You’ll see Jean-Robert’s de Cavel’s hand just about everywhere these days, but nowhere more so than inside his eponymous Table. There’s that ruddy portrait in the main dining room, replete with a robin chirping on his right shoulder, not to mention bottle artwork from his Moerlein-collaboration beer released two summers ago—his mad scientist coiffeur only slightly exaggerated.
If you’re lucky, you’ll even catch a glimpse of the three-time James Beard nominee emerging from his kitchen after dinner service to chat with regulars, sometimes bursting into a manic laughter so generous you’ll swear hundred-franc notes were about to rain from the ceiling. Big personalities are nothing new in this business, but there is no other chef in town who has as much presence, and no other restaurant is steeped in such a singular personality. Who else could conjure up a surf and turf tartare of steak and salmon, or try his hand at a luxurious “haute pocket” (a.k.a., a vol au vent), cramming obscene amounts of lobster and succotash into airy layers of buttery puff pastry?
But these touches are more than mere outré Gallic insouciance. His classically grounded cuisine is indicative of a man who has spent more than 30 years in the finest kitchens, earning every flourish. Always lurking in the background is a reverence for the classics: Filet mignon cooked so skillfully that the meat maintains that textbook tinge of sourness; frites so crisp that your burger blushes. Jean-Robert’s Table tops our list again this year because after all this time he’s still teaching us how to dine out.
He shows us how not to simply pay lip service to staid Old World traditions, but how we find vitalité in their modern antecedents. And when every detail seems simultaneously significant and second nature, we can’t help but take it personally.
JR’s Signature Moves
→ Skate fish’s complex “wing” bone structure intimidates many chefs. With a handful of Michelin-starred restaurants on his résumé, it’s no surprise that de Cavel now trains his own staff to handle the tricky deboning. A rich presentation with lobster cream and mushrooms accentuates the skate’s texture.
→ You’ll often see game on Table’s menu, and we enjoyed the venison grand veneur on a recent visit. The earthy tenderloin holds its own against the classic black-pepper-and-fig infused sauce, finished with demi-glacé. The compote topping varies seasonally, from summer’s cherry to blackberry and raspberry when the snow falls.
→ We’ll never turn down slow-cooked foie gras terrine, but seared, raw foie gras torchon is an ingredient unto itself. The generous four-ounce portion arrives over a rich pear-and-raisin quick bread, with slivers of duck confit and a pork-mushroom reduction.
→ Loyal followers know it’s not a de Cavel menu without a Jonah crab salad. Reasonably priced and sustainable, with a mellow flavor and flaky texture, it also functions as a platform for seasonality, served with melons in the spring and apples in the fall.
→ JR’s desserts stick to tradition. In true French fashion, a cheese course is always an option, but the silky crème brûlée is as profoundly orthodox as you’ll find.