I’ve been a fan of Art of the Table for a long time. It started as conversations with friends and how this tiny little restaurant on a residential corner in Wallingford was churning out high quality food. Next, I was reading some articles online and that it’s the #1 restaurant on Yelp. But it wasn’t until a wine dinner visit to Art of the Table where I was put under a spell to fully appreciate the work of Chef Dustin Ronspies and his crew. That night solidified it; I needed to go back and fully take in the Art of the Table experience. I finally did return and it was one of best dining experiences I’ve had in some time.
It was at a wine tasting with Stephen Tanzer that I was first able to take in Dustin’s talent. There were several small plates to accompany the wine, my personal favorite being his pork confit with pickled rhubarb. After this great night of eating and drinking I vowed to return and I finally did this past weekend. After seeing the email listing out his menu for Valentine’s Day I knew we would go. A dinner at Art of the Table is truly unique and a dinner for Valentine’s Day featuring aphrodisiacs would elevate it to a special occasion.
Chalk this up to the friendly vibe that Dustin, his partner Laurie, his sous chef Phil, and his guest chef (and brother) Derek provided that evening. What other restaurant would the chef and owner greet you at the door and offer to take your coat? These little touches provide great effect to the experience at Art of the Table. It’s a communal vibe where you feel like you’re in Dustin’s dining room with his kitchen right around the corner. You’ll see him cooking, serving, setting plates, and washing dishes; he has a hand in the entire evening. I also love it when Dustin announces each course and talks about his inspiration. He breaks the “wall” between kitchen and customers by conversing with his guests and describing the menu. The personal imprint of Art of the Table is one of the things that really makes it unique and enriches the experience.
The Supper Club dinners that Chef Ronspies introduces every weekend is dependent on whim and the seasonality of the ingredients available. Therefore each weekend dinner will have a different vibe. Some will be centered around beer, others will be in honor of Julia Childs. For our dinner, Dustin wanted to have a ‘sexy menu’ with each course having ingredients purporting to be aphrodisiacs exuding sexyness. It’s Valentine’s Day, of course it’ll be romantic!
Even without this hook you’d be swooning by the food. We loved each course. There were five with an amuse-bouche. Each were unique, fun, and most importantly delicious.
- Amuse-bouche – As soon as he announced this I was already excited. A foie gras and duck meat sausage (he called it a ‘foie-sage’!) on toasted challah topped with pickled pear and a microgreen. What a way to start – the foie gras sausage was buttery and decadent, yet the pear helped it stay light.
- First Course – Shigoku oysters on the half shell – Dustin mentioned that shigoku oysters (from Taylor Shellfish Farms) are new, like Kushi in that they are creamy, but slightly briny. They were topped with a champagne granita and salmon roe. Champagne granita! I would never think of this, but it provided a bright, acidic sweetness to the briny, buttery oysters. Couple this with the bright burst of the salmon caviar and we were in bi-valve heaven.
- Second Course – Roasted garlic soup – This was food decadence; creamy soup with seared scallops, hedgehog mushrooms, shaved black truffles and a drizzle of white truffle oil! The smell in the room at this point was so tantalizing. I wanted to eat the air. Thankfully I was able to eat the soup.
- Third Course – Leek, Nettle & Goat Cheese in Phyllo – With nettles from Jeremy Faber of Foraged & Found, this was a great dish because it utilized a lot of ingredients I’m not particularly familiar with. It came with a salad of wild watercress, the little phyllo cup held the Estrella goat cheese filling. Delicious.
- Fourth Course – Braised Short Ribs on Maine Lobster risotto – I love short ribs and I love lobster, who doesn’t? Because it was Valentine’s Day, Dustin wanted to do his take on the classic Surf n’ Turf. This was delicious. It was so good we wanted to lick the plate. We mentioned this to Dustin and he offered our plates back! I hope he was flattered!
- Fifth Course – Chocolate-Strawberry Tart with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream & Port Wine Reduction – By this time, Dustin and his team already had us swooning. With a chocolate crust, strawberry preserves underneath, and a chocolate ganache, this dessert was decadent without being overpowering or rich. Which I think is a problem with a lot of chocolate desserts. We were on the verge of licking the plate of this one too, even after the four previous courses.
I also loved all the wine pairings. The flight bounced between New World and Old World wines, but my personal favorite was the Siduri Pinot Noir from Sonoma. It was a perfect expression of this grape. With the familiar nose of Pinot noir, it perfectly exhibited Pinot’s ability to highlight the terroir it came from. And it was wonderful to drink. In fact, I discovered that Eddie Vedder loves another of Siduri’s Pinot Noir. I think I love this winery even more. In fact, I know that I love this winery even more.
I must also bring up how much Dustin loves beer. His beer list is just as robust as the wine list and both lists come from producers and regions that I’m not familiar with, but I am intrigued. I guess this will mean that I have to come back for one of their Happy Monday dinners. Yup, Art of the Table also has a dinner on Mondays from 5 to 10ish with small plates and deals on beer and wine. I can’t wait to go for one of these dinners.
The open feeling of Art of the Table is something I really like. During dinner, I’ve been able to stretch my legs and go into the kitchen to converse with Dustin. We’ve talked about the history of Art of the Table, the community spirit he adores, the reception he’s received, etc. He’s a blast to be around and makes me appreciate the fact that we have so many chefs in Seattle that care about their guests. He also went out of his way to mention the local farms where he sources his ingredients, discussing how they need our support and how they helped to provide to our feast.
We truly had a great dinner at Art of the Table. We were indeed at the whims of the chef, and we loved his direction. Everything was fabulous. Ambiance, food, drink, service; we appreciated all of it. Going out to dinner is always contextual and this night was no different; it was perfect on every level.