First Look: The Sound Table
Another restaurant imbued with edgy comfort from the owners of Top Flr
I find few restaurants in our city as comfortable as Top Flr. The menu features slightly edgy comfort food. The music, owing to DJ/owner Jeff Myers, can be entrancing. The loft-like two-level space is intimate but airy. The staff is the best.
Now Myers and two partners have created a second, similar space in the Old Fourth Ward. The Sound Table (483 Edgewood Ave., 404-835-2534, www.thesoundtable.com) takes the space formerly occupied by Over Da Edge and adds yet another unique venue to an area of town where the hipster quotient is over da top.
Like Top Flr, the Sound Table is two levels, with the upstairs reserved for dining only. The downstairs, where you can also order food, is a play space with a lengthy bar and menu of fanciful cocktails. But the best feature gives the restaurant its name: a DJ booth with a green wall that is the only splash of bright color in an interior of old brick and tables and banquettes made of light, natural wood. Before the sun sets, the upstairs offers a unique view of the area.
It bears mention that we are not talking usual music at the Sound Table. The restaurant is hosting DJs of national note, according to press materials. I don't know who was playing the music the first night of my visit, when I ate downstairs, but it was as interesting and evocative as the small plates of food crowding our table.
Shane Devereux, who heads the kitchen at Top Flr, is also executive chef here and Andrew Sheridan is chef de cuisine. The Sound Table describes its menu as international "street to table" food. I have to admit I find the concept a bit confusing. For all I know, everything on the menu is served from a street truck somewhere, but nothing strongly suggests that, except perhaps for the tapas-style portions and the spicy simplicity of many of the dishes.
I'll further confess, by way of an excursus, that I've had difficulty taking the street food fad seriously – not that I don't like it. I get the principle – that it's cool to have access to quick food, some of which doesn't make you fat overnight and offers flavors off the boring, beaten path of Wendy's and KFC. I've eaten plenty of the stuff in other countries and I'm aware that much of what's served in sit-down restaurants along Buford Highway is in fact street food. And there's the fact that street food – when it's actually sold on the street, anyway – fits the recession budget.
But in the way that tapas enabled new delusions of eating light and the common hamburger morphed into a calorific oral fetish replete with pâté de foie gras, street food threatens to authorize new fantasies of ethnic diversity, the experience of which can be wiped from the mouth with a napkin as soon as the last bite is swallowed and the diner returns to his office. Most people would likely say such a characterization inflates the meaning of this latest culinary mania. It's just curry, after all. But more than personal taste is behind most of our shared food fascinations. Isn't it worth asking why, besides the obvious, a particular food trend becomes a cultural preoccupation?
The underlying mystery of street food's sudden appeal isn't explained at the Sound Table. But the food – however you describe it – is mainly quite enjoyable. Some dishes suffered minor defects. For example, the "crispy nuggets" – sweetbreads with a bit of (dubiously conceived) Roquefort and pickled shiitake mushrooms – weren't crispy at all. They may have been to start with, but jamming them into a ramekin would naturally steam away any crispness. Nonetheless, they had great flavor dragged through a light apple-honey syrup.
A Szechuan fish fry, the daily changing menu's most expensive item at $15 one night, arrived piping hot. The whole fish – sea bass, I think – was crunchy and the taste was worthy of any good Chinese restaurant. But there was nothing Szechuan in the flavor at all. It was not remotely spicy. The plate was scattered with some glazed, warm kumquats with a gooey texture that did not work for me.
The menu includes a selection of cocottes, typically single portions of a dish cooked and served in a small casserole dish. Here, iron pots are used. I ordered the Moroccan lamb's bread one night. Our server described this as basically a pot pie featuring chunks of lamb and curried carrots, topped by a layer of cinnamon-spiked pastry. The latter was literally draped over the pot – creating a startling appearance, to say the least. But I thoroughly enjoyed it. The stew was thick with lamb, and the pastry, somewhat heavier than the usual, moved quickly from disconcerting to delicious.
Perhaps the best dish we sampled was the Oaxacan hanger steak. It was a huge portion of steak, marinated in arbol chiles, grilled, sliced and topped with pico de gallo. Grilled chicken, prepared spatchcock style, was very good, too, seasoned simply with olive oil, lemon and a bit of oregano. It tasted like it was straight off the backyard grill.
The restaurant offers a terrific take on the ubiquitous burger. Here, it's a pair of slider-like burgers made of chorizo. The extra-fat patties were topped with tomatillos, pickled jalapeños and a single endive leaf.
The menu one night also included one of the equally ubiquitous glass-jar dishes – pork rillettes topped with tarragon aspic. It was served with whole-grain mustard and baguette slices. The aspic was utterly wonderful, but its taste was completely lost unless sampled alone. Generally, the pork had that great contrast of velvety and chunky textures.
Elote, corn on the cob, was slathered in cilantro-jalapeño butter and I could have eaten twice the single portion. Vietnamese goi ga salad – chicken with napa cabbage, Georgia pecans, mint and fish sauce – is an excellent choice because it provides a pungent and light contrast to the many heavier dishes.
Desserts seem to be mainly furnished by the Sweet Auburn Bakery. We tried the sweet potato cheese cake one night and enjoyed it. But we much preferred the next visit's house-made coconut panna cotta topped with chili oil and cilantro – a riot of flavors amid sweet cream. It's served in another little jar. Don't even attempt to share one.
Finally, I have to note that the Sound Table, like Top Flr, has a remarkable staff. I don't know how they do it, but everyone I've ever encountered at either restaurant has been cool, well informed and attentive.