It’s easy to see why restaurants are becoming safer and less eccentric. When times are tight, the reflex is to return to simple, nonthreatening food that appeals to the masses. 30 Tables, in the Glenn Hotel, reflects that tendency, both on the part of the hotel and on the part of Concentrics, the group brought in to run the restaurant.
Let’s start with the Glenn, and the space 30 Tables inhabits. The restaurant is the third establishment in this space in three years. The hotel has tried one outlandish concept after another, starting with the ludicrous and preposterously bad B.E.D., and then Maxim Prime, a collaboration between Jeffrey Chodorow and Maxim magazine. Maxim Prime was only slightly less garish than B.E.D. in its design and concept, and the food was far more successful. But ultimately, the ’80s-themed den-of-iniquity decor, eggs topped with gold leaf, and Russian waitresses dressed up like “Simply Irresistible” dancers didn't hold sway over enough diners to make Maxim Prime a success. So what next?
30 Tables is almost stark in comparison. The space has been stripped down to its concrete and brick shell and only slightly dressed up with beige paint and some brown leather accents. The design isn't unattractive; it’s the khaki pants of restaurant decor — meant to go from business to casual without offending or titillating anyone along the way.
And what of Concentrics, the group long known for daring, flashy dining, and responsible for some of our city’s most ostentatious restaurants? 30 Tables opened just as Trois was closing. Trois was undoubtedly Concentrics’ most ambitious restaurant to date. (At least food-wise. It’s hard to understate the ambition of Two Urban Licks in the design department.) Trois was supposed to be Concentrics’ crowning jewel, and in another era it could have become one of the city’s most beloved destinations. But it was the wrong restaurant at the wrong time.
Measured against Trois, 30 Tables’ intentions are decidedly humble. While the menu’s language includes platitudes to locavorism (going so far as to name not just the farm in one case but also the farmer’s dog), the spirit of this food lies in the grandly bland tradition of hotel cooking. Soup, salad, salmon, steak. A wacky, Asian-inspired meatball. A spring roll with a Western twist. Chocolate truffle cake.
I'm not so much of a snob that salmon over charred corn is beneath me, but this salmon, advertised as wild Coho, was so well-done that any flavor or character was thoroughly eradicated. (I tried it twice, and the server assured me both times it would arrive medium.)
Those meatballs? Suffering from a strangely tough exterior (Are they Asian because they're fried?), the twist comes in the form of a confusing caramel sauce. The pork belly spring rolls? Greasy, containing too little pork belly to make much of a difference to the flavor but just enough to add to the dish's fatty overload.
An entrée of game hen advertised sugar snap puree. The accompaniment was actually green (sugar snap enhanced?) mashed potatoes, a cheat that felt especially cruel given the heaviness of the “jus,” which was in fact a sticky reduction.
A heavy batter on a fried okra appetizer tasted of Old Bay and was strangely reminiscent of fast food. The coconut cake with passionfruit ice cream had none of the fluffy, toasty goodness coconut promises. In fact, it barely tasted of coconut at all.
If there’s one bright side to this restaurant it’s the amiable service. However, this is a staff who spends a lot of time in the weeds — completely swamped at lunch and absent for long periods at dinner as well. Wine service is slightly amateur: The whites are served way too cold and promptly put on ice (I had to keep stealing my bottle back from the bucket). But it barely matters — like the food, the wine list is predictable and uninspired.
In a location where two outlandish restaurants have failed rather spectacularly, you can see the careful restraint 30 Tables represents. The Glenn’s conservative response to B.E.D. and Maxim Prime matches Concentrics’ cautious first steps after losing Trois. It’s understandable. But it’s also wrongheaded in the extreme. Look at the restaurants thriving in this economy — they're the ones taking chances. (Abbatoir, Holeman & Finch and Flip come to mind.) 30 Tables’ throwback to uninspired hotel cooking doesn’t serve anyone well — not the patrons, not the hotel, and in the long run, probably not the pocketbooks of the folks who are hedging their bets on boring.
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