THE CRABCAKE APPETIZER sports a golden crust, sweet lump crabmeat, and homemade mayo kicked up with Scarduzio’s own Worcestershire sauce. The roast chicken, served over a generous dollop of mashed potatoes and rosemary-infused pan gravy, boasts perfectly moist meat and a buttery, crackling skin. A side of “risotto beignets” brings delicious Italian arancini, fried rice balls whose crispy exteriors envelop creamy risotto and crunchy flecks of smoky bacon. But a jumbo shrimp cocktail costing $22 brings just four shrimp, boiled to jaw-fatiguing chewiness. A midsummer bowl of yellow tomato gazpacho should burst with the full-flavored zest of the fruit at its zenith, but Table 31’s version tasted bland and watery, with none of the balanced acid and sugar that can make this dish so refreshing.
The steaks are often flavorful and juicy, with nary a thread of gristle. But other times, the meat disappoints. And with steaks averaging $44, less-than-perfect cuts of beef should be unimaginable. A 12-ounce American Wagyu strip steak — $58 — arrived veined with unchewable ropes of fat. The Delmonico, a relative bargain at $36, was heralded correctly by a server as the hidden gem on the steak list. The unusual cut, a combination of rib eye and deckle (the outer part of prime rib), is rubbed with a mélange of spices including cayenne, cumin, coriander, bay, garlic and thyme. Its delicate marbling yields a surprisingly tender and juicy bite.
The only bigger gamble than choosing a steak is the reservation roulette that determines your table. Will you have a cozy booth downstairs with views of 17th Street, or will you have to endure the flying elbows of waitstaff working at the station that abuts your cramped second-floor table? Whichever dining room you land in will feature a dated, monochromatic color scheme of browns and beiges and cheesy sepia photos of city landmarks like the Museum of Art and the Ben Franklin Bridge.
A full meal with drinks at Table 31 is likely to cost more than $100 per person — a nice bottle of red can double that sum. That money (or less) fetches dinner at Osteria, Supper or Lacroix. But those restaurants are on another level, distinguished by hip settings, focused concepts, and tightly edited menus of exceptional dishes. Table 31, at its best, would have been a thrilling addition to the scene a decade ago, but in 2008, this hit-or-miss menu generates more buyer’s remorse than buzz.