Restaurant Review

Table 8

The way you’re greeted when you enter a restaurant can determine how much you’ll enjoy your meal. A surly, officious, or snobbish host will make the food taste like sawdust. At Table 8, not only do the hostesses greet people warmly, but owner Demetri Malki treats all his guests as if they were long-lost friends. How could you not like such a place?

The dining room features comfortable, modern high-back chairs padded in soft red, tables of mahogany with soft-aqua mats and white napkins, and exposed-brick walls. The eponymous table 8, a communal table reserved for walk-ins, is the best seat in the house.

Michael Clampffer, formerly of the Stage House Inn in Scotch Plains, is the talented chef. He bills his Mediterranean-influenced menu, which changes every three months, as Contemporary American. The only thing depriving Table 8 of a higher rating is some seasoning that tends to overpower the main ingredient. This is true of the otherwise excellent shrimp beggar’s purse appetizer, which pairs Moroccan-spiced shrimp with bean noodles, tomatoes, garlic, and cream tucked into phyllo purses; I wouldn’t know they were shrimp had the menu not noted them.

A better choice is the absolutely scrumptious wild mushroom soup, with the flavor of just-picked wood mushrooms and truffles, served in a pretty oval bowl. I also like the ham-and-pea soup served another evening, although those expecting ham chunks would be disappointed. Tuna tartare, tucked between layers of crisp sesame phyllo, would be better with a little less tamari. A large mound of mussels with a tomato sauce containing sweet peppers, chorizo slices, and lemon zest is very spicy but addictive. A warm Maryland crab cake, served with crisp asparagus and sun-dried tomato vinaigrette, is very good. Even better are dates stuffed with almond-Gorgonzola cheese, wrapped in smoky bacon, then cooked and served on a bed of shredded endive with fig dressing; the flavors and textures—sweet, salty, soft, and crunchy—touch all the senses at once.

Among the pastas, ravioli filled with ricotta, roasted shallots, and porcini mushrooms in a silky, creamy truffle sauce are excellent, as are wide strands of firm semolina pappardelle with a rich, intense sauce containing lamb sausage, artichokes, and broccoli rabe.

Salmon with white beans, spinach, black olives, and artichokes is overcooked and dry. Tuna in an adobo-sesame crust, served with wasabi risotto, soy-peanut sauce, and coconut vinaigrette, is cooked rare as requested but has too many disparate flavors. Far better are the sautéed Chatham cod served on a mound of potato purée with a chowder of baby clams and smoked bacon; the tender, well-flavored filet mignon special with roasted tomatoes; and four huge scallops on a bed of fresh, chunky corn purée drizzled with cilantro sauce. The chicken Kiev—a chicken breast rolled around seasoned butter, breaded, deep-fried, and served on a bed of porcini-mushroom-and-barley pilaf—is excellent; when one cuts into the chicken, the lovely, buttery juices bathe the pilaf, while a tarragon vinaigrette cuts the richness.

When it’s available, order the cheese plate, which features a nice variety of cheeses accompanied by quartered ripe figs. Desserts include an excellent fresh-blueberry crumble with buttermilk ice cream; a not-very-creamy panna cotta served with a mound of tiny fresh figs; and a minuscule serving of pumpkin crème brûlée, attractively presented in a small pumpkin.


Reviewed in: January, 2006