's Table for $15 or less. I think a lot of Cincinnatians continue to regard any opportunity to taste Jean-Robert's food as a treat - and rightly so. If he opened a food truck tomorrow, I'm confident it would serve exceptional fare. I don't think this chef has it in him to compromise when it comes to putting out memorably flavorful food. Happily, we can taste it Jean-Robert's Table without waiting for a special occasion.
Meanwhile, thanks to those of you who were concerned about my not posting in a while (just busy on other fronts, kids). Sending out best (and healing) wishes to all my blogger friends, as well as Cindie, who is recovering from toenail-removal surgery. With luck and the creeks don't rise (a worry after heavy rains here this week), Cindie and I will be back to our foodie adventures with a trip to Louisville in a couple of weeks. Cross your fingers and tablespoons for us, because we're both more than ready to get out of dodge!