On Friday night, we celebrated my first week at my new job with dinner at Talula’s Garden (210 W. Washington Square), the newest Stephen Starr restaurant. The restaurant is a collaboration between Starr and Aimee Olexy, who owns Talula’s Table (and the dearly departed Django) in Kennett Square. The menu changes regularly, based on what is in season on farms and in gardens.
Talula’s Table is based on the same idea, but has the distinction of being the toughest reservation to get in the entire country. Because it seats only 12 people, in one seating each night, you have to call a year in advance to book. I don’t really like waiting a day, let alone a year, for anything, so it’s a good thing that Talula’s Garden, in the space that used to be Starr’s Washington Square, is quite a bit bigger.
When we arrived for our 8:45 p.m. reservation, there was immediate seating inside, but were told that there would be a 15 minute wait for the garden table we had requested. We figured that eating in the garden was one of the main reasons to come to the restaurant, and since the heat and humidity had finally taken a break, we would wait at the bar until our table was ready.
The wine list is pretty extensive, and is comprised of organic, bio-dynamic (what is that?), earth-conscious (not sure what that is either), and vegan (who knew wine could be?) options. Chester decided on his red wine pretty quickly, but I had a tough time deciding what kind of cocktail to have. They all sounded so perfect for a summer night. I settled on the Beekeeper, a mix of lemonade, honey, dark rum, and ginger. Yum. I had to keep reminding myself that there was alcohol it in it, or it would have been easy to keep slurping them down until I became and embarrassment to myself and/or others.
The space has been completely updated since the Washington Square (which was kind of dark) era, with farmhouse style tables and chairs, soft lighting, pretty colors and fabrics, and mismatched silverware and appetizer plates. In the garden, trellises twinkled with Christmas lights, and lanterns were strung overhead. Greenery and pretty wildflowers covered every available surface. It’s definitely a girly restaurant—I’m pretty sure that Starr had nothing at all to do with the design.
True to the estimate, the hostess led us to our table under a little tree in the garden about 15 minutes later. A nice breeze blew all night. I almost forgot it was summer, as it felt more like late September.
My favorite part of the menu was the extensive selection of cheese plates. Aimee Olexy is clearly a girl after my own heart. We chose The Master Collection, a selection of eight cheeses, served on a slate board with dried fruits, nuts, the most amazing honey, and thin crackers (almost like pita chips). Our favorites were the Robiola a soft, creamy sheep/cow’s milk cheese from Italy that tasted—and spread—like butter, and the Capriole Dairy “Juliana” a goat’s milk cheese that was rubbed with espresso and lavender. I even enjoyed the blue cheese, and I’m usually not a fan—it was mild and paired really well with the honey.
Although the appetizers all sounded interesting (sweet pea soup, ricotta gnudi, and sweetbreads, to name a few) we skipped those and went right to the main courses. Probably a good idea, since I was already almost full from the cheese and the warm semolina rolls, sprinkled with thyme and sea salt, that we had already eaten.
All of the reviews I read raved about the potato gnocchi, so that’s what I ordered. No gnocchi will ever live up to melt-in-your-mouth version at Le Castagne, but Talula’s came pretty close. They were a pretty golden color, and looked like they would be heavy, but were actually surprisingly light. They were served with a variety of mushrooms, an egg, raisin puree (I saw one raisin in the dish, but didn’t really detect a puree), which created a rich sauce that soaked right into the pasta.
Chester had the beef and braised rib, which were served with a banyuls wine and brown butter sauce, and turnips (which Chester promptly pushed to the side of his plate). The beef was delicious and cooked to a perfect shade of pink in the center. It wasn’t heavily sauced, so you could taste how fresh it was—like beef is supposed to taste, if that makes any sense. The ribs were probably slow-cooked for a few hours, so that they were tender and pulled apart easily with a fork. They were a bit more sauced, so you really couldn’t get the taste of the meat as readily as with the beef.
For dessert, we shared the ricotta donuts. I would eat ricotta straight out of the container, but I know people complain that it can be a little grainy. Even if you are one of those crazy folks, you’ll like these warm, soft, sweet bits of dough, which were served with an apricot/peach dipping sauce. There is a hint of ricotta flavor, with none of the weird texture. If I ever break out the donut maker that I bought as a Christmas gift for Chester (okay, maybe that was a bit of a selfish purchase), I’m going to learn how to make these.
The service was a little bit uneven at times. The guy who I guess was our main waiter was very friendly, but he would disappear for an extended amount of time. Each time another course was brought out or our water glasses filled, it was by a different server. But, we didn’t feel like we were being rushed, so that was nice.
Talula’s Garden definitely goes on my list of restaurants to visit again. Since the menu changes so often, it will be a totally different experience the next time around. I will forgive Stephen Starr for SquareBurger. And, I may even try to rustle up eight other people who wouldn’t mind having dinner with me and Chester and maybe next summer, we can try Talula’s Table.