REVIEW WRITTEN BY LEN LEAR
For Digital First Media
“One cannot think well, love well or sleep well if one has not dined well.” — Virginia Woolf
Swimming against the tide and banking on a wave of adventurous diners to wash up on the beach of culinary success is the game plan of Alex Hardy and his companion and business partner, Tara Buzan, who opened their elegant BYOB jewel, At The Table, on Nov. 16 at 11 Louella Court in Wayne, a pebble’s throw from the Wayne Hotel.
At The Table is attempting to bring back the kind of sublime, multi-ingredient dishes and tasteful surroundings that characterized the late, lamented Le Bec Fin and Fountain Room for decades, which make one want to get those fine suits and dresses out of the closet if the moths have not gotten to them yet.
And since At The Table only has 24 seats to fill and is BYOB, they have a real shot at bringing back the white tablecloth haute cuisine. Hardy, 32, is a graduate of the highly regarded Johnson & Wales Culinary School who previously worked in some of the area’s finest bellwethers like Majolica in Phoenixville, Gilmore’s in West Chester and Pumpkin and Marigold Kitchen in Philadelphia, among others.
But his last job prior to At The Table was at Rembrandt’s, a pub near the Art Museum of Philadelphia. “I just did not want to cook burgers anymore,” Hardy explained as to why he returned to his fine dining roots. “I want to see foodies in love with what they are eating. I want to awaken the senses. I want customers to slow down, talk, take their time. When we go out, we’re never in a hurry.”
Hardy’s partner, Tara Buzan, is also a culinary pro. “I think, dream and live for everything and anything food-related,” said Buzan, who graduated from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst with a major in hospitality. Since then she has owned Easy Elegance, a catering firm, and then A Taste of Britain, a British tea shop in Devon, for five years and then Spread Eagle Village in Wayne. In 2011 she started To The Table, a personal chef and catering business, and when the property housing Creperie Bechamel on Louella Court became available in July of this year, she bought it with the goal of creating At The Table.
Hardy’s menu is small and can change quickly, depending on what products are available. There may be just five appetizers, five entrees and two or three desserts, but Hardy’s real passion is for the tasting menus, one for five courses ($65) and one for eight courses ($95), which may include some of the dishes on the a la carte menu.
During our early December visit, the first dish in the tasting menu had sushi-grade tuna wrapped around asparagus with a pea puree, which you dip into a fried egg yolk. It was an exquisite textural sensation with soul to spare. A magical potato bisque, poured from a pitcher by an excellent server named Matt, with parmesan and truffle had me longing for it days later.
Hardy says he has worked on his signature garden salad for years and that is has 25 different components. Every bite has different tastes and textures, and it is quite wonderful, but there is not much of it! A dish of pork belly and diver scallops has a hint of iconoclasm evident from the first bite, with an apricot gel and whisper of maple syrup Hollandaise.
A cheese sampler with dollops of two cow’s milk and one sheep’s milk cheese, accompanied by aged balsamic vinegar, candied apricot and honeycomb, slipped across my lips and lingered like velvet. The willingness to sidestep convention yet remain technically rigorous, again manifested in the lobster with carrot puree with microgreens and chips, will be at the base of any success Hardy achieves at this inconspicuous showcase of his skills.
A sous vide venison with a sweet sauce, Brussels sprouts and Basque pear stuffed with mushrooms is another dish that walks the tightrope between audacious vision and impeccable technique. A dessert was a deconstructed berry tart with a pomegranate seed reduction. Another plus is the background music played at a volume that does not require diners to yell at each other.
No bread is served with dinner, and at these prices it should be. And while restaurant website reviewers have raved about the food, some have also complained about the small portions, which are more acceptable for the eight-course menu than for the a la carte menu.
Dinner is served Tuesday through Saturday from 5 to 10 p.m. Brunch and a prix fixe Sunday supper will be offered starting in January. At The Table is available for on-site private events while To The Table Catering still provides off-site catering.
Already At The Table is a testament to the significant talent that Alex Hardy possesses. Once foodies learn about it, it may be woven into the tapestry of the Main Line for years to come.
For more information, call 610-964-9700 or visit atthetablebyob.com.