Table 8 in Montclair

When I heard from a friend that Table 8 in Montclair was absolutely divine, I also made the assumption that I would never get to try it.  Many of my friends corroborated saying things like, “Oh I’ve heard great things but I can never get a reservation.”   Unfortunately, my husband and I are 7:30 diners – not quite early bird and not the 9pm European type – we’re “the most popular time of the evening in America type.”   So, five days before a scheduled date with friends, I went on with fingers crossed, thinking only positive thoughts, and guess what? We got lucky!  I was given a choice of 6pm (what?! My kids will still be up when I get home – no way!!) or 8:15.   I grabbed the 8:15 and figured we can still escape from the house at 7 and find something to do. When I received a confirmation call the day before, I was resolutely relieved…

We arrived at the restaurant a little anxious for being a few minutes late, only to be told we had to wait to be seated. This was only somewhat disheartening because my husband had left half of his scotch at the bar next door, but otherwise we were just happy to be there. The atmosphere is very pleasing; cozy, elegant, and at the same time, casual. Once seated our BYO wine was immediately opened and the server told us about the two specials of the evening – a marinated shrimp appetizer and a pork tenderloin entrée. Our friends, Jamie and Jeff, ordered the shrimp and the fried calamari, and I ordered the smoked bacon-wrapped stuffed figs while my husband Rob went for the warm goat cheese and beet salad – which he always orders if he sees it, as it reminds him of when we ate our way through France.

The calamari was crispy, and served with two sauces – a traditional marinara and a noteworthy citrus marmalade that was sweet and spicy, and was a perfect match for the saltiness of the squid. The dates were heavenly, stuffed with almonds and Gorgonzola cheese that melted in your mouth, wrapped in salty bacon, and served with a fig port sauce that tasted like it had a touch of balsamic vinegar as well. The special poached shrimp appetizer was served cold and marinated in extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice and fine herbs. The texture of the shrimp was perfect, and the mixture of herbs helped to make this dish light and refreshing.

One of the most interesting items featured in many of the dishes that evening was the fiddle-head fern, which, according to the owner Demetri Malki, is only available for a scant two weeks every spring. Fascinating! These little showpieces are the unfurled shoots of the ostrich fern, and are so named because they resemble the carved wood on a violin (aka fiddle…) They are also quite labor intensive to cook, yet were generously included with the brook trout. It was served with pancetta and roasted pearl onions in a sherry almond butter. This dish was brilliant, as the sherry butter was just the right blend of rich and tangy flavors to accompany the lightness of the trout, which was cooked to perfection. The asparagus was beautifully crisp yet tender and I loved the fingerling potatoes as well. My friend’s skirt steak was cooked as ordered, matching her expectations of medium rare – a little more red than pink and warm in the center. It came with an arugula pesto sauce and a fresh mushroom and onion tartlet that was flaky and delicious. I did not taste Rob’s striped bass, which came with what looked like yummy (for lack of a better word) creamy polenta, but he tasted my trout and said that his fish was better. I doubt that.

The food was so good that our mothers would have been proud.  We all finished everything on our plates! I’m not kidding – there was not one morsel of food left over, and the dishes may have been confused in the kitchen for being clean…

Finally for dessert, Jamie & Jeff ordered a chocolate espresso tart with coffee ice cream, Rob ordered the vanilla panna cotta (a creamy gelatin-based Italian dish) with sautéed bananas, and I ordered a trio of sorbets. Well, sort of a trio, I switched out one of the sorbets for the homemade cinnamon ice cream. I am a fanatic about cinnamon, which brings me to my absolute favorite part of the meal – pathetic I know – the homemade cinnamon biscotti that is only served with a cappuccino. Every time I eat out I secretly hope for cookies to be on the dessert menu, or at least for a plate to come out with the coffee. That is all I ever really want, a nice, simple, crunchy cookie. Which explains my excitement when I eyed the lovely cinnamon-swirled temptation on my husband’s cappuccino plate, proceeded to eat half of it, and then had to order a cappuccino just to have one whole biscotti all to myself. Yum, again…

Overall, we had a wonderful experience. The dishes were inventive and flavorful, without being overly complex. The menu is varied and changes often with a few signature dishes. The ingredients are fresh and as locally grown or sourced as possible. The staff was attentive, friendly and knowledgeable, which must come as a direct result of the owner, who clearly loves to circulate and earnestly cares about his patrons’ dining experience. Oh, and the prices? Pretty reasonable, considering we had 4 appetizers, 4 entrees, 3 desserts and 3 coffee drinks for $55 per person including tax and 20% tip.

Table 8
615 Bloomfield Avenue, Montclair, NJ 973.746.2233

Tracy Goldenberg began her career in writing/marketing in the financial services industry. She has since explored different alternatives for her many talents, and is currently latching on to the green-living machine. Undergoing an extreme mid-life career crisis, she figures food and wine (and of course exercise) will carry her through. She has always lived by the motto “work hard play hard”.