Saturday, September 7, 2013

Chef's Table, Stuart, Florida

Lobster Bisque
Recently, my mother-in-law celebrated her hallmark 80th birthday.  For the occasion, we all traveled to the Treasure Coast of Florida back to the homes of our childhoods.  The Treasure Coast area is situated just to the north of the Palm Beaches.  The latter is known for great dining and entertainment.  The former, not so much.  While a trip to West Palm for dinner is a nice treat, it's also a bit of a drive.  So, my challenge for Mom's birthday weekend was find some place local to honor her with a great meal.

On the Treasure Coast, fine dining options are few and far between.  My friends in the area might disagree but when compared to the selections just 30 minutes south, the choices just aren't ample.  The most recommended dining spots are situated on the southern end of the region, in Martin County.  Typically, we would have opted to visit the area's one well-known bright spot, 11 Maple Street.  But, as luck would have it, July is the one month when 11 Maple Street is closed.  After more than 15 years away from the area, I was at a loss for a suitable substitute.  My go to resource, Open Table, had no suggestions.  Desperate, I took a chance on Google and came across the web page for the Chef's Table. I know I shouldn't pick a restaurant based upon a web presence but this restaurant has got some good marketing.  It's not the most scientific method for choosing a dining option, but I figure a great looking web page at least means that the restaurant makes enough coin to invest in their business.  I could have been entirely wrong, but at the time I was two hours away from Stuart with no reservation for dinner that evening.  Call it shooting fish in a barrel.

Lucky for me, my bullet hit its target.  The Chef's Table turned out to be quite a surprise.  Located in a small two-unit commercial strip across from The Fresh Market, the Chef's Table facade hides an intimate restaurant with a Tuscan farm-style decor.  This farm-to-table restaurant which began as a catering company has a weekly changing three-course prix fixe menu based upon the availability of seasonal ingredients.  The husband and wife chef-owner team of Adam and Kate Fatigate, both CIA grads, transform those ingredients with their big city training and experience.

Joining us and Mom for dinner were our two children.  The Chef's Table does not have a separate children's menu but does allow a la carte ordering from the menu for younger diners.  The week of our visit featured a French inspired menu, in honor of Bastille day.  So, as you can imagine, the menu didn't consist of any truly child appropriate fare.  I'm lucky that my children are used to "the fancy food" so we were able to find entrees that would appeal to them.  Unfortunately, the menu did not list a la carte prices; it wasn't until our check arrived that we learned that our children's dishes were $35 and $50 respectively.  Ouch!

What I loved:  For dinner, I ordered lobster bisque as my first course and cassoulet (a French meat and bean casserole) made with duck breast as my second course.  For dessert, I sampled a creme broulee and a selection of sorbets.  In my experience, bisques are creamy, sometimes too creamy.  Not quite so at the Chef's Table.  While this is no thin soup, any cream that was in this dish was clearly a minor player.  As it should have been, lobster was the star.  That lobster meat was presented to me in the center of a dry bowl before bisque was poured around it from a small porcelain beaker.  As I ate, I rationed the precious lobster meat and conserved generous bits for my last few spoonfuls.  The few virgin spoonfuls revealed that this dish could stand alone as a flavorful seafood broth.  The bisque was enough to convince me that dining at the Chef's Table turned out to be a good choice.

The cassoulet sealed that deal.  This traditional French casserole consisted of a seared duck breast served over wilted greens and white beans in a well seasoned broth.  This is a seriously satisfying dish.  Maybe it was the beans.  They always tend to be rather filling.  Or perhaps it was the nicely cooked and sizable portion of breast.  Either way, this dish had a lot of flavor and substance.  In fact, all of the dishes around our table were generous in portion and in taste.  Sometimes fine dining establishments tempt your palate but don't give you enough to sate our appetite.  I've been places where a whole dish can be devoured in four bites or less.   Not so at the Chef's Table.  These dishes are plentiful and filling.  If you eat at the Chef's Table, you shouldn't ever leave hungry.

What I didn't love:  I used to think the world of creme brûlée and some still think its my favorite dessert.  In the past few years, It's become a little passe for me but sometimes I will partake.  Mom's 80th birthday seemed like a good occasion to visit with an old favorite.  It's always nice to enjoy a good smooth smooth spoonful of creamy custard, especially when that custard is flecked with spots of vanilla bean.  But no good custard can make up for a burned brûlée crust.  And burned this was.  Someone might have called this seriously caramelized but anyone who's had a burned crust knows that it leaves a pretty bitter aftertaste.  And that's not a good thing when its the last thing you've eaten.

I also didn't love our very expensive dinner check.  I've paid my share of high end tabs and in certain places it is completely expected.  Had we been in our own town, which admittedly is a resort town, I wouldn't have have batted an eyelash.  The Chef's Table is a good restaurant but they charge New York prices in a town that just isn't New York.  I realize that their food is much better than the competition and that they deserve to be paid for that good food.  But $60 a person - without alcohol - is pretty hefty for the Treasure Coast.  At least I can say that the price of each dish was well matched by its size and breadth.

How much I spent:  ($$$$)  For our party of five (me, my husband, Mom and the two kids), we spent $305 with tip included.  The adults all dined from the $45 three-course prix fixe menu.  You already know how pricy my children's entrees were; and they ordered dessert too.  As always, we didn't order alcohol but we did order two large bottles of Pelligrino for the table.  My children each had sodas (which at Chef's Table are not the usual domestic variety).   Maybe next time I force them to stick with tap water.

My overall rating:  3 1/4 spoons.  Overall, I really enjoyed the Chef's Table.  Unfortunately, the size of this check just made it hard to enjoy it much more.   Thankfully, the larger portions made the cost a little easier to swallow.  I'd be happy to go back during a future visit to the Stuart area, but I think I'll have to be a bit more careful about what I order or otherwise inquire in advance about a la carte ordering.  I also think that next time we go back to sharing plates with the kids!

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