Review: Jean-Robert’s Table

Ever since Pigall’s closed last year, the next move of Jean-Robert de Cavel, the closest thing Cincinnati has to a “celebrity” chef, has been both hotly contested and anticipated.  There have been lawsuits and speculation, delays and drama, but in mid-August, Jean-Robert’s Table opened in the former Buddakhan space on Vine street to a booked reservation list, and also recently opened for lunch.  Not that we in the city had a chance to really miss him, as Jean-Robert has been busy as an advocate for his 7 Days for SIDS foundation, as well as chef-in-residence at the Midwest Culinary Institute.  The break between restaurants–about a year and a half–allowed the city to miss him just enough to anticipate the opening of his Table.

(Disclaimer: I do know someone in the kitchen at JR’s Table, however he had no idea I was dining there the night I went, nor did I use my name on the reservation, which are highly recommended. Also, no pictures in this post because the light was far too dim to get a clear shot. I’d rather go without than make everyone squint!)

I remember when this space was a Longhorn, but I never visited Buddakhan (it had a reputation as more of a club than a restaurant).  The interior (unlike its Longhorn days) is bright, with pale wood, fun artwork, and a lot of French and French-inspired tchotchkes.  Front-of-house service was good, though there is little space to wait for your reservation if you’re early or, in my second visit’s case, if there are a few other parties ahead of your reservation.  This is not Pigall’s; it is not white-tablecloth, which is not a bad thing at all.  Cincinnati– and, indeed, most of the US– no longer dines that way.  Many Americans (myself included) appreciate a slightly relaxed environment, and this is done very well.

And yes, I visited twice.  The first visit was shortly after the restaurant opened, and I grabbed a burger on the way home from happy hour.  There is a bar, so there’s perfect seating for a singleton, but I was placed at a teeny-tiny corner table behind the bar.  It’s a two-top, but really only has room for one if there is food involved.  The burger was fantastic– juicy and well-seasoned, topped with caramelized onions and bleu cheese, on a fresh brioche bun and served with incredible frites– it may be my favorite dish I’ve had at the Table (and is certainly in my top three burgers in Cincinnati).

On our second visit, we were finally celebrating our engagement, so we bumped up our meal a bit from a burger and fries.  We started off with cocktails.  I grabbed a French Manhattan, a drink they were featuring for Breast Cancer Awareness week, involving Maker’s Mark and Chambord.  This was a better idea than execution, as it mostly tasted of bourbon– not a bad thing, but not what I was expecting– but a dollar or two went to breast cancer charities, so there was a bright side.  Terry ended up with a Moerlein Lager House.

For our first course, we decided on the foie gras.  Be aware that if you’re looking for seared foie gras, this isn’t it.  It’s prepared as a torchon, which is wrapped in a towel and poached.  It’s an interesting, almost pate-like texture that I wasn’t quite prepared for, but did not dislike.  It was accompanied by plums and placed on a rilette of duck confit.  The duck confit was possibly my favorite part; moist and flavorful and paired well with the plums.

Terry had his mind set on a steak, so he got the steak with anchovy butter, which also came with a heart romaine “caesar”, mushrooms and potatoes. I had a bite, and the anchovy butter was fantastic, with an intense anchovy flavor that went surprisingly well with the steak.  The steak was cooked to his liking, and the minature salad was a nice (and flavorful) touch.  By far, my favorite of the two entrees.

I chose the pork three ways (trio cochon): belly, chop and ribs.  I had imagined this to be three small portions of pork, however, it was instead a pork rib, some braised pork belly, and an absolutely gigantic chop. The pork belly and rib were outstanding: flavorful and falling-apart tender, but the chop was slightly overdone.  They were paired with mashed potatoes, beans, and blue cheese.  The dish was good, but a bit heavy, and when the Maitre d’, Marilou Lind, came around to inquire about the meal on her regular rounds, she thought I didn’t like my food since I had only taken a few bites of the pork chop.  It made for excellent leftovers the next day, but I would have preferred a much smaller portion– even for the price– so that the dish would be a bit more balanced and less overwhelmed by the chop.

We didn’t skip dessert.  We chose the poached peaches with almond cake and Madisono’s red raspberry gelato.  Three of my favorite flavors: almond, peach, and raspberry in a very approachable portion size, made for an excellent ending to our meal.

Next time, if it’s still on the menu, I have my eye on the duck.  If you are coming in expecting the ultra-refined cuisine of Pigall’s, you’ll be disappointed. This is much more casual, and I could imagine some of the dishes (the pork in particular) as a refined version of home cooking.  The experience was not showy or flashy, but very understated and maybe even a bit hesitant.  Though I’m sure that I’ll revisit sooner rather than later (that burger!), I’ll be very interested to see what menu changes happen in the spring and summer.

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  • http://www.lawanandfood.blogspot.com The Chief

    Great review. You’re right, the portion size of the cochon is huge. For me, the belly was the best part. Too bad that yours was overcooked (like mine).

    I went about a month ago:

  • http://flourpowerz.blogspot.com becky

    I still totally miss Pigall’s like crazy but I was so excited about JRT. Some of the foods just reminded me of home. Not that I grew up in France. But I can remember as a kid eating cold quail sandwiches….

  • vudutu

    Nice review but wow, only two comments. I am stunned, not sure what to say except about time Julie and thank the gods of Good Taste JR is back, and in a much more approachable bistro venue.

    Julie, it was way before your time but pre JR, Buddakhan and Longhorns, back in the 80s Bruce French, Cincy native and Rock Star chef held high taste court in this space as Bistro on Vine. Do you know Mick Jagger ate in this room when in town? Bruce introduced many of us to wonderful approachable food long before it became fashionable, now he tours with rock stars and sets up his mobile kitchen “Frenchies” backstage around the world cooking for rockers. Bruce will approve I am sure.

    http://tinyurl.com/29t8ulm
    http://tinyurl.com/ylay7jd

    I would argue that The Table is the best food for the buck in town, If anyone knows anywhere better I am willing to try. If you have not been, and judging by the lack of comment I assume many have not, one word, GO. Do make a reservation, days ahead if you want prime time, or go on a whim but expect to do friendly battle at the bar for Jeanie’s attention. Also plan on making new friends and seeing old ones, the bar scene is wonderfully uplifting and exciting, almost makes you feel like you are in a real city. Make a meal of apps at the bar, they are generous and wonderful, the hangtown oysters are délicieux, or try the quail, or sweetbread or house salad. The little two-top at the front window is worth jostling with the crowd over.

    We have been numerous times and are enjoying laboring over choices and sharing mouthwatering bites as we make our way through the menu, I did hear there are some changes coming to it last time I was there. Julie I have not had the burger yet, Tarbell was drowning his sorrows over the Reds loss, stuffing one in his mouth and raving about it between bites at the bar on a recent visit. The pork three ways is an appropriate Cincinnati dish and wonderful. I had the Duck the last time in and it was delicious but not my fave so far. The chicken confit, salmon, daily specials have all been wonderful. The worst thing I can say about Table is they server room temp red wine, cellar temp really lets reds shine. So order a little ahead and ask them to chill your bottle.

    It took years but finally he is back, thank you JR and everyone else at the Table.

    • http://winemedinemecincinnati.com julie

      The burger is pretty darn delightful. We ended up there last night, and Terry got the scallops (fabulous) and I got the duck (good, but the lack of crisp skin makes for a slightly flabby duck breast; that said, the grits, sauce and fruit compote are great accompaniments). We also tried a couple of mussels (nice). I’d have been more into the pork dish had the pork chop not been so large, and had it not been on the overdone side.

    • http://winemedinemecincinnati.com julie

      And we do live in a real city. :)

  • vudutu

    Had the BL trout for lunch, was OK nothing to post on a blog about, mussels rocked as well as the salad nicoise.

  • vudutu

    No we don’t.

    • Julie

      What would make it “real”? It’s not a big city, sure, but it’s definitely got many of the benefits of one. We have a thriving arts scene, pro sports, a wide array of restaurants, a burgeoning downtown nightlife. We have walkable neighborhoods, world-class attractions, and several noted universities. We’re home to fortune 500 companies and major banks. Sure, we need better mass transit, and we don’t have the population of a New York or Chicago, but for a mid-sized market? We hold our own.

      • vudutu

        Julie, sorry I should have focused on the operative word “real” just my opinion, we all know about them. Granted we do live in a city but it always has always felt second or third tier to me. It does have to do with things you mentioned but to me it is a feeling, that je ne sais quoi. Real cities have it, Cincinnasti does not.

        • MC

          As a Cincinnati native who now lives in New York City (for school), I still always consider Cincinnati to be my home. Even living in arguably the most thriving city in the world, I would definitely still consider Cincinnati to be a “real city”. Without going through all the wonderful city-like attributes Julie already mentioned, I have to say that Cincinnati is really what you make of it. If you really take the time to explore, you will find everything a real city has to offer, and much more.

  • Christina

    Nice review, thanks. I finally tried it last night, and while the food and space was both a solid “A” in my book, the service was really uneven/lacking — especially at the bar. After about 15 minutes at the bar without anyone taking our drink order (despite repeated eye contact) we were finally summoned for our table. (We had a reservation, but table wasn’t ready when we arrived, which would have been fine had the bar been a bit more hospitable.) Anyways, after another 10 or so minutes at our table without water or any sign of life we were a bit antsy…luckily, our waitress was great once finally there. And the food was very good overall: lobster pastry to start, ceasar salad, salmon/bacon entree and scallops. Dessert was just average (rhuebarb), but that was probably due to my misinterpretation of the menu description.
    Our main problem arose when there was a problem with our wine. We were VERY polite and “nice” about it, and our waitress couldn’t have been sweeter, but she took the issue straight to an older Asian woman right in front of us — who proceeded to basically dismiss us and dress us down. Um……awkward. It was awful, and not a great way to end a birthday meal. However, the food and interior space were pretty darn good, so I will probably revisit and still clear from the manager/hostess (or whomever she was).