I recently had the pleasure of co-hosting the Salt Lake City episode of a terrific TV series that showcases American restaurants, called Tasting America. Among the restaurants that Tasting America host Gary Takle and I visited was Table X, a unique SLC eatery that I’ve been rooting for ever since it opened.
The dining room is sleek and modern, yet retains the rustic charm of the wood-barreled roof building that was originally constructed in 1929. Glossy wood floors and the wood-barreled ceiling gives the place a very warm vibe. Say the Table X team, “We want to present the highest caliber of cuisine and service in the most casual, least pretentious environment possible.
One of the things that makes Table X unique is that three chefs – David Barboza, Mike Blocher and Nick Fahs – share duties that range from recipe development and cooking in the kitchen to helping deliver food to customers’ tables. It’s a formula that seems to work, judging from the happy faces of Table X diners, including moi.
All three chefs began cooking when they were young. Barboza cooked from a young age with his family in Maryland, as well as learned to garden. “A lot of my interest in the garden stems from liking to create and to facilitate creation … and watching something grow is really amazing,” says Baroza. Indeed, amazing is a good term to describe Table X’s own French-style potager garden, with 13 raised beds. The garden produced 300 pounds of tomatoes for the Table X kitchen last year and plants in the garden are lovingly tended to by the chefs and their garden expert and “secret weapon,” Grace McFarland.
The restaurant’s garden produces the ingredients for dishes like the incredibly fresh Spring Pea Salad served with housemade ricotta. That’s not the kind of cooking that chef Nick Fahs grew up with in New Orleans, necessarily. In describing early food memories he says, “Thanksgiving wasn’t Thanksgiving, it was a crawfish boil at my Uncle Bobby’s in Louisiana when I was seven years old.” For a chef, he thinks of early food memories such as these as becoming “a really deep part of who you are.”
Even something as simple as a soft-cooked egg from Clifford Farm with mushrooms and fresh garden greens is spectacular in the hands of Table X chefs.
Baking is one of chef Mike Blocher’s passions and guests dining at Table X are treated to complimentary helpings of rustic baked bread or excellent gluten-free bread for those who eschew wheat. His mom was a server and then a restaurant manager and he says, “I grew up sort of surrounded by the restaurant business. My mom would bring me into work with her before my dad would get out of work to come pick me up. So I’d be this little kid hanging out in the kitchen. Subconsciously that may have pushed me in the direction I’ve gone.”
For guests who enjoy seeing how their meals are prepared, Table X features an exhibition kitchen, where you can, literally, see how the sausage is made. And speaking of sausage, one of my favorite Table X dishes is one the chefs simply call “Pork & Littlenecks.” It’s a scrumptious bowl of steamed Littleneck clams with beans, homemade “green” chorizo (chorizo with green chiles) and garden lovage – a wonderfully hearty dish with delicious broth that you’ll want extra bread to scoop up.
One of the more innovative dishes that the Table X chef trio has come up with is what they called a Vegetable Steak. Now, this is not some sort of meat substitute in the way that an Impossible Burger or Beyond Meat is meat substitute. I don’t think that the fellas in the test kitchen were trying to create something that diners would be fooled into thinking was actually steak. But the hearty texture does require the use of a steak knife and both meat lovers and vegetarians will enjoy the rustic flavors of this “steak” – which is made with root vegetables, chickpea puree and vegetable “soil,” cooked in a cast iron pan and served with salsa verde and fresh garden greens.
For those hankering for a “real” steak, the Jones Creek Beef Bavette Steak gets the job done nicely. It’s a perfectly seared, juicy bavette cut served with Yukon Gold potatoes, broccoli, almonds and garden chimichurri.
But perhaps my favorite Table X dish from a recent visit was a gorgeous fillet of Pacific Rockfish on a bed of coconut rice with spring peas and fermented green garlic. It almost makes me wish that the menus at Table X didn’t change with the seasons, since this is a dish I’d love to be able to enjoy all year-round.
One of the things – along with a handful of restaurants such as HSL, Oquirrh and Tupelo – that sets Table X apart is that food is presented on expensive, beautiful, hand-made ceramic plates and bowls. Remember, they say that first we “eat with our eyes.”
It should come as no surprise from such a talented culinary team as Fahs, Blocher and Barboza that desserts are no afterthought at Table X. Whether it’s their Creme Fraiche Coffee Cake, Dark Chocolate Tart, or a simple selection of sorbet and ice cream made fresh daily, you are definitely going to want to indulge in dessert here.
At Table X, the flavors are fresh and clean, in part thanks to the on-premise potager garden that is so lovingly tended to. But don’t think that those fresh flavors go away in winter. The chefs do a lot of canning, jarring, drying, fermenting, preserving and such so that those fresh garden flavors can be enjoyed at Table X year-round.
So for uniquely delectable dishes prepared by an equally unique team of culinary artists, Table X marks the spot.
Culinary quote of the week:
After a good dinner, one can forgive anybody, even one’s relations. — Oscar Wilde
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Originally trained as an anthropologist, Ted Scheffler is a seasoned food, wine & travel writer based in Utah. He loves cooking, skiing, and spends an inordinate amount of time tending to his ever-growing herd of guitars and amplifiers.
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