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Underwhelming Table 21 - Am I the Only One??

Hey guys,

My wife and I lived for two months in Baltimore and loved it there. Great town, great people, some great restaurants.

On our way back to our hometown of New York City, we decided to go around Frederick and dine at Volt Restaurant. Of all the restaurants in the Balto-DC area, Volt had the biggest buzz, so I wanted to check it out.

I booked a table in the Chef's Kitchen area, but when we got there we were told they had a 4-top cancellation at Table 21. Did we want it? We hesitated for a while, but finally accepted.

Long story short, we were not impressed by Table 21.

Service was very good, considering how small and crowded the kitchen is. But it also felt rushed- dishes coming non-stop. The pacing was dreadful. We've been to other long tasting-menu experiences and they last a good three or four hours. At Volt, 21 courses were delivered in 2.5 hours, with most of them sent in before 7:30pm. We had the 5:30 pm seating, and there is a second seating at 8:30 pm, so it seemed obvious to me that we were served fast to get us out in time.

Chef Voltaggio was there, actively involved in the kitchen. He came by and greeted every guest at Table 21. Nice guy!

Food is good, but almost nothing wowed us. Aside from Voltaggio's TV fame, I'm not sure why this is the hottest table in the DC area. I am glad the molecular thing was not overplayed at Table 21, and the dishes had a good blend of inventive New American Cuisine with some touches of chemistry.

But again, there were very few (if any) moments of revelation, that bite that makes you laugh, that spoonful you almost feel like crying over, that feeling of joy or perplexity... everything here was correct, almost all of it was tasty, but that's it. It felt formulaic, like a "I've-seen-this-before" dining experience. Not a restaurant we remembered or talked about even three days later...

All of the ingredients you expect from a high-end American tasting menu were there: lobster, foie gras, pork belly, scallop, sweetbreads... Plating was correct but simple and not super gorgeous, except for some dishes (tuna tartare with avocado ribbons)

Perhaps it is because my wife and I live in New York City, dining capital of the US, and we have been to great restaurants here and abroad (Alinea, French Laundry, L2o; Arzak, Mugaritz, Sergi Arola), but we both felt that the Table 21 experience was seriously underwhelming.

As I see it, if you live in, say, Manassas and are used to steakhouses (absolutely no offense intended), Table 21 will be an amazing journey. But if you are a seasoned gourmet and have been around, Table 21 might not be it.

It felt to me a bit like "Young Talented Chef Playing Alinea". Bryan Voltaggio is indeed very talented, but not up there with the greatest. Give him another two or three years and he will be first-class. I will be back in Frederick to witness the growth.

I don't know if anybody else has been disappointed or not impressed by Table 21, or do you all out there love it to death?

Cheers!

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  1. I'm curious why you think Table 21 has more buzz than the (I thought) better-known Minibar?

    2 Replies
    1. re: Raids

      Never been to Minibar, but it appears to me that the buzz on Minibar is justified? I mean, outstanding food and all of that? I cannot imagine waiting a whole year for your spot at Table 21 and then having a dinner that is only OK. Hopefully Minibar is more amazing than just OK?

      1. re: TheLowlyLineCook

        Personally, I have not yet been, since it requires the effort one would put into securing a table at the French Laundry (I have been to all Andres' other restaurants). In some ways, it can be worse, actually, as party size and other factors play into one's ability to get a reservation - there are whole threads devoted to the subject here.

        Anyway, Jose Andres is a major chef with a long and established reputation, unlike the newer Voltaggio. There are many reviews of Minibar available from the Post or the Washingtonian or elsewhere. There are tapas restaurants everywhere now, but Jaleo was one of the earliest. Cafe Atlantico is sort of like Jaleo's big sister, and Minibar is the ultra-exclusive chef's counter upstairs at Atlantico. Andres likes molecular gastronomy, and it's apparent - I remember the Post criticized him for the abundance of foam. To be honest, I always think Andres comes across as more than a little full of himself in interviews, but I like his restaurants, what great chef isn't a little full of themselves, and I thought he was great when he was a judge on Iron Chef during the Battle Truffle episode.

        Regarding the best restaurant experience to be had in the city, though, and not "buzz," I think most people would send you to Komi. I was just saying that I'm not sure who would say Table 21 is a "hotter" table than Minibar, although it is very popular, to be sure.

        For my part, I'm always pissed to have a tasting menu that is only okay, whether I waited a year for my reservation with a Top Chef contestant or not. But as far as Top Chef contestant's go, I'm glad we have Bryan's restaurant instead of Ed's. Yikes.

    2. The yellowfin w/ avocado is the one dish there that I've found totally impressive as well. Otherwise a good experience, but after the first visit the main dining room seems to offer a fairly limited variation on a handful of themes (summer= Goat cheese ravioli w/ heirloom tomatos, fall=goat cheese ravioli w/ butternut squash). Given the seasonal and local emphasis, I'm really disappointed that they don't offer daily specials in the main room.
      The wife and I received a gift card for Christmas, so we're planning to return for the chefs table, but I'd happily wait 18 months or so to return to see what they're doing.
      A coworker and her husband did table 21 a couple months ago, and said the service took every second of 4 hours. They were wowed, but it sounds like they may have had a better paced experience.

      1 Reply
      1. re: laststandchili

        I almost wish my dinner would have lasted 4 hours!

      2. Can't speak to Table 21 but we were there for a lowly lunch about a year ago and found that the food ranged from really outstanding to bland. The tuna tartare with avocado was really a stand-out then as well, as was the shitake veloute. But the fish main was underseasoned, even if it was cooked beautifully. I would go back but I don't know that I would do Table 21.

        1 Reply
        1. re: kukubura

          I had issues with seasoning too. My ravioli was underseasoned, but my wife's portion was perfect. Again it happened with some fish courses.

        2. I haven't been to French Laundry or Alinea, etc, but I am not just a steakhouse person either, and the meal I had in May at Table 21 was the best of my life thus far. There was only the one seating that night, and it took between three and four hours; we found the pacing perfect. Yes, maybe one or two dishes were misses, but I don't think it was due to underseasoning or lack of creativity, I think it was just that when you have lots of different dishes, it's likely that one or two won't be as amazing as all the rest.

          I actually found the foie gras phenomenal, and we remarked a number of times that we liked the platings (simple, as you said, but I like that).

          As with any restaurant, it's possible you just happened upon a bad combination of factors (timing, preparation), which is really too bad. When I heard about the two seatings, I did wonder how that would affect the pacing, and was glad that there was just one my night. You certainly seem to have more super-high-end dining experience than I do (though I've also been to Minibar and Komi, just to give you an idea (and I thought Table 21 was way better than Minibar)), so perhaps you are just used to a different class of experience.

          I loved my Table 21 experience, and I still rave about it, and it's too bad yours wasn't the same!

          Happy new year!

          4 Replies
          1. re: kallisti

            Interesting post! I'd like your advice - I assume from what you said you'd recommend Table 21 over Minibar, but what about Table 21 vs. Komi, if a person had to choose one or the other?

            1. re: Raids

              For what it's worth, we also had a very good experience at table 21. We had the late seating and were happy with the pacing-- I think it lasted over 3 hours. I thought some dishes were "wow" dishes, and I didn't really have a feeling that it was formulaic, but maybe I haven't been to enough places to compare ( I haven't been to French Laundry, Alinea or Minibar so I can't compare but a dining companion thought Table 21 compared favorably to French Laundry).

              I have been to Komi and I love the food there-- it's probably as good as Table 21, but *if* you want something a little more "spectacular" -- if you'd rather have a whole meal of small dishes and a little bit more molecular gastronomy in your meal-- then I'd recommend Table 21 over Komi.

              -----
              Komi
              1509 17th St NW Ste 1, Washington, DC 20036

              1. re: Raids

                Yeah, I would recommend Table 21 over Minibar, though it really depends what you're after. Minibar is, of course, a lot about the molecular gastronomy stuff, and while Table 21 might have some of that, it's not quite in the same way/to the same extent as Minibar.

                vs Komi, again, it depends what you're after. Komi wasn't nearly as many dishes, of course. And the highs weren't as high as at Table 21. I was also sad because I believe we got pig instead of goat for the main course, and I was really looking forward to the goat. Or wait, do I have that reversed? Whichever one was listed on the menu isn't what we got. Anyway. With Komi I did not have any trouble getting a reservation (this was March 2009 just for reference, and I was reserving a month in advance for a weekday), and Table 21 is booked til 2012 I believe. Komi is in the city, and Table 21 is far out of the city. At Komi, you sit in the (small, intimate) dining room, and at Table 21 you sit right at the chef's counter, looking at the kitchen. If I were just comparing food, I'd go back to Table 21, but I do definitely want to visit Komi again, since it's been a while since I was there. Komi was good, but Table 21 made me laugh in delight.

                -----
                Komi
                1509 17th St NW Ste 1, Washington, DC 20036

              2. re: kallisti

                Thanks, kallisti! I am JEALOUS! :-) I wish I had had an experience as amazing as yours at Table 21 and could rave about it.

                I'll try again, though... Happy New Year!

              3. I've been to Table 21 twice, and enjoyed both times very much. There were indeed hits and misses in the individual courses, but overall it was fun and a pleasure although there were some issues the second time. (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6964...) There was only a single seating on both nights I attended Table 21, so it was more leisurely both times than what you experienced - your feeling rushed was probably a large factor in your dissatisfaction.

                I also did NOT expect, going in, that it would be the same as dining at the top places such as those you mention (Yes, I have dined at such places too). Yes, Bryan V is not Grant Achatz or Thomas Keller but he does not pretend to be and one should not expect him to be (not yet, anyway). Someone broadly in the same generation as he is like Curtis Duffy is ahead of him but then again Bryan runs a full-featured menu at Volt with many more things on it than Curtis does at Avenues (until September, anyway, when he leaves). I did make a trip both occasions to sample Table 21 but I happily expanded both times into a broader trip over several days/a week to the surrounding area and NY/NJ as well, so it slotted nicely into the "eating around" of the expanded trips.