Cane and Table opened several months ago to much discussion among the craft cocktail set about the Cure team's Caribbean-inspired venture and its bar stocked with enough rum to make even the saltiest sailor feel as though he'd been sent to Fiddler's Green.
There would be drinks, of course. The impresarios behind Uptown lounge Cure — Kirk Estopinal and Neal Bodenheimer — would make sure of that. And those drinks would be painstakingly crafted from exotic spirits and esoteric ingredients (the orgeat and falernum syrups are made in house) by practiced hands.
Perhaps more interesting than the bar program, however, is the fact that Cane & Table represents the first real foray by the Cure folks into dining as well as mixology. Could the microscopic attention to detail they apply to drinks translate to a worthy menu as well?
The short answer is yes. Chef de cuisine Ean Bancroft, working with Company Burger's Adam Biderman, made a smart choice in designing a menu that satisfies but doesn't overreach. Cane & Table offers simple, island-style fare and flavors, in portion sizes meant to be shared, presumably as diners make their way through the cocktail offerings and the extensive spirits list. This is drinking food, if not drunk food.
Cane & Table fills an attractively renovated location on lower Decatur Street. The decor seems carefully designed to evoke a sense of the French Quarter of years past, with nakedly mottled walls and old-fashioned architectural accents (the lock on the restroom door is an iron bar the size of an adult's arm).
A recent meal began with drinks that included the Improved Bombo, which features navy-strength rum, Plantation five-year-aged rum, bitters, nutmeg and Curacao, and the Florida Natural, a lovely combination of sparkling wine with orange and vanilla shrub. As we sipped, a first snack plate arrived: perfectly puffed, crispy-fried pork skins with curried jerk seasoning. These are dangerously addictive, with just the right combination of salt and airy, fried fat. It took some effort to resist quickly polishing off the entire bowl.
Also among the small plates are cangrejitos, a take on the familiar crab rangoon, filled with Louisiana blue crab and served with General Joe's sauce. Like the pork skins, these were deftly executed, as were outstanding crispy rum ribs, which are coated in rice flour and fried. Generously portioned at five large ribs per order and served with papaya chutney, they are worth the $17 price.
Large plates, each served with a choice of two sides, are satisfying for the most part. The "grilled yardbird" — chicken thighs marinated with jerk seasoning — offered robust flavors, as did a version of ropa vieja, which in this case was tender, long-simmered skirt steak. Sides, including skillet greens, hoppin' John and sauteed tomatoes, are good though not exciting.
One misstep was the whole grilled fish. While cooked perfectly, it lacked the seasoning that makes the other dishes so satisfying. A whole fish should be sauced heavily to ensure there's sauce with each bite but this one was not. If only the kitchen had decided to incorporate the excellent aioli that accompanies fried tostones, the dish might have been a winner. Those looking for a quick bite should be forewarned: Leisurely (though friendly) service and a no-reservations policy ensure you won't be in and out in a snap.
Overall, Cane & Table succeeds in serving filling, flavorful cuisine that complements the bar program nicely. I'll be returning for more rum, ribs and pork skins, for certain.