Nothing against all the beer-centric places opening or scheduled to open downtown, but it’s nice to see a new spot devoted to the pairing of wine and food. And something tells me chef/owner James Fallon is going to surprise and delight a lot of diners with his new café, Cork & Table.
Fallon, originally from Bethesda, Md., is a classically trained chef who graduated from the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in 1993. That’s the year the Food Network was founded, a time when becoming a chef wasn’t yet considered an especially cool thing to do.
I’ve got to admit, though, I’ve been a little confused about what exactly he’s planning to do with the space Basil’s and 909 Saloon have most recently occupied. He’s redone the interior, which now has a cleaner look, with tile flooring and art on the walls, and an expanded dining area.
Sure, he’s doing lunches and some wine dinners on weekends. And Cork & Table’s hours seem to slowly be expanding as positive word-of-mouth and online reviews bear fruit. But he mostly seems to be feeling his way, seeing what the Fredericksburg market will support.
One look at the restaurant’s Facebook page—and its food photos—and you know Fallon is a guy who knows what he’s doing. And he certainly has a flair for food presentation. Not showy exactly, just precise and proper, with a gentle touch. Besides the CIA certificate, he’s a trained sommelier, so he has got the requisite knowledge to pair the right wine with your food.
I spoke with Fallon briefly a couple of months ago. He struck me as well-read, thoughtful, articulate, considerate—not universal traits of those who work in the back of the house. But he also doesn’t seem like much of a self-promoter, or the kind of chef who tries to impress with his cooking chops. Instead he seems comfortable hanging back, biding his time, letting the cream rise to the top.
When my wife and I visited the restaurant for lunch recently, Fallon’s sous chef did the plating while he served. He proved a genial host as he handled several tables at once without missing a beat.
First, the surprise: Our starter, ciabatta toasts with organic chicken, olives, romesco (red pepper sauce) and goat cheese, wasn’t as described. They had subbed in small, thin baguette slices for the ciabatta, which was out of stock. They must have been low on other things, too, because our toasts also arrived without the chicken. However, the vegetarian version of the dish tasted so pleasing, we didn’t mention the oversight. Still, it was pricey for what we got: six tiny toasts for $7.50.
My wife went with the “market wrap,” with hummus, cucumber–dill salad and crumbled chèvre. Again, not a lot of food, but very nicely done. Then, the delight: My country pâté on baguette with cornichons, shallots and spicy Dijon mustard was, in a word, perfect.
In fact, it transported me back to the 1970s, when I worked in Washington, at a furniture shop on M Street in Georgetown. I would walk a few blocks north and grab lunch at The French Market, which comprised three townhouses, painted red, white and blue. Pâté was made fresh daily in the market’s basement and was served on crispy baguettes with French mayo.
For dessert we had the Belgian, dark-chocolate pot de crème. In a word, totally decadent. OK, that’s two words. Anyhow, it’s the rare dessert that has us both giggling over just how really good it is. We also indulged in fresh strawberries with fresh whipped cream. The berries looked so bright and lovely in that parfait dish, topped with cream whipped to the right consistency with just the right amount of sweetening. OK, it was a bit pricey, too, at $6, but maybe that’s not too high a price to pay for perfection.
So, there you go: quality dishes and nice flavor combinations that taste as good as they look. I just hope the chef settles on a winning concept, one that will keep him and his worthy café around for the long haul.