Two women—corn-yellow hair, light pink lipstick—sat at the bar at Table Fifty-Two the other night. They were lucky to get the seats, not just because they didn’t have reservations (the bar’s five seats are reserved for those who don’t) but also because it gave them ample face time with chef Art Smith, who poured their wine, asked them questions and encouraged them to eat dessert. The ladies nibbled on organic green salads and pistachio-encrusted chicken breasts, and at the end of the meal, after taking two bites of dessert and then pushing it away, they took out the cookbooks. “Will you sign these?” they asked. And, of course, Smith obliged. It was, after all, the reason they had come.
Unfortunately, these women missed the point. Smith may be the draw, particularly for the Oprah set, who’ll do anything to get one step closer to the woman herself. But to really get to the heart of this restaurant, you have to dive headfirst into the butter, the cheese and the dense carbohydrates that make this Southernish, home-style menu sing. Start by asking for extra goat cheese biscuits: Tapped out of miniature cast-iron skillets, they were devilishly good—nutty butter and tangy goat cheese (and a little flour) mingling in one warm, decadent package. But this is just where the decadence began. The filet was thick and juicy, exhibiting the oomph of manlier cuts while still playing up the filet’s lean, sumptuous texture. A pizza sported fresh figs, caramelized onions and rosemary, each ingredient shining separately and collectively. Mahi mahi (the roasted fish of the day) was paired with a delectable roasted tomato sauce and a smooth avocado sauce, lending the meaty fish a slightly Mexican touch. And a no-frills macaroni and cheese (pictured) bubbled in its crock, the creamy cheeses so delicious that it made the pasta seem unnecessary.
But though Smith’s food is always solid, it’s sometimes merely so. The “low-country” shrimp with stone-ground grits were big, chubby and incredibly juicy. The grits, however, tasted mostly of cream, and lost their allure after a few bites. The gazpacho, balanced and refreshing, followed suit. And none of the desserts really matched the decadence of the entrées that preceded them. But these are small complaints. In fact, there’s only one big problem at Table, and that’s the wine list. Very small and extremely expensive, it’s debilitating for those diners who don’t share the restaurant’s posh zip code. In fact, browsing the list is bound to be the only moment when you won’t feel Smith’s Southern hospitality.