Flavor Notes by Robert Rich: Food, Wine, Restaurants & Recipes



Restaurant Reviews :


The Kitchen Table

by Max Hauser
December 2009

Much is made of a scrupulous kitchen and dietary constraints that must answer to a higher Authority even than the feared Health Department inspectors, but it's worth emphasizing that the Kitchen Table ("TKT") also is an inventive modern California restaurant with upscale flair.  (Just don't expect to dine there Friday night or Saturday lunch.)

Specialties include elements familiar in the famous New York delis (pastrami sandwiches on fresh rye bread with variations, corned beef, smoked salmon) some of which I've tried and enjoyed in a few visits (lunch only).  To a student of good and traditional foods it's refreshing to see Russian dressing on a menu again; this original savory sauce (traditionally of mayonnaise, tomato "chili" sauce, and savory tidbits like minced green olives or chives) is a classic condiment for Reuben sandwiches and vegetable salads.  But like so many traditional condiments, it's been elbowed out obnoxiously by an insipid commercial substitute, its highly diluted cousin "Thousand Island dressing."  (When Thousand Island appeared in 1950s recipes -- originally homemade, of course -- it was Russian dressing diluted with more mayonnaise, then further with unsweetened whipped cream just in case any flavor remained.  Presumably today's commercial Thousand Islands, like most commercial condiments, also add completely unnecessary sugars).  Not to lump Kitchen Table with Kraft Foods, but this student of cooking would prefer to see the their Russian dressing darker and more savory than what I sampled at TKT a few months back.  Maybe the kitchen got the feedback at the time, otherwise I'll show them what I mean.  (I've sometimes brought good Russian dressing in to commercial kitchens whose grilled sandwiches were excellent in every other way.)

But that's only a fraction of "TKT's" offerings.  There've been lamb dishes including lamb sausages, various marinated fresh vegetables, kabobs, and many vegetarian dishes.  Good use of fresh produce.  Brunch is offered Sundays, changing weekly, and several weeks back a server advertised Sunday pancake breakfasts 10-11:30 AM but I'd verify before going for that.

And here, as I write this, it's Saturday noon.  Alas.  Because glancing over TKT's menu again, the appeal of one of those rare roast-beef sandwiches with apple-horseradish sauce looms sinfully large.

--  Max Hauser

Kitchen Table, continued

Revisiting The Kitchen Table for a late lunch Monday, I found the menu streamlined (no more roast-beef sandwich, by the way) with a single daily menu (earlier, separate lunch and dinner versions).  Ordered a pastrami sandwich on rye with sauerkraut supplement (one of several additions offered) and green salad.  It was different from my previous experience there -- this pastrami was thin, firm, very well spiced -- and made a far stronger impression.  Maybe the best Reuben-esque sandwich I've ever had in a restaurant.  The green salad was complex with crisp full-length carrot shavings and multiple crisp savory leaves.  I'm accustomed to consistently good sandwiches elsewhere downtown (at Le Boulanger and Dana St. Roasting Co.) but this one stood out.

A feature of TKT is continuous operating hours, from before noon until nighttime closing.  Some, but not most, downtown restaurants stay open all day like that (including Cafe Yulong, Ryowa, Chef Liu with its handmade noodles, and the aforementioned Le Boulanger and Dana St. Roasting Co.). Handy if you want lunch after 1:30 or 2:00 when many kitchens temporarily shut down.  Incidentally Silicon Valley's peak business-lunch times run circa 12:15-1:15PM -- as anyone who tries to park downtown at those times learns -- and everyone likes to eat lunch out on Fridays.  TKT also stays open Mondays, when some restaurants don't.

The restaurant world is smaller than it looks.  Evidence, exiting TKT, nearly bumped into me.  Steve Long, veteran silicon-valley chef and consultant whom I've cited online over the years, informed me TKT is his invention, and he recently returned to manage on-site and to streamline operations (thus the simpler menu).  Steve has taught at the California Culinary Academy in SF (principal West Coast training school for professional cooks and restaurant managers) and run notable kitchens including at the ill-fated Vivaca Grill, the original upscale restaurant at California and Castro.  (Shiva's now occupies the space built for Vivaca -- Steve's name for it was an acronym for "VIVA CAlifornia ingredients.")  Planned to accommodate the employees and business meals from the big new Fenwick and West building under construction across California Street (as Cascal and Cantankerous now successfully do), but otherwise little advertised or promoted, Vivaca, despite an adventurous, sometimes amazing kitchen, was literally ahead of its time.  The dot-com bust shrank Fenwick and delayed the new site by a couple of years, dealing Vivaca's business plan an ultimately fatal blow.  Vivaca was the site of an herb-butter fiasco in print, demonstrating the downside of unprofessional restaurant journalism, and it was also where I had some memorable experiences.  Including one dinner where someone at the table asked how a border of potato puree got onto the plates (it was a variation of the standard French potatoes "Duchesse").   I answered offhand (from reading many recipes) "probably squeezed through a #4 star tube."  I guess the other diner thought I make these things up, because I received an annoyed tirade about pretentious food talk, then he summoned one of the cooks and asked the same question.  "We use a pastry bag with a #4 star tube," said the professional, silencing one of scant faith.

-- Max Hauser

Kitchen Table 
140 Castro St
Mountain View, CA 94041
650 390 9388