Right in the center of The Table is a high-top communal table with seating for 20. That table is the namesake for Sixth Avenue’s newest dinner spot that chef-owner Derek Bray opened July 7.
However, I’d make the case it’s a different kind of table — the wooden prep table at the rear of the restaurant — that could just as easily be the basis for the restaurant’s name.
That low-slung work table provided pure kitchen theater during a first-bite visit. Pendant lighting low to the table lit up a flurry of movement. Servers negotiated plates while kitchen staffers drizzled sauces and wrangled tongs, and barkeeps pushed glasses into a holding pattern for delivery.
“I call it intentionally showy,” explained Bray. However, he said, only about half the kitchen is actually on display. “We still have a traditional galley kitchen, but in the dining room, you see the food being served, you get to see all the plates being finished, you hear communication going on.”
As for that other table — the communal high-top table that seats 20 — diner response has been positive, Bray said. He relayed this anecdote, “There were two couples sitting a few chairs away from one another. One asked the other about the mac and cheese. I saw this guy reaching over, stabbing at this other gal’s bowl, a stranger, but it was an invitation to try another person’s food.”
For those who worry about having to eat next to someone who might reach over and stab your plate, that communal seating comprises less than a third of the 74-seat restaurant. A long banquette along the shared wall with neighboring restaurant Marrow seats several parties of 2-4. Another row of larger tables flanks the front of the restaurant, and there’s also bar seating.
Speaking of that bar, only beer and wine are listed here.
The dozen by-the-glass wines favored European wines, priced $6-$11. The 15-bottle wine menu, priced $35-$62, favored Washington reds. The beer menu of 11 ($5-$14) listed three Tacoma beers from Odd Otter and Pacific Brewing, and a few unusual finds.
I sipped with glee a terrific house-made soda (no commercial sodas are served here). Bray transforms fresh fruit and herbs into reductions that he turns into fresh sodas. For now, there’s cherry-vanilla, lemon mint, berry and apple, but expect those flavors to change. “When it’s cooling off in late summertime, we’ll do more herbaceous blends, like lemon-basil or a watermelon-mint,” Bray said.
Those house-made sodas fit with Bray’s philosophy: Anything that can be made by hand, should be house-made. He refined his recipes while serving as the opening chef of Grassi’s Ristorante in University Place, and spent a few years at Tacoma’s Adriatic Grill. This is his first restaurant, and one that he’s operating solo.
It’s this paper’s policy to withhold critical analysis of the food and service until after a restaurant’s first month of business, and it’s tricky to make proclamations after a single visit, but that being said, my first-bite visit found well-conceived food, professional service and a modern veneer.
The restaurant’s makeover is significant. Gone is the formal setting — Tiffany blue walls, heavy furniture and overwrought table decorations — from former tenant Southern Exposure.
I call the look “budget industrial-Northwest,” heavy on concrete, wood and other inexpensive materials reminiscent of newer Tacoma-area restaurants such as neighboring Marrow or the recently opened De La Terre in Steilacoom.
Wooden ladder fixtures hang from the ceiling, strung with twisted black wire dangling bare Edison-style bulbs at varying heights. Open shelving is stacked with plates and kitchen equipment, contributing to the restaurant’s feel of an on-display working kitchen. Butcher block table tops convey a casual air, the atmosphere more bistro than formal dining.
Bray’s cuisine is built with Northwest ingredients, with regional American flourishes and an occasional accent from Asia, Latin America and the Mediterranean. As Bray notes, the menu is quite focused on surf and turf, with few vegetarian offerings. One bite into my first visit and I was a believer in the meaty heft of Bray’s meat-centric menu. The lamb sausage ($21) carried a backbone of black pepper, the texture silky from a fine grind. A sharply tart cherry gastrique offset the richness of the sausage, served with sturdy-textured cheesy grits fortified with goat cheddar.
As for the opening menu, happy hour listed thoughtful fare for its cheap-eats menu. Bray is offering a “dork” burger combining duck and pork ($12); house-made carbonara pasta ($7); an apple-kale salad with fennel ($5) and house-made ricotta gnocchi ($5).
The shareables dinner menu ($8-$12) listed interesting seafood finds: House cured “pastrami salmon” with pickled mustard seeds and rye toast ($9). Oregon tuna belly ($8) with preserved lemon and sesame.
The surf side of the opening entree menu ($19-$32) offered black cod with miso and vegetable hash ($26) and grilled baby octopus with roasted pepper marinara and mussels ($24). The turf side listed a venison filet with wild mushrooms and braised greens ($30); herb-rubbed hanger steak with heirloom tomatoes ($26) and seared duck with a malt beer jus and duck confit ($32).
Some entrees focus squarely on vegetables and meat, with starches absent. Bray has built a menu of side starches to bolster entrees: ricotta gnocchi, mushroom risotto and potatoes fried with herbs.
As Bray noted before his restaurant’s opening, “It fits with the food trend, lots of people are moving away from starches. I feel like you’re getting more flavor for your food dollar if you leave off the starch and you’re able to do a more elegant garnish or a little more thought in the additions to your protein.”
Contact: 2715 Sixth Ave., Tacoma; 253-327-1862 or thetabletacoma.com
Hours: Open at 3 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Serving happy hour and dinner.