The magic number

Old-fashioned dining and service at the intimate Six Tables

Max Jacobson

Chef Roland Levi comes right out of Central Casting, and his little jewel of a restaurant, Six Tables, comes right off the set as well. It’s a one-of-a-kind concept that you’d think would be everywhere but isn’t. It’s also the sort of place someone opens when a friend says, “Gee, Steve, you sure are a great cook.” The difference is, Roland Levi is a trained pro, not a passionate amateur on a lark.

Levi, who has cooked for presidents, prime ministers and kings—Margaret Thatcher is one example—has already made a success of this concept in Dunedin, Florida, but took more than two years to get the door open here. He performs the kitchen chores, while his wife, Gail—the woman responsible for the sound system, service and décor—takes care of the front of the house. It’s the typical monsieur et madame formula you find in the chef’s native Belgium. But here the food is more retro than in Europe.

So is the décor. Both my wife and I gasped audibly when we got a load of the swank appointments in Levi’s postage stamp-size operation: bone china, gilt-edged stemware, cloth curtains blocking the outdoor glare, elegant purple-and-gold screens and tables set in gleaming white linens.

The only thing missing during our prix fixe, set-menu dinner was the chef’s wife. She is almost always there, but on that evening had been called away for a family emergency. And so the chef was a one-man show, performing both the cooking and service, which he did with aplomb.

His first task was to pour us a glass of champagne and serve that evening’s amuse, a grilled scallop sauced with a Pernod reduction. Then he introduced himself to the restaurant’s customers that evening. “My name is chef Roland,” he said, in an accent that sounds both French and Dutch, the two languages of his native country.

He then explained what the menu, which includes a soup, a salad, a palate-cleansing sorbet, a main course, a cheese plate accompanied by a glass of port and dessert, would be that evening. “Take your time eating,” he told us. “I have to be here anyway. I have another seating at 2 a.m.”

He was kidding, of course, although the point was taken. One of the major differences between European and American fine-dining establishments is that in Europe, when you book a table in one of these places, it’s yours for the evening. In America, restaurants do volume and depend on turning the tables. That’s not going to happen here. Levi is quite old-school, and he insists on one seating only.

The soup was a clam chowder, a deliciously creamy version laced with bacon and tiny clams, and when I informed him that madame didn’t eat shellfish, he whipped up for her a puree-of-butternut-squash soup that was the chowder’s equal. On the table, there was also a bread basket filled with hot homemade bread, a crunchy loaf laced with French herbs. It all seemed too good to be true.

Then came a salad with the chef’s own dressing, a creamy dressing redolent of chervil and tarragon, two of the herbs in the bread. When I asked the chef what he used to make it, he just smiled and shrugged. It’s a dressing worth taking a risk for, I can tell you that.

A lemon sorbet in a crystal tulip followed, and then a rather long lull while we waited for our main course. The next table had chosen chateaubriand, a fancy cut of beef, but we opted for rack of venison and rack of lamb, the other two choices available that night. We were not disappointed.

My venison was magnificent, although the classic green peppercorn sauce, brown sauce with divine heaviness, made it all seem a bit much. My wife’s lamb was considerably less filling, crusted with those same good green herbs that this chef loves. The garnishes were crusty rounds of oven-baked potato, buttery carrots and braised Belgian endive, all terrific and ideally suited to the meats.

We barely had room for the cheese course, a plate of ripe brie and tangy Spanish manchego, with a red wine-poached pear on the side, and a splash of tawny port in our glasses. Dessert turned out to be profiteroles, although the chef refers to them as Belgian cream puffs, a partially frozen confection swimming in a fruit sauce. Coffee is offered, as well, but we declined. A man’s gotta know his limitations.

Levi tweaks his menus here and there. I hear he makes a great lobster bisque, and for dessert, a mean chocolate mousse. He also serves fish in season, which he procures from Whole Foods Market, which he says has “the best fish in town.”

Meals are by reservation only. Six Tables is just the ticket for a special date, birthday or good, old-fashioned celebration. The classics, we should remember, never go out of style.

Six Tables

2110 N. Rampart Blvd. 256-2060.

Dinner only; one seating at 7 p.m. nightly.

Prix fixe dinners are $80 per person, including complimentary champagne

and port.

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