After decades of Americans shying away from eating out with strangers, communal tables are catching on -- outside of church basements. The trend started on the coasts and is filtering into Madison. Communal dining is all about sharing the adventure of food, community building and meeting new people. Perfect for the age of Obama.
L'Etoile is launching "Second Tuesdays for $22," communal meals focusing on local ingredients and classic American menus, held in the evening in the Café Soleil space below the main restaurant. The first is a barbecue on February 10, with pulled pork from Willow Creek Farm, macaroni and cheese made with Hook's cheddar, coleslaw, cornbread and blueberry cobbler with vanilla ice cream.
Chef Tory Miller sees Second Tuesdays as a relaxed experience meant to sweep away the "special occasion" dining aura often associated with L'Etoile. The meals underline his philosophy that good local food should be accessible to a wide range of diners.
The following months' dinners will spotlight corned beef and cabbage, Southern fried chicken, and rustic Italian cuisine. For reservations, call 608-251-0500. Tables are available between 6 and 7 p.m., with various seatings.
Capitol Square cheese emporium Fromagination has a new communal "farmhouse" table where diners can partake of fondue every Wednesday noon throughout February. Wisconsin's Roth Käse cheese will be the base of the fondue, with baguettes, Nueske's summer sausage and cornichons (tart pickles) at hand for dipping. Seatings are at 11 a.m., 12:15 p.m. and 1:15 p.m.; $15/person.
Where on earth has narrow Fromagination managed to squeeze in a table? The somewhat wider rear of the shop has been transformed, with a former shelf and sample area having made way for a place to sit down and share the Swiss bread-and-cheese meal.
Fromagination will also have two evening fondue dinners in February. Wisconsin cheesemakers Mike and Carol Gingrich of Pleasant Ridge Reserve and Felix Thalhammer of Capri Cheese will be on hand for the first on Feb. 13; the second dinner is slated for Feb. 27. Dinner is at 6:30 p.m., cost is $35/person and reservations are required (608-255-2430).
For more on communal tables:
- Frank Bruni on the etiquette of communal tables, from the New York Times
- A list of restaurants offering communal dining, state by state, from solodining.com
- Ten great places for solo diners to pull up a chair, from USA Today