Review: Table 40 at Fraser Café
Table 40 is oh-so-easy, fun, and a darn-good deal.
The cute little guy in overalls is taking a break on the couch with his grandma — he’s left his toy yellow school bus and fluffy red Elmo doll back at the dinner table. When my friend can’t remember the name of one of the stars in the new Les Misérables movie, the 20ish woman sitting across the table helpfully supplies it (Amanda Seyfried). Earlier, I’d passed the jug of cutlery down the table so the folks sitting next to me could start eating.
A big family dinner? Not exactly, but certainly a fun, urban interpretation of one.
In late March, Fraser Café in New Edinburgh opened a sister space right next door called Table 40. The former convenience store has been transformed into a small, funky space with dark blue walls, orange and lime-green accents, a constellation of filament light bulbs hanging from the ceiling and impressive long tables made from shiny slabs of reclaimed B.C. tree trunks. It’s also one of Ottawa’s first forays into communal dining, a concept that’s spread from Europe (with places like London’s Belgo, popular for moules et frites), to big American cities (Chicago’s avec, for example) and Vancouver (the Irish Heather has been offering its “Long Table” series for several years now).
Table 40 is now Fraser Café’s party place — you can rent it out for a meeting, brunch or a cocktail reception — except on Monday nights, when Fraser Café is closed and the chefs move next door to cook up a set menu, served family style.
I’ve attended two of these Monday dinners and feel a bit guilty about saying it, but these dinners surpass anything I ever ate at home with my family.
My mother and grandmother turned out fabulous roast beef dinners with Yorkshire pudding, but the one I had at Table 40 in early May was simply astounding. It started, as these dinners often do, with a soup — some ingredients in your bowl, the broth in a communal copper pot that you ladle out. On this day it was a dashi broth with tofu, with wonton crisps to sprinkle on top. Fresh, just salty enough to whet your tastebuds, and delicious.
The main course arrives on another slab of wood, a two-inch thick cross-section of a considerable-sized tree. You just have to gasp: the wooden platter is laden with a pile of juicy, tender roast beef slices, perfect popovers, a jug of horseradish jus, large baked potatoes cut almost through into thin crispy slices, little juicy tomatoes with a chimichurri sauce and the best mushrooms I have ever tasted. And we haven’t even got into the side dishes, served in separate bowls: delicious creamy leeks and a refreshing green salad with radishes, pickled carrot and a light caper-anchovy dressing.
Dessert is a creamy rice pudding with fresh raspberries, roasted hazelnuts and shaved chocolate.
A ridiculous amount of food? No worries, just like the mom of a college-aged kid, the waitress packages up leftovers in brown cardboard cartons and sends them home with us. I had another lunch and dinner from the them.
A month later we return, with our husbands, and two remarkable things happen. First, the waitress — young, friendly, one of the best we’ve met — recognizes us and welcomes us back. Just like a family dinner. And, two, the meal is, if anything, even better. And the room is more full and even more fun.
My friend Paul says as we leave, more leftovers in hand, “Cathy raved about her meal here so much, I thought it couldn’t possibly live up to hype. But it did.”
You don’t want to hear all about more wonderful tastes you missed — I’ll just say that ling cod makes melt-in-your-mouth fish and chips in the hands of the Fraser brothers, that I didn’t know a chocolate espresso torte could be made so not-at-all sweet but rich and dense I could not stop eating even though I was totally full.
What you do want to know is what’s on the menu next. Menus are posted a month in advance so you can choose your tastes. On Monday, for example, they’ll be serving asparagus-and-pea soup with garlic croutons, barbecue beef ribs and brisket and fresh strawberry crisp with ice cream. Check the website for later dates.
Oh, and all this is served for $35 a person. Wine matches are suggested, reasonably priced and served by the glass.
It’s easy. It’s fun. It’s a good deal and it’s delicious. Go before everyone else discovers it.
Table 40 at Fraser Café
11 Springfield Rd.
Price: About $35
Open: Monday evenings only for these dinners
Access: Two steps at front entrance and two doors