But there are also some unexpected twists hints that something special is happening here.
For starters, there are the starters. Where else in this town can you get pirogi? An enormous bowl of these potato-filled dumplings came topped with sautéed onions and accompanied by sour cream and sweet and spicy sauce. It was the kind of dish that carves a place in your memory; one morning you wake up and know you'll never make it through the day without a pirogi fix.
Ditto for Tarasovic's sticky wings with maple chili-pepper glaze, which were unexpectedly sweet and tangy not at all hot, but delicious. Our table was fork-fighting over the opening course.
Food always comes first when I'm evaluating a new restaurant. An establishment may take a while to get its service legs, and tweaking the atmosphere from art to music to climate control can take a while as well. Even individual dishes may be polished. But it's the exception when a restaurant can improve its primary product through experimentation and reinvention. The concept has to be good from the start. Such is the case with the casual, high-quality offerings at Table 9. It's simple food without any fancy trappings to cover for lack of flavor or execution.
The Reubens were a prime example. Tarasovic offers four versions of the New York deli staple: Russian (with kielbasa), traditional (with corned beef), turkey and veggie. What is essentially an ethnic, grilled meat-and-cheese sandwich is a mediocre mess in many joints, but not here. The rye bread was crisp and golden, not too much butter. The sauerkraut was lightly grilled to bring out its essence, and good corned beef was thick-cut and piled high amid the melted Swiss and dressing. It's a satisfying lunch when paired with any of the homemade sides: coleslaw, pasta salad or a large grilled potato cake, all of which are tasty and fresh and make the $6-$8 price range a bargain.
The subs, from the Mosca (a slight variation on the classic Italian, served hot or cold) to the club, were straightforward and large for the price, but suffered from store-bought buns. This is one area in which a small sandwich shop needs to shine. As Zuppa demonstrates over in the Bottom, there is no substitute for baking your own bread if your artistic platform is the sandwich. Here's hoping that an upgrade is in the works.
In addition to the straight sandwiches, there are several quesadilla options and good all-beef hot dogs with all the trimmings from sauerkraut to chili and cheese and bacon. Daily specials, such as the open-faced meatloaf sandwich, extend the range of the small menu, as well.
Although I only counted eight tables inside the isosceles triangle that is Table 9 (with its already loyal neighborhood regulars, maybe they're counting the bar), each sported a good view of the adjacent park. The high, pressed-tin ceilings create the illusion of space, and the servers are attentive (a must in such a small joint) but relaxed enough to make a weekday lunch rush seem easygoing.
We stayed around to sample midday dessert. Chocolate ravioli with a white chocolate sauce and raspberry drizzle were too much to pass up.
As we exited after a second visit, Tarasovic's wife and children came in the side door. He looked up from his work to thank us for dropping in, and then greeted his family. They asked him how it was going. With the relaxed smile of a man in his element he replied, "Couldn't be better." S
Table 9 ($)
2001 Park Ave.
Monday-Thursday 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Friday-Saturday 11 a.m.-11 p.m.