The opening of Jean-Robert’s Table was a much-anticipated event in Cincinnati dining — so much anticipated, in fact, that I think we might have visited a bit soon. Sooner than we usually do for a CityBeat dining review.
So with that caution in mind, how was master chef Jean-Robert de Cavel's new adventure? Very good.
One of the first clues to the newness of it all was when the person taking reservations answered the telephone with her previous place of employment — another restaurant. I apologized for calling the wrong number before I called back and got the identical voice answering, “Jean-Robert’s Table. Can I help you?” Funny.
I decided that this review merited two sets of trained eyes, so I took CityBeat’s spirit’s writer, Michael Schiaparelli, as my co-conspirator. We met in the bar, where he was enjoying the Bee’s Knees, a house specialty cocktail crafted from gin, lemon and lavender simple syrup. A sip proved it to be deliciously summery. I ordered Lillet ($6) as my aperitif, and we chatted with several happy guests, including off-duty mixologist Molly Wellmann, who was having a Hendricks and soda with friends. You’ve got to figure that if Molly’s drinking there the bar’s pretty damn good.
After a few minutes, we were seated at a table next to one of the brick arches on the raised mezzanine. The space is so much brighter in its new incarnation, decorated with whimsical portraits of people paired with birds. There’s a very subtle bird motif throughout the restaurant that complements the chirpy atmosphere. Extra points for a soundtrack that’s authentic Jazz — not Muzak and not run of the mill.
There are so many delicious sounding choices on the menu — lobster in pastry, roasted quail on an onion tart — but I went with the evening’s special appetizer, an heirloom tomato salad with a vichyssoise reduction ($7).
It featured gemlike colored orange, yellow, green and red tomatoes from area grower Sally Ransohoff, a variety of shapes and sizes, with a wonderfully soft, fluffy goat cheese croquette and basil ribbons, served with a crisped slice of the Table’s delicious French bread. Our server was well-versed with the wine list, and with his and Michael’s advice I paired the salad with a glass of rosé (’09 Domaine Begude, $5) in honor of summer.
Michael chose the sweetbread appetizer ($12) and paired it with a $5 glass of ’08 Monmousseau Vouvray (Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley). The tender sweetbreads are served on top of a soft, petite blue cheese quiche, accented with port wine sauce and sweet grape compote. The sweetness of the sauces balanced the richness of the sweetbreads. All the flavors were lovely and went with each other — and the wine — beautifully.
Michael’s entrée was superb, too. Skate fish wings ($18), very tender, over a fresh succotash of sweet corn and yellow squash with loads of butter. It was blissfully rich and delicious. Skate’s not a pretty fish, but the beauty comes from the flavor, right? And, of course, the ’08 Blanchet Pouilly Fume ($7.50), a Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley, didn’t hurt.
My entrée? I just wasn’t crazy about the Croque Monsieur ($14.50). I liked most of the elements — buttery sautéed chicken livers, top quality and perfectly cooked, and fresh braised escarole — but the “sandwich” that was central to the dish was made with boring white toast that wasn’t anything I’d like to eat again, although the confit, ham and cheese inside were tasty when I picked it apart. Next time, I’d go for the skate or the duck breast with blackberry pepper sauce, which sounds intriguing. I did like my Chardonnay, though: the ’08 Guffens Aux Tourettes from Vaucluse ($7).
Jean-Robert has done a great favor for wine lovers at the Table. Wine prices are very reasonable and the offerings well selected. According to Michael, the glass and bottle lists are fairly priced — just 15-20 percent over wholesale — and show a solid selection from throughout France. There’s only one “by the glass” wine from the U.S., so obviously the chef is staying true to his roots.
Our desserts were both excellent. We almost expected to be underwhelmed by the Creme Brulee ($7), but pastry chef Karen Crawford, who had worked with Jean-Robert at Pigall’s, made this old standby special with the addition of lavender honey. It was superb. We also loved the house favorite, the Chocolate Macadamia Tart ($9). It had the very distinct flavor of whole toasted macadamia nuts, not at all the repetitious prefab pastry you get elsewhere.
As I mentioned, there were a few service glitches that I’m going to attribute to the recent opening or maybe just human error. Jean-Robert’s Table isn’t trying to be The Maisonette. A few hiccups are OK in a restaurant that’s not going for the “white gloves and party manners” set , and as I looked around the room all the guests were relaxed and happy.
While I enjoyed the unhurried pace of the meal, I have to say that when the computer was down at the end of the night and we had to wait for our check, a complimentary drink — or even a refill on our coffee — might have been a nice gesture. But c’est la vie. We’ll definitely be back to try it again.
Go: 713 Vine St., Downtown
Hours: 5:30-10:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 5:30-11.p.m. Friday and Saturday. Lunch hours to be announced soon.
Red Meat Alternatives: Many, including seafood and a seasonal vegetable plate
Accessible: Valet parking is available.