Dining

Reviews: Tables

Seasonal cuisine in Park Hill.

By
November 2008

(out of 4)
2267 Kearney St., 303-388-0299, www.tablesonkearney.com

The Draw Innovative and seasonal New American cuisine in Park Hill.
The Drawback Service is exceptionally slow.
Don't Miss Crispy sweetbreads, lobster-mango risotto, Colorado lamb loin, homemade fruit pies.
Vegetarian Options Goat cheese and summer beet salad, heirloom tomato tower with cucumber consommé, goat cheese ravioli with carrot-ginger sauce.

On her night off, chef Amy Vitale pedals her red and black Schwinn cruiser toward Tables, her Park Hill restaurant. The patio is lined with neighbors dining on seasonal cuisine, and to ward off the chill some have wrapped themselves in the complimentary blankets that hang over the fence. Vitale, clad in rolled-up jeans, black chef clogs, and a white peasant smock that covers her pregnant tummy, glides in and leans her bike against the gate. Inside, she quickly kisses her husband, Dustin Barrett, who is also chef and co-owner. As Vitale greets favorite customers at a nearby four-top, Barrett returns to his dance of delivering food, playing host, and cooking on the restaurant's busy line.

This bustling neighborhood treasure first opened in 2005 as a gourmet sandwich shop, when Vitale and Barrett (formerly chefs at Strings Restaurant) struck out on their own. Diners lined up for spectacular lunch combos such as the Hudson Street ham and cheese sandwich with sliced pears, watercress, and apricot jam. Soon, neighbors were asking when Tables (so named for Vitale's collection of drop-leaf kitchen tables that now reside in the dining room) would open for dinner.

In response to customer demand, the couple applied for a liquor license and began dinner service. Demand was so great that after a few months Vitale and Barrett discontinued lunch to focus on dinner. Fans mourned the loss of those heavenly sandwiches, but they transferred their adoration to Tables' dinner offerings.

That was in 2006, and today the small menu of seasonally inspired, New American dishes continues to draw crowds. Night after night, the talented Vitale and Barrett turn out velvety smooth sauces, deep seasonal flavors, and perfectly cooked lamb loin, barbecued baby back ribs, black-peppered rib-eye, and basil-crusted halibut. The food is so beautifully prepared it almost makes you overlook the restaurant's shortcomings. Almost.

Service, although kind and well-versed, is strangely choreographed and awkward at best. With no foyer to speak of and tables crowded right up to the front door, waits at the hostess stand are excruciatingly long. Once seated, delays are commonplace, with drinks, orders, desserts, and bills often taking ages to materialize. The restaurant desperately needs a qualified front-of-the-house manager—not just Vitale and Barrett, who are already shouldering the rest of the duties—to smooth the transitions and put the finishing touch on the evening.

But once dishes arrive, such as the delicate, crispy sweetbreads appetizer ($12) or the fresh, gingery tuna tartare ($13), the mood lightens. Likewise with starters such as the baby spinach salad ($8) tossed in a vanilla-champagne vinaigrette with prosciutto, blue cheese, and peaches. The heirloom tomato tower ($11) shines as another standout, with multicolored tomatoes stacked on top of cucumber consommé. A garnish of red radish slices offers a contrast of flavor and texture.

The creativity continues with the small list of entrées that includes the lobster-mango risotto ($19) with tarragon and mascarpone. The risotto comes topped with claw meat, diced mango, and sautéed baby carrots and sugar snaps to round out the refreshing combination. Tables' tender Colorado lamb loin ($26) is a classic and well-executed rendition. Sliced lamb loin fans across a bed of baby carrots, haricot verts, and white beans accented with crispy bacon and sautéed, diced shallots. A splash of mint oil adds a refreshing note. Fish dishes are equally successful, especially the delicate basil-crusted halibut ($23) with watercress and a light heirloom tomato gazpacho.

Just as the menu changes regularly, the moderate wine list also rotates to match the seasonal fare. And while it's small, the prices are reasonable, with most bottles hovering in the $30 range.

As you sip your chosen vintage, see if you can spot John Lewis, the tall, lean server who is also the talent behind Tables' most delectable finale: the homemade fruit pies. Lewis, a former pastry chef, now works as a waiter, but his heavenly pies make you wonder why he ever left the kitchen.

Another winner is Tables' ode to s'mores. This crowd-pleaser comes as a chocolate brownie topped with a gooey homemade marshmallow, dark chocolate sauce, and bits of graham cracker. There's a reason the kitchen sells 20 orders a night.

As you sit at the end of the evening, tucked into the intimate dining room with its patchwork of colorful antique chairs, tables, and decorative doors, you can't help but reflect on the extraordinary dishes that have crossed your table. Despite the service bumps, you'll be left with the memory of a bustling bistro that's at the heart of the Park Hill neighborhood. Tables is a community gathering place, a spot to come together with friends and fellow food lovers, and enjoy the treasure that bears the stamp of Vitale and Barrett's talented union.