I go to The Table every time I get into a vegetable rut. I hit the jackpot recently with the discovery that my five-year-old loves kale, but there must be more to life than kale chips, right? So on a recent visit to The Table I thought about what makes for a satisfying meatless meal. The answer includes freshness, variety, proper seasoning, and a diversity of cultural inspiration.
For those of us looking to replicate the experience at home, all you need is an impeccably well-stocked pantry, crisper, and spice rack, not to mention an in-house prep-cook who never tires of spinning greens and mincing garlic.
I have always found it interesting that The Table seems to attract a rather, shall we say, homogenous clientele. The restaurant serves fresh and delicious food by any standard, much of which happens to also be super healthy, yet I suspect it fails to win over a wider, more general, audience. You know, like the folks chowing down on Dagwood-esque cold-cut sandwiches.
Perhaps branding is to blame. It must be tough to sexy-up a buffet of heart-smart, vitamin-rich, allergy- sensitive macrobiotic eats. Or is it?
I recently picked up a copy of the new hit cookbook Plenty by celebrated UK author, fancy food shop owner and self-confessed-non-vegetarian Yotam Ottolenghi. I defy you to flip through his book and not salivate instantly. The food is gorgeous, presented simply, yet it is all just insanely appetizing — nothing about it says “thou shalt cut your own hair and wear patchouli oil.” It says, thou shalt enjoy beautiful, delicious, flavourful food. And by the way — Look Ma, no meat! It took me until page 238 to even realize all the recipes were vegetarian.
So it was with Ottolenghi in mind and the soft scent of cumin and curry in the air, that I made my way to buffet at The Table. I filled my plate with an array of tasty treasures: fresh cornbread, tofu fritters topped with maple-kissed onion chutney (also sold by the jar, $6.75), crisp leaves of organic bok choy, creamy chunks of avocado tossed with fresh tomato and lemon juice, red quinoa and black bean salad, a Moussaka of creamy mashed lentils, crunchy toasted herb pita chips with a dollop of red pepper hummus, citrus salad with shredded spinach and fennel, and sweet and cinnamon dusted squash crescents. For dessert, my favourite chocolate cheesecake in town (it was on our 2010 list of 101 tastes to try before you die). Everything was well-balanced, tasty, fresh, and flavourful. A satisfying meal.
Looking at the utilitarian glass bowls on the buffet, the hand-scrawled ingredient labels, and ultra-earnest sign delineating 10 advantages of eating at The Table (the Veggie Commandments, if you will), I can’t help but wonder why vegetables are still so often tied to a back-to-the-land, moralistic and medicinal point of view. Why aren’t vegetables as hot and trendy as, say, pulled pork, burgers, or charcuterie?
If Ottolenghi can be a culinary celebrity in the UK, there is hope that the full foodie embrace of vegetables is on its way.
Hours: Monday to Friday, 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.; Saturday to Sunday 11:30 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Price: Food is priced by weight
The Table, 1230 Wellington St. W., 613-729-5973.