New combinations of well-recognized foods. It’s what people first notice about The Table, a farm to table restaurant owned by Chef Sangeeta Lahkini devoted to local flavors and sustainability.
The Table, which had its five year anniversary this November, has defied the industry odds. “I guess that means we’re sticking around,” Lakhani muses. (Believe it or not, most restaurants fail in the first year of business.) Columbus has spoken; they’re going to keep coming to The Table.
And why? It can be difficult to put into words. Describing the food at The Table means searching for a word that encompasses a “reinvented familiarity,” a newness that still holds onto the sentiments of comfort and home. Sangeeta Lahkini describes her restaurant’s fare more precisely: “Globally inspired. Locally sourced.”
What keeps The Table ever-interesting and ever-changing is the seasonal cycle the menu keeps pace with. “A lot of things on the menu are loosely worded because we really don’t know what the farmers will bring and what will fall off the truck. They’re so dependent on the Ohio weather,” said Lahkini.
Although the first day of “real” winter isn’t till December 21st, The Table has already switched gears towards food loaded with antiseptic and antibacterial properties to help our immune system while filling us up. (Let’s face it. We could all use an immune system boost right now.) We started our meal with a charcuterie plate featuring cheese from Black Radish Creamery at the North Market accompanied by pork rillette (shredded pork meat slowly poached in pork fat), duck, pickled grapes, cherry jam, turmeric, peppers, and house-made mustard.
The Table’s eco-friendly philosophy also shines through the ever-changing menu. Our next course was the new house salad: pickled turmeric and young ginger dressing, dried cherries, hazelnuts, and mixed greens that are still coming in from local farmers.
“We’re a no waste restaurant, so before things start turning, we pickle them,” explained Lahkini.
Instead of asking farmers to grow specific things for them, The Table tries to use up what those farmers have trouble selling. “A lot of them will bring produce after the Farmer’s markets, or [bring] things they grow for other restaurants and say, ‘The dish doesn’t do too well.’ Or the restaurants might not buy as much as promised,” Lahkini explained. “We try to pick up that slack, and create a dish with that product.”
Next up was a vegetarian favorite: roasted squash stuffed with quinoa, mushrooms, thyme, sherry-sage brie bechamel, all seasonal goodness. We finished with Chicken Laksa: citrus-honey chicken breasts, house egg noodles in a coconut peanut and sesame broth, green onion garnish, and crispy lime squash.
I ask Lahkini if this creative freedom is exciting for the chefs, or horrifying. “Our menu and our cooks have to be really flexible. It’s intimidating to walk in and look at a menu like this,” Lahkini said. “But we have a girl that works here that had never cooked—not even for herself. She just really loved the idea of it; she’s been with us for almost a year. She’s grown immeasurably, it’s amazing to watch her work in the kitchen now. I mean, we had to teach her to hold a knife.”
It turns out that The Table is the perfect environment to find your own culinary self.
“Anyone who is passionate about food and cooking, I will teach you all day long,” said Lahkini. “It’s the people that come in who already have an idea of how food should be cooked—those are the ones that don’t fit too well. To us it’s art, it’s creative, it’s play time.”
This openness to teaching and taking chances has definitely paid off for Lahkini herself and her staff benefits as well. Once a month Lahkini rewards a staff member’s “creative kudos,” a chance to create a signature dish.
“I pick one of our chefs or line cooks that have done a great job in whatever capacity and have them create a dish for our menu with their name on it.”
Making great food, getting creative, and a bit of saving the planet thrown in the mix—The Table just might be the food metaphor for what’s best about Columbus itself.