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Behind the Review: The Sound Table

Chinese-style pork ribs

Chinese-style pork ribs

Are we going for drinks or are we going for dinner?

This distinction matters less and less thanks to new places like the Sound Tablereviewed in today’s paper — that try to break down that wall between bar and restaurant. I believe these places are on the vanguard of a major generational shift. Younger diners consume their food and drink differently.

As one of the Sound Table’s owners explained to me, the menu is “modular” — i.e., composed of dishes that stand on their own, but fit together into something resembling a balanced meal. Meats on one plate, vegetables on another, snacks and sides on yet others. Each stands out with its own flavor profile that you can appreciate as you pass and share.

The drinks list — which I found to be more successful than the menu — is also modular. No, I didn’t try all two dozen house cocktails, but the couple I ordered were both balanced so that the sweet, bitter, sour and stinging alcohol flavors played a memorable tune together. The wines by the glass and beers are few but astoundingly well chosen — offering a variety of styles and origins. Every bite or sip here offers a distinctive impression; you consume with purpose.

Other local places that get this is-it-a-bar-or-restaurant vibe are the Sound Table’s big brother, Top Flr, and Holeman & Finch Public House. When I’ve traveled to other cities, I’ve gotten the same feeling from Avec in Chicago and Momofuku Ssäm Bar in New York.

What anchors the best restaurants in this genre are always a couple of signature dishes that hit it out of the ballpark. When I meet up with family in New York, we often end up at Ssäm Bar to revel in pork buns, but then we also love the bracing white wines, the seasonal vegetables and the other flavors that lodge in memory. I’ll be watching the Sound Table to see if this smart restaurant can live up to its game-changing potential.

10 comments Add your comment

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by ajcdinecritic, John Kessler. John Kessler said: Behind the Review: The Sound Table [...]


October 15th, 2010
1:23 pm

“Modular?” Does that mean the “small plates” click together like Legos?

[...] Behind the Review: The Sound Table | Food and More with John Kessler Uncategorized ballpark, best-restaurants, genre, often-end, pork-buns, [...]

Westside Resident

October 15th, 2010
2:31 pm

This is a great step in the evolution of dining. People often lament that the downturn in “fine dining” establishments means that the public no longer appreciates food or the restaurant experience. Places like those mentioned above prove that its not a shift away from enjoying the dining experience, but a shift towards demanding a different type of dining experience. Much of the “stuffiness” of the old guard (which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing) has given way to a more upbeat and lively vibe. This change doesn’t mean the food can’t still be first rate. Much the same way cars or houses or clothes change style with the marketplace, it seems dining is doing the same.

John Kessler

October 15th, 2010
4:38 pm

Well put, Westside Resident

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by alpheus samuel and Leah Flannigan Hooks, Food Cooking. Food Cooking said: Behind the Review: The Sound Table [...]


October 17th, 2010
12:30 pm

Though I enjoy places such as this (Holeman & Finch being one of my favs), I do lament that often after spending nearly $75 on an evening munching some delicious nibbles and quaffing tasty drinks, I still must wheel into Wendy’s on the way home because I’m starving. For that kind of money I shouldn’t feel so inclined.


October 18th, 2010
8:23 am

I think Abbatoir works like this too….isn’t that menu modular?

nate shuman

October 18th, 2010
12:43 pm

@ mike: think metronomes not legos.


October 18th, 2010
2:54 pm

I had a Manhattan there last week that was the best cocktail I’ve ever had. This place always surprises me. Wish they wouldn’ t have gotten rid of the whole fish.