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Ruby and Mary treated it as a joke that we would surmount. ("Even for two, it wouldn't be a great table," Ruby said, pointing out its proximity not only to the service corner, but also to the swinging door that led to the kitchen. "And they didn't even know we were all women," I said, which is usually when they give you a sucky seating. I was thinking of the miserable table my sister and I were given in Kinkead's in D.C. after an hour's wait: directly below the entrance, between two staircases that were continually in use, and treated to a blast of arctic air every time the door opened. When we protested, we were led to a much better table, and had a memorable meal.)
There was a "Where's the beets?" moment when Mary's roasted baby beet salad arrived, but it turned out they were hiding under a massive thatch of greens. The chunks of red and yellow beets were properly sweet, properly tender, and wittily escorted by a brilliant dab of puréed beets, but we didn't think there were quite enough of them. There was a "Does this taste off to you?" moment with Ruby's Dungeness crab salad, a fussy-looking presentation with bitter bits of caramelized endive, Asian pear, tufts of sprouts; no, I thought, but the texture was mushy. My starter, a warm bowl of soft macaroni and cheese with small pieces of applewood-smoked bacon crusted with bread crumbs -- apparently something of an homage to the vanished Spoon's menu -- came off the best.
San Francisco, CA 94109
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Macaroni and cheese $9
Pork tenderloin $17
Marinated tri-tip $19
Brussels sprouts with bacon $4
Blood orange crème brûlée $7
Chocolate torte $7
Open for dinner Monday and Wednesday through Saturday from 6 p.m. to midnight; open Sunday for brunch from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and for dinner from 6 to 10 p.m. (bar menu available 3 to 6 p.m.). Closed Tuesday
Noise level: moderate to high
We'd managed to get through the first course without too much discomfort (I caught the bottle of Riesling, placed perilously close to the edge of the table, when Ruby inadvertently knocked it off), but placing our three main courses and three recklessly ordered vegetable sides proved to be something of a puzzle. We gave up our stylish rectangular bread container made of silver mesh and pushed things around, but still our wineglasses had to be carefully angled out from under the lips of our big white plates and bowls when we needed a sip. It was, uh, snug.
This night the steak (with mashed potatoes and sautéed spinach) was a marinated tri-tip, rosy rare and tasty. I liked the slices of roast duck breast more than the squashy confit leg, served on a hillock of braised red cabbage and spaetzle. I was shocked by my first bite of braised free-range chicken on a bed of green lentils with wild mushrooms: It had the unmistakable taste of yesterday's chicken. Or, I thought, the kitchen had invented a labor-intensive way of creating that taste right away. Except for the steak, you really didn't have to chew anything. The Brussels sprouts were a pretty green, and bacon improves nearly everything, but the glazed root vegetables were sweet and characterless, and the mashed potatoes seemed less creamy than before ("They taste like they're made with broth rather than cream," Ruby said).
Dessert cheered us up considerably, especially Mary's souffléed blood orange crème brûlée, an airy concoction served in a tall container, hiding a bottom layer of fruity hazelnut chutney; and Ruby's dense chocolate torte sided by a soft oval of ice cream whose faint taste of tarragon was, if not a revelation with the chocolate, certainly novel and interesting. The table for two had been novel, too, but if three of you choose to dine at Tablespoon, a question about table size might be in order when you reserve. Served in discomfort, comfort food becomes discomfiting.
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