Learning Table Manners [restaurant review]

Table Manners owners Michael Bakert and John Kulacki. Photo by JP Cordero

I’m going to start this article by stating a fact: any review of Table Manners that is written for a local audience will include a comparison with the former establishment in the location. This isn’t fair, but is inevitable. It is reflected in the emails that I have received from readers who emailed me either reporting their experiences or asking, “What’s up at that place that replaced Bouzy at Chez Melange?”

The answer is changes, and plenty of them. The new owners have opted for a complete shift in style, gutting the cozy retro interior and replacing it with a stark, minimally decorated, modern space. The shift outside has been even more dramatic, with the rock wall that demarcated the boundary with the street replaced by industrial-style metal pillars and cables.

If you look at pictures of the old and new place side by side, the intention seems clear: Bouzy never looked much like the Riviera Village party places two blocks south, and Table Manners replicates their look exactly. The menu follows the neighborhood pattern, sandwiches and burgers with modernized versions of finger foods and the obligatory roast chicken, steak, and fish and chips. These items are popular, which is why everybody offers them, and a few more inventive items are on the menu. The gin shrimp with fruit butter and the sweet and sour calamari in apricot and pineapple jam sounded interesting, so we headed over for dinner.

The interior has blocky architecture and white walls that are sparsely decorated, and we noticed the lack of beachy touches. There’s nothing that places this restaurant in Redondo instead of Melrose, except for a bicycle on one wall that looks like a halfhearted attempt to suggest fun. Along with the uncomfortable metal chairs in primary colors, it creates an environment that is austerely bland.

The menu is online and accessed via a QR code, as it is at a lot of places, and ordering is via a phone app. When the app is set up well this can work, although it further reduces any sense of warmth and welcome. Unfortunately, it isn’t fine tuned here – for instance, either everyone at a table orders on one phone without the option to split the bill, or you order on multiple phones and your orders are treated as separate by the kitchen. As such, your appetizers may arrive after someone else’s entrée. Ordering online using your phone goes from difficult to nearly impossible if you’re sitting in bright sunlight on the patio. They have paper menus that they will bring if they notice you having trouble. One of the owners mentioned that they plan to scrap this ordering system eventually, and it can’t happen soon enough for me.

On our first visit we selected “griddled cauliflower hummus” and the gin shrimp with fruit butter, wondering, as we did, whether we had over-ordered because a twelve dollar hummus and eighteen dollar shrimp appetizer were surely almost a meal by themselves. We were astonished when the hummus turned out to be about three tablespoons of bland hummus with chunks of cauliflower and a small portion of roasted vegetables on top. It was served with four pieces of what was described as ciabatta, far more than needed for the meager amount of dip.

The gin butter shrimp had more character, the fruity flavors in the jam and slight herbal sweetness of the gin a successful combination. But, we were again shocked by the portion size, which consisted of five medium shrimp and a big lump of jam perched atop more pieces of toast. After it arrived my wife and I looked at each other and wondered whether we were going to have to stop for dinner on the way home.

Table Manners’ Spicy Salmon and Cauliflower Hummus with Old Fashioned Cocktail

We didn’t need to, because both entrees were generously proportioned. I ordered the spicy salmon marinated with black garlic honey habanero sauce, while my wife had fish and chips with a side of green apple coleslaw. The big codfish filets had been dipped in a batter that fried up very light and crisp, the fries were well made and there were plenty of them, and the tangy, tart slaw was excellent. At nineteen bucks it ran only one dollar more than the few bites of shrimp, and it was hard to believe it had come from the same kitchen.

The spicy salmon was served with forbidden rice and miso-glazed roasted purple carrots, obviously as a high concept because everything on the plate was a deep purple or black. Each individual item was successful, the fish in caramelized spicy and sweet sauce a standout, but as pretty as it was something was missing. Carrots are naturally sweet even before being glazed with miso, the sauce on the fish was sweet, and the rice was neutrally nutty – it needed a green vegetable to balance both flavor and texture. We found a fine match on the table, the cole slaw that was offered as a side with my wife’s dinner. That tartness was a perfect pairing with the other items on the plate, but probably wouldn’t be considered because it didn’t fit the color scheme.

We thought about having wine with dinner, but the app listed many unfamiliar makers and no tasting notes – an odd omission that would be easy to fix. My wife ordered a Monte Carlo while I had a smoked Manhattan, which turned out to be a stunt drink. A staff member brought over a glass filled with aromatic smoke and mixed it with the liquor at the table, which was fun to watch but really didn’t create a great flavor. If I want a smoky-tasting Manhattan in the future I’ll ask for it to be made with Highland Scotch instead of rye.

Two desserts were offered – freshly made doughnuts or something cryptically listed on the app as a “pie jar” with no further explanation. We chose the doughnuts, which turned out to be very good New Orleans-style beignets that are usually tossed in a maple-bourbon glaze. There was no option in the app to get this on the side, but I flagged down a server and asked for this modification. I should mention that when we did talk to any servers, they were unfailingly polite and helpful – their warmth and professionalism are an untapped resource in the current situation.

Dinner for two with three cocktails ran $141, and though we were less than impressed with the value, I decided to return to give the place another chance. I stopped in for lunch, sat on the patio, and ordered sweet and sour calamari and the Kitchen Burger. Like the interior, the space was furnished with uncomfortable metal chairs, and as I waited for my food, I tried to remember whether I had ever met anyone who preferred these to something wood, perhaps with actual padding. I was still working on that when the calamari showed up. It had a similar flavor profile to the gin butter shrimp, heat from serrano chillies balanced with fruit sweetness and garlic, and once again the portion was minuscule. Unfortunately, someone in the kitchen had topped calamari fresh from the fryer with jam straight from the fridge, robbing it of crispness and heat instantly. I mentioned this to one of the owners, and he agreed it was a mistake and removed it from the bill. Since the small portion had cost sixteen dollars, I was particularly pleased that he did so.

A Kitchen Burger at Table Manners. Photo by Richard Foss.

Once again, the entree saved the day, the burger was excellent, the patty topped with housemade cheese and red onion jam, bacon, and pickles. As I munched on  it I wondered about possible explanations – could the overpriced and erratic starters be coming from an entirely different kitchen than the solidly executed mains? It didn’t seem like a question I should ask, but I do wonder.

To sum it up, Table Manners has potential, but doesn’t yet offer a reason to go there rather than one of many, similar places a block away. The high prices are compounded by the app – we willingly pay more at restaurants rather than getting take-out because we value good service, and this situation makes it impossible for even the best servers to have much impact. The problems are in plain sight and fixable, and I hope they do it so this location can build its own clientele.

Table Manners is at 1611 S. Cataline in Redondo – Tues.–Fri. 11:30 a.m – 10 p.m., Sat 10:30 a.m. – 10 p.m., Sun 10:30 a.m. – 9 p.m.. Free underground parking. Full bar. Wheelchair access okay, but there are many high tables. (424) 946-9001. TableMannersRedondobeach.com.

Comments:

comments so far. Comments posted to EasyReaderNews.com may be reprinted in the Easy Reader print edition, which is published each Thursday.

Written by: Richard Foss

Be an Easy Reader Free Press supporter!

Yes, we know Easy Reader and EasyReaderNews.com are free. But they are not free to produce. The advertiser model that traditionally supported newspapers is fading away. This is our way of transitioning to a future where newspapers are supported by their readers. Which is as it should be. We hope you’ll support us. — Kevin Cody, Publisher