In search of Mussels

Along with duck, one of my favorite dishes is well-prepared mussels. As Dr. Seuss might have written, I like them in a sauce, I like them on a plate, there is not a mussel that I hate. Since moving from the Gulf Coast, I have been hard-pressed to find comparable mussels, but venturing into Table 50 this weekend, I may have conquered my quest.

I have been to this downtown establishment before, but it has always been so loud that I could not carry on conversation with my fellow diners. I had a hankering for a nice glass of wine and a bowl of mussels, so I decided to give it another try. This time we reserved a table in the bar area in the hopes that it would not be so loud.

There was ample parking right in front of the restaurant and we were shown right to our table upon arriving. The hostess was extremely friendly and even told us about the specials. We settled in to look at the wine list and determine if the acoustics in the bar area were any better than the dining room. In fact, they were. I could hear my husband speak and there was not that overwhelming echo that happens in the dining room proper. This made me happy because I generally think the food is pretty good at Table 50.

Unfortunately, my blossoming happiness dissolved as we waited and waited for our server to come over. The bartender is responsible for the tables in the front of the restaurant, and usually that is fine because bartenders are generally consummate servers. This was not the case for us. The bartender stayed behind her bar chatting with her few customers and barely glanced at us. Finally, the hostess brought us water which prompted our server to head our way. We ordered a bottle of wine, the mussels (the ones that I had been dying to try), and the heirloom tomato and mozzarella plate. About 10 minutes later, the server came back and informed us that the wine we ordered was just in and they were chilling it down. I was skeptical, but my husband threw in that they probably had a chiller, and it would be ready quickly. Bless his heart; he is an optimist.

At this point, the server went back to her bar patrons, another bar table was sat and everybody not sitting at the bar was being ignored. About 15 minutes after she had left us, the server came back with a dripping bottle of wine. It had obviously just been shoved into some ice and upon touch was still warm. I then did something I never do, I sent the bottle back. I never do this because I feel it was my own fault for choosing something that I do not like and it is unfair to the restaurant to waste their stock. This was different. I had ordered a bottle and if she had conveyed the problems to me, I would have ordered something different to start with. We also went ahead and placed our dinner order not knowing when she would return.

Our appetizers arrived, and the mussels looked fabulous. They were a heaping bowl of nicely scrubbed, plump mussels floating in a delicious-looking broth. There were two architectural crostinis perched atop the mound of mussels, adding to the visual aesthetic. The tomato and mozzarella plate also looked fabulous. It had thick slices of plump tomatoes layered with fresh mozzarella and ribbons of fresh basil. On the bottom of the plate was a balsamic reduction and basil oil that was nicely sopped up with the tomatoes. The broth the mussels were in was divine. It had a silky, butteriness to it and a hint white wine and saffron. They were the mussels I had been longing for. Our wine arrived as we were diving in and it went well with our food choices.

Shortly after our appetizer plates were cleared, dinner arrived, or at least part of it. We had ordered the Seared Carolina Grouper with fire roasted polenta cake, lump crab, asparagus and cilantro bercy sauce, and two orders of the Duo of Duck with herbed spaetzle and fig gastrique. We ordered three plates, but only two arrived. The server explained that the kitchen had misread the ticket and the other duck was being cooked right then. Mistakes happen, so we went ahead and started with the first two.

The grouper was some of the best cooked fish I have had in Roanoke. It was flaky and tender. The asparagus was still slightly crisp as it should be served and the polenta cake was delicious. My husband and I sampled some of our daughter’s duck as we were waiting for our plate to arrive. The duo consisted of duck confit leg and seared duck breast. The duck, like the grouper, was expertly prepared. The spaetzle showed finesse also. It was firm and had flecks of herbs visible in its ribbons. The fig gastrique complemented the flavor of the duck perfectly. The portions were so large that we could have foregone the other duck order and almost did since we had just about finished the first plates when the other duck arrived. The server apologized and said the second duck would be on the house for our inconvenience and long wait. We thanked her and picked at the second plate. This time we tried the confit leg; it was wonderful. It had a crisp to the skin and the meat was uber-tender. We, unfortunately, had waited so long that we were too full to finish the dish.

Our server had not been back at any point to check on us, and now we began to stare down the bar in an effort to get her attention and close out. Finally, after we stacked our plates all up at the end of the table, she came over and asked how everything was. We requested our check. She came back fairly quickly with the check. At this point, we thought they were comping the second duck since it had been forgotten and took so long to arrive. We also had the debaucle with the wine at the beginning of dinner, so we checked our check to make sure it was correct. The server had given us a 50% discount on the duck and the new bottle of wine was $10 more than the original one we ordered. At $50 plus per person, we were not feeling much value for our money. We paid and left.

The other couple of times I have dined at Table 50, the service has been decent. I have never had such a bad dining experience that was completely the result of service. The food was delicious and the table at the front was comfortable and not too loud. However, I am not sure I will risk such a bad experience again just because the food is good. The mussels were delectable, the duck was divine, and on another occassion I had one of the most innovative appetizers I’ve ever experienced, but the sound issue is onerous and the service (at least this time) is ridiculous. If you do venture to Table 50, and they have the pulled pork with goat cheese in puffed pastry, get it. That is still one of the most memorable appetizers I have ever put in my mouth. The mussels are another rare find in Roanoke. All in all, I like the food but down the street is Horizon and I will probably just go there next time.

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