Talula’s Table Review: A Seat at the Table

Talula’s Table is a new culinary hybrid: a gourmet market, a casual café, and, after hours, a fine-dining restaurant. There are shelves of high-­quality packaged cooking supplies and prepared foods to go — or stay, with a seat at the large namesake table or on a couch at the front. But most dramatically, groups of eight to 12 can book that big table for a lavish multi-course dinner after the store closes to the public at 7 p.m.

[sidebar]It’s at these private dinners that the skills and obsessions of owners Aimee Olexy and Bryan Sikora find their ultimate expression. Through a combination of sourcing and sorcery, fresh ingredients obtained, even foraged, from the surrounding area are transformed into elegant dishes that remind us what all the excitement over Django was about. Olexy and Sikora sold that acclaimed Philadelphia BYOB in 2005, and this more personal style seems to suit them even better than a conventional restaurant. It’s a heightened dining experience: Eating with a group of friends at a communal table, interacting with the chef and servers on a more intimate level than is possible in a busy restaurant, and sharing wines from fellow diners’ cellars all amplify the deeper social aspects of eating.

One meal featured a tender lobster salad, followed by local exotic mushroom crepes garnished with greens picked on the banks of neighboring Red Clay Creek. Wild halibut was mated with the couple’s house-made chorizo. Tiny veal cheek ravioli floated in a concentrated veal cheek jus. Wild salmon was enlivened by an airy béarnaise foam. Roasted spring lamb from nearby Birch Run Farm was upstaged by the garlicky lamb sausage that shared the plate. Aimee’s famed cheese plate presented obscure American selections, including decadently creamy Kunik from Nettle Meadow farms in upstate New York. Grilled peaches with buttermilk peach sorbet finished the meal. This refined food is served in a casual style, the hum of commercial refrigerators and the quirky glassware among the few reminders that you’re not dining in one of the finer restaurants in the country.

The pre-prepared foods available in the store every day from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. can’t be expected to reach these culinary heights, even when eaten at the same inviting farmhouse table, but lobster potpie, prosciutto and figs, grilled rabbit sausage studded with pistachios, and succotash elevated to controlled-substance intensity by house-cured Berkshire bacon thrilled nonetheless. Cream of mushroom soup to go is vibrant with those exotic local fungi, and there’s an array of excellent breads and pastries cruelly poised near the cash register, ready for the impulse buy. Beware of those whims: Prices at the market are on the high side, but it’s clear that the growing number of diners who cherish high-quality, local, artisanal products are willing to pay.