Although I'm reaching that point when I dread that annual reminder of loss of youth, it still excites me when my friends offer to celebrate my birthday in style by voluntarily spending their money on filling my belly and plying me with drinks. Especially if the resto and cuisine are a grand departure from our usual cheapo haunts. So that is how I found myself at Le Tableau, an intimate bistrot moderne in Alphabet City, last Sunday night. M. highly recommended this place and while waiting for her to arrive, I sat at the miniscule bar at the left of the entrance drinking sauvignon blanc and surveyed the red-colored walls decorated with contemporary paintings and framed mirrors. The day's specials were crawled on a huge chalkboard on the far wall towards the kitchen, though with the dim lighting it was hard to decipher the handwriting.
With fond memories of the Paris trip still in mind, I started off with the "Escargot Classique with butter & garlic sauce". How fun it would be to try to pry them out of the hard shells with those tiny forceps! However, the escargot that arrived looked much different than expected. They were already out of the shell, came with a light white sauce, and came with a generous helping of spinach! Horrors! (No big fan of veggies, as you can tell). At first I thought the restaurant staff had made a mistake because in the dim light I couldn't see the escargot under all that spinach! The dish tasted pretty good, actually, but I do miss the butter and garlic classic way of preparation.
We fared better on the entrees. The salmon strudel with fingerling potatoes (left) was flaky and sufficiently moist. The pan roasted monk fish (right) was just cooked right, and the cauliflower puree underneath was simply superb, even though I initially mistook them for mashed potatoes - again I blame the dim lighting, and my general unfamiliarity with veggies :-D
For dessert, we chose from the hard-to-decipher specials board and wound up with a creamy, not-too-sweet ricotta tarte with white wine and thyme sauce (left), and gianduja chocolate cake. Both desserts were simply delicious, especially when washed down with two glasses of Rosa Regale Brachetto 2004 sparkling red wine. I am so enamored with this wine from the Tuscan region of Italy that I am on a mission to hunt it down at my local liquor store. M. had the St. John's Commandaria dessert wine from Greece to pair with the ricotta tarte, which I found somewhat (for lack of a better term) cough-syrupy.
In all, Le Tableau offers good simple French dishes, attentive wait staff, extensive wine list, and a conducive atmosphere for a quiet, relaxed dinner. Check out their website.