Table 50 fare. The entrees show the influence of Frankie Rowland’s, where the owners came from.
Roanoke’s newest restaurant seems ready to fill a niche.
After much anticipation, Roanoke’s newest fine-dining establishment has opened its doors for business. I have now eaten at Table 50 several times. The new restaurant seems poised to serve both diners seeking a business lunch alternative and individuals seeking a less pricey option for dinner downtown. My overall impressions of this new venture are as follows:
Table 50 is owned by partners Eric DiLauro and Michael Caudill, both formerly of Frankie Rowland’s. DiLauro began his career in the restaurant industry at the age of 13 in his father’s Italian restaurant, Anthony’s, which was also located on Market Street. After working his way through college managing and coordinating banquets for the hospitality industry in Richmond, DiLauro moved to the West Coast where he developed an appreciation for fusion cuisine and fine wine. He returned to Roanoke to manage Corned Beef & Co. before moving across the street to Frankie Rowland’s in 2001.
DiLauro excels in the areas of customer service and wine selection. He has succeeded in putting together a comprehensive and fairly priced wine list for such a young restaurant and this bodes well for the wine program at Table 50.
DiLauro runs the front of the house while his business partner, Chef Mike Caudill, runs the kitchen. Caudill is a Roanoke native. After graduating from Roanoke College he attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, and then returned to Roanoke, where he worked in several local kitchens and served as the executive chef of both The Library and Frankie Rowland’s Steak House. In February of this year Caudill resigned his position at Frankie’s and he and DiLauro began construction of Table 50.
Although much of the restaurant was gutted, visitors to Table 50 will certainly recognize the space as the former 309 First Street. The large bar in the front has been moved to the side, resulting in a more open entrance. Ceramic tile in the bar area leads to a fairly spartan dining room, which offers exposed brick and a pressed tin ceiling. Copper top tables add some warmth; however the carpeting creates a drab element that makes the space less attractive. Some additional art work or perhaps the use of linens on alternate tables or candles would create some visual interest.
Table 50 largely gets it right in the tableware department. Schott zwiesel stemware in both red and white styles is offered, although a burgundy shape would have been preferred with my wine selection. Dishes are basic white bistro style, oversized and effective, and the silverware is of decent weight. Table 50 gets the current award for the best steak knife, offering a Bon Chef model with a full tang that is heavy and effective yet not the machete-like weapon offered by many steak houses.
Table 50 keeps it fairly simple on the plate and those used to visiting the owners at Frankie Rowland’s will no doubt see some similarities. Since Frankie’s menu did not exactly allow for great creativity, Caudill is still feeling his way through some of the newer items on his menu. For example, an appetizer of horseradish and red wine braised beef short ribs with stone ground grits lacked the intensity of flavor typically associated with this sort of comfort food and would have benefited from longer braising and a further reduction of the liquid.
A penne with “fire roasted” red peppers and asparagus was not overly interesting, and the marinated red peppers did not exhibit the smokiness associated with roasting. The penne itself was not as al dente as I prefer. On the other hand, the seared jumbo sea scallops in parmesan armagnac cream sauce, one of my favorite appetizers from Caudill’s tenure at Frankie’s, were excellent with large, nicely seared scallops offering a wonderful caramelized flavor and cooked to the perfect temperature inside. The parmesan armagnac sauce was delicious and we ordered more bread to sop up the extra sauce.
The bread, by the way, was a little disappointing. Though better than many restaurants in town, I still don’t understand why some downtown restaurant doesn’t simply buy a few yeasted baguettes every day from On the Rise and be done with it. The bread was served with a honeyed butter that was pleasant but not really in keeping with the American-bistro style of the menu which really calls for a high quality European style butter or perhaps some sort of herbed cheese.
The very reasonably priced dinner entrees showed similar unevenness. A huge New Zealand rack of lamb was a full rack of eight chops served with a flavorful ratatouille. The lamb had a nice crust but came out of the kitchen a bit past the medium temperature I had requested and I tasted no blackberrie√s in the demi glace despite the menu’s description.
Pan seared crab cakes with tarragon remoulade had a nice sweet flavor, well crisped but was shredded rather than lump crab and the accompanying leeks were not crispy enough and were quite salty. The prime New York strip steak with sautéed asparagus and gauefrette potatoes was perfectly seasoned with salt and pepper and quite tender.
Although Table 50 lacks the infrared broiler of Frankie Rowland’s that enables that restaurant’s steaks to develop their characteristic char, this one was quite enjoyable. The accompanying asparagus were also nicely seasoned but a bit limp.
I always like to follow my entree with salad. Mike Caudill makes the best Caesar salad I have yet had in a Roanoke restaurant. I had pretty much given up on ordering Caesar in Roanoke, as virtually every restaurant offers a poor imitation of the classic. However, Caudill nails it. This has the perfect balance of complex flavors and heat while retaining a lightness in the dressing that truly sets it apart. Deserts range from a classic almond pound cake to a flourless chocolate tort with raspberry coulis and are simple but quite good.
Table 50 also offers a much more basic lunch menu with sandwiches and salads that serves as an excellent alternative for a downtown business lunch. The Cuban sandwich is a particularly good effort on oven grilled bread that combined thick pieces of ham and an excellent roast pork. Judged by the crowds at lunch time, Table 50 will do quite well for lunch, no doubt aided by its excellent location directly on the Farmers’ Market.
DiLauro and Caudill ought to be commended on their early efforts with Table 50. Caudill has the right philosophy about trying to use good ingredients and combining them in simple dishes. As his comfort zone expands and he gets used to using skills that were not valued in his prior position, I look for him to come up with more intensely flavored, evocative dishes. And as DiLauro learns his clientele, I expect him to continue developing and expanding his well-chosen wine list. Table 50 seems poised to offer Roanokers a nice alternative; a reasonably priced, bistro style dinning experience. I wish them well.