Last night was Table FIVE 08's 'soft opening', billed as a VIP event, and I and my wife C. were honored to be added to the list of invitees. The fare was just a sampling of what will be on their full menu, and they really outdid themselves for an opener.
Before I go on I must admit to some cynicism. Salem has had so many restaurants come and go, (including a few in this prime location of Bligh's Capitol Theatre at the corner of State and High Street) I was a bit skeptical.
The evening turned out so well, though, I have no doubt Table FIVE 08 will be around a long time. I look forward to many trips back once they officially open on Tuesday July 1st. And now, on to my review.
We were greeted outside the door by a pleasant young man who took our names and ushered us inside where the hostess welcomed us and offered us choices for seating. Wanting to be close to the bar (more on this later), we opted for the lounge.
Immediately on entering, the overall vibe is more open and airy than the former restaurant at this location. The walls are gold and chili-pepper red, and there is plenty of natural light from the 2 full walls of windows. On the West side, these stretch all the way to the high ceiling. Artistic lighting fixtures add to the ambience, as do candles on the tables next to small jars of kosher salt. The feel is light but not frivolous; warm & inviting, but not stuffy. Overall there is a rustic yet casual elegance.
As we walked through, we found Table FIVE 08 only about 1/3 full which was not surprising since we were on the earlier end of the opening time -- the night was still quite young.
On our table we found a crock with a variety of warm olives with anchovies and garlic, along with some baguette slices. This is one of their appetizers, called 'small bites'. Our server Susan promptly introduced herself and offered us some water -- with a choice between "with bubbles or without". This had a nice European feel and was reminiscent of our time in Italy a few years ago where the choice was always "gassata o non gassata?". We're 'gassata' people, so we opted for the bubbles.
After pouring us some bubbly water, Susan took our drink order. C. opted for the red wine which turned out to be a Homestead 2011 red blend she found to be peppery and full-bodied. Once open, Table FIVE 08 will have a nice selection of wines and 'taps and tall boys' (beers), as well as 'sips' (a wide variety of mixed-drinks). This is a nice segue-point, so before I mention my drink order, I'll digress and tell a quick story.
Once upon a time a few years ago I'd heard about a local guy nicknamed "Rob the Bartender" with a growing reputation as an inventive mixologist. I was meeting a friend for a drink where Rob worked, and looking forward to one of his creations. When he asked me what I wanted I told him "Well, I feel like I want a Whiskey Sour, but I don't want a Whiskey Sour, you know what I mean? Can you make something for me?" Indeed he could. Rob proved the simplest solution is often the best and created a Maker's Mark Mojito or, as I call it, MMM! It has the minty refreshing bite of the mojito, but switching out the traditional rum for Maker's Mark really makes the drink come alive with richness. This is now pretty much the only cocktail I order when Rob is mixing. Why mess with a good thing?
Despite the room beginning to fill up quickly, our drinks did not take more than 5 minutes to get to us, and Susan went over the menu, then left us to look though the choices and decide what we wanted.
In addition to the warm olives, other 'small bites' available include a Seared Shrimp Cocktail with lime basil vinaigrette, and Pork Belly Lettuce Wraps with butter lettuce, pickled vegetables, and a sweet/spicy dipping sauce. We're olive lovers so we were content with what we had. I'm not a big fan of anchovies, so was pleased they did not take over the flavor. C. does like them and ate them alongside her olives.
The soup was a carrot ginger which sounded good, but we both opted for the salad. It was fresh local greens with diced tomatoes and sliced red onions, with julienne zucchini. As a nice touch, there was also some finely diced pineapple. C. stayed traditional with the small oil/vinegar bottle Susan brought us. I opted for the soy ginger dressing which was a nice accent.
As we ate our salad and sipped our drinks Table FIVE 08 began to fill up more. The lounge has been reformatted to make more room and definitely feels less cramped, while maintaining a nice separation from the main dining room.
Four entrees ('big bites') were available, just a very small example of what Table FIVE 08's full menu will include. Our choices were Root Beer Pork Chops, Seared Salmon, Vegetable Curry, and Ricotta Meatballs with Braised Greens 18.
C. went with the salmon which came on a bed of black beans with some tomatoes and scallions. She found it a bit more mild than she expected, although this was more than made up for by the avocado hollandaise. Just seeing the word hollandaise makes me think overly-rich and stiflingly-heavy but this was neither. It was rich enough to round out the beans and salmon, yet fresh and light without being watery.
I chose the Ricotta Meatballs and Braised Greens 18. Why '18'? I have no idea. I forgot to ask! The beet greens were perfectly done and in a rich thick tomato sauce with wonderful flavors. The three large meatballs had a nice heat from red chili flakes which did not overpower the subtle flavors of the well-seasoned meat. When I asked where Table FIVE 08 sources their beef, I was glad to hear they are partnered with the (relatively) local folks over at Painted Hills in Fossil, OR, whose website states their "beef is raised with no added hormones, no antibiotics, pasture raised and fed a 100% vegetarian diet"
Throughout the evening we were engaged numerous times by various staff, including the hostess, Steve the manager, Susan our server, and Rob the Bartender -- checking to make sure we had everything we needed and ensuring we were finding everything to our liking. Far from being intrusive or interruptive, we found them to be attentive and courteous, and chalked up their numerous visits to our table to the excitement of the 'soft opening' evening and a desire for everything to go well.
As we finished our entrees, we contemplated some 'sweet bites' and since there were only 2 on last night's menu it was easy. C. had the Vanilla Pot de Creme with apricot compote and candied fennel seeds. I chose the Buttermilk Pie with seasonal fruit (blueberries) and fresh whipped cream topped with lime zest. Both were excellent. For those who have not had buttermilk pie, it has a texture similar to cheesecake, yet lighter. We ate our desserts with some fresh-brewed decaf which was nice and strong.
Never rushed, we felt very relaxed as we enjoyed our evening in what will likely be one of Salem's favorite spots once they open their doors on Tuesday July 1st. For more info on Table FIVE 08, check out their About page.
- The first alcoholic beverage and all other food/drinks were complimentary to VIP guests at the 'soft opening'. Additional alcoholic beverages were offered at usual prices. Although we had a zero bill, a good tip was in order to honor the servers and staff who treated us so well.
- The VIP invite to EatSalem came with a specific statement that there was no expectation of a review at all, although it was implicitly understood one would be welcomed. The above write-up is honest and personal -- that it is a highly positive review is entirely due to the experience we had and the high quality of the food and drinks we were served. It has nothing to do with the fact that we got a free meal in a new restaurant. =)
- The original plan had been for the 'soft opening' to be done with all the paper still covering the windows and I was asked not to take or post any photographs. As you can see from the photos above, the windows were indeed uncovered and I was informed as we were leaving that the photography ban had been lifted. Our host apologized for the late notice and I acknowledge that I thought of asking about that when we first came in, so the lack of actual photographs of FOOD on this food blog are 100% my fault for not asking sooner if I could take photos.