Review: Jean-Robert’s Table

Ever since Pigall’s closed last year, the next move of Jean-Robert de Cavel, the closest thing Cincinnati has to a “celebrity” chef, has been both hotly contested and anticipated.  There have been lawsuits and speculation, delays and drama, but in mid-August, Jean-Robert’s Table opened in the former Buddakhan space on Vine street to a booked reservation list, and also recently opened for lunch.  Not that we in the city had a chance to really miss him, as Jean-Robert has been busy as an advocate for his 7 Days for SIDS foundation, as well as chef-in-residence at the Midwest Culinary Institute.  The break between restaurants–about a year and a half–allowed the city to miss him just enough to anticipate the opening of his Table.

(Disclaimer: I do know someone in the kitchen at JR’s Table, however he had no idea I was dining there the night I went, nor did I use my name on the reservation, which are highly recommended. Also, no pictures in this post because the light was far too dim to get a clear shot. I’d rather go without than make everyone squint!)

I remember when this space was a Longhorn, but I never visited Buddakhan (it had a reputation as more of a club than a restaurant).  The interior (unlike its Longhorn days) is bright, with pale wood, fun artwork, and a lot of French and French-inspired tchotchkes.  Front-of-house service was good, though there is little space to wait for your reservation if you’re early or, in my second visit’s case, if there are a few other parties ahead of your reservation.  This is not Pigall’s; it is not white-tablecloth, which is not a bad thing at all.  Cincinnati– and, indeed, most of the US– no longer dines that way.  Many Americans (myself included) appreciate a slightly relaxed environment, and this is done very well.

And yes, I visited twice.  The first visit was shortly after the restaurant opened, and I grabbed a burger on the way home from happy hour.  There is a bar, so there’s perfect seating for a singleton, but I was placed at a teeny-tiny corner table behind the bar.  It’s a two-top, but really only has room for one if there is food involved.  The burger was fantastic– juicy and well-seasoned, topped with caramelized onions and bleu cheese, on a fresh brioche bun and served with incredible frites– it may be my favorite dish I’ve had at the Table (and is certainly in my top three burgers in Cincinnati).

On our second visit, we were finally celebrating our engagement, so we bumped up our meal a bit from a burger and fries.  We started off with cocktails.  I grabbed a French Manhattan, a drink they were featuring for Breast Cancer Awareness week, involving Maker’s Mark and Chambord.  This was a better idea than execution, as it mostly tasted of bourbon– not a bad thing, but not what I was expecting– but a dollar or two went to breast cancer charities, so there was a bright side.  Terry ended up with a Moerlein Lager House.

For our first course, we decided on the foie gras.  Be aware that if you’re looking for seared foie gras, this isn’t it.  It’s prepared as a torchon, which is wrapped in a towel and poached.  It’s an interesting, almost pate-like texture that I wasn’t quite prepared for, but did not dislike.  It was accompanied by plums and placed on a rilette of duck confit.  The duck confit was possibly my favorite part; moist and flavorful and paired well with the plums.

Terry had his mind set on a steak, so he got the steak with anchovy butter, which also came with a heart romaine “caesar”, mushrooms and potatoes. I had a bite, and the anchovy butter was fantastic, with an intense anchovy flavor that went surprisingly well with the steak.  The steak was cooked to his liking, and the minature salad was a nice (and flavorful) touch.  By far, my favorite of the two entrees.

I chose the pork three ways (trio cochon): belly, chop and ribs.  I had imagined this to be three small portions of pork, however, it was instead a pork rib, some braised pork belly, and an absolutely gigantic chop. The pork belly and rib were outstanding: flavorful and falling-apart tender, but the chop was slightly overdone.  They were paired with mashed potatoes, beans, and blue cheese.  The dish was good, but a bit heavy, and when the Maitre d’, Marilou Lind, came around to inquire about the meal on her regular rounds, she thought I didn’t like my food since I had only taken a few bites of the pork chop.  It made for excellent leftovers the next day, but I would have preferred a much smaller portion– even for the price– so that the dish would be a bit more balanced and less overwhelmed by the chop.

We didn’t skip dessert.  We chose the poached peaches with almond cake and Madisono’s red raspberry gelato.  Three of my favorite flavors: almond, peach, and raspberry in a very approachable portion size, made for an excellent ending to our meal.

Next time, if it’s still on the menu, I have my eye on the duck.  If you are coming in expecting the ultra-refined cuisine of Pigall’s, you’ll be disappointed. This is much more casual, and I could imagine some of the dishes (the pork in particular) as a refined version of home cooking.  The experience was not showy or flashy, but very understated and maybe even a bit hesitant.  Though I’m sure that I’ll revisit sooner rather than later (that burger!), I’ll be very interested to see what menu changes happen in the spring and summer.

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