The Chef's Table on Main

At first glance, the menu at downtown Medford's newest restaurant — The Chef's Table on Main — seems an unfocused mish-mash of unrelated cuisines.

Privy to the menu before planning a visit, I prepared my husband for what many diners may view as an odd assortment of choices.

"This is a weird menu," was Will's first comment.

But apparently there is a method to the madness. Calling his month-old establishment an "intercontinental dinner house," chef and co-owner John Trapp said he planned his menu around dishes that, in his observation, are perennial food-service favorites. His previous experience includes cooking at Anna Maria Creekside and the now-defunct Samovar Russian Restaurant and Bakery.

That history explains the inclusion of beef stroganoff under the same "house specialties" category as grilled steak and salmon. Further down the page are lamb, beef and chicken kebabs, followed by a burger, eggplant Parmesan, spaghetti marinara and fish and chips.

Distinguishing himself from a few other nearby establishments, Trapp gives diners a choice of soup or salad and includes side dishes with each entree, none priced over $18.95. The trend, of course, in dinner houses is tending toward a la carte meals starting at $20.

Amazingly, for that price Trapp shops at the local growers market, incorporating a dose of organic produce into his cooking. At $18.95, a halibut special prepared with butter composed of Oregon truffles purchased at the market was one of the highest-priced offerings on the weeknight we visited. I ordered the eggplant Parmesan for $12.95.

As we were the only ones in the restaurant, Trapp's wife, Tiffani, was faultlessly attentive as server. A basket of rosemary-spiced bread arrived almost immediately, still warm from the oven, followed by a pitcher of water. She thoughtfully deviated from the usual presentation of the eggplant, delivering my salad ahead of schedule with Will's.

The salads were a vibrant, springy mix of baby kales and chards, enlivened with homemade croutons that, while a tad oily, cut the greens' bitterness. The homemade marionberry and house vinaigrettes were superb.

Trapp offers five salads, ranging in price from $4.95 for the house to $9.95 for a sesame, garlic, tri-tip steak concoction. Meatless salads can be transformed into main dishes for an added cost of $3 for chicken or $4 for salmon.

While the reasonably priced salads combine enough ingredients to appeal to a range of palates, the appetizers, by contrast, seem one-dimensional and over-priced. Neither sauteed mushrooms, blue cheese-stuffed jalapeños, pan-seared oysters nor chicken strips could entice.

I was slightly intrigued by the onion-battered green beans ($6.95) but knew Will wouldn't agree to a deep-fried starter. Maybe next time.

Considering that so many of the appetizers are breaded, I was a little thrown that my eggplant was not. Attractively served in a gratin dish under a sauce of roasted vegetables, including lots of carrots and celery, this seemed a healthier version of eggplant Parmesan and didn't disappoint flavorwise.

The earthy flavor of truffles was a subtle accent to the halibut, which nevertheless was cooked perfectly. A predictable vegetable medley of summer squash benefited from the addition of asparagus. The dish also came with a choice of rice pilaf, potatoes or parsnip puree.

Perhaps because we skipped appetizers, Will was talked into dessert, a New York cheesecake with marionberries for $4.95. While not done in what I consider the New York style, the cheesecake was still lovely, creamy rather than cakey with a crumbly graham-cracker crust. Coffee was served in a single-serving French press.

The arrival of a second group of diners diverted Trapp's attention from our table.

"Was it fabulous?" one of the men asked as I tried to make a discreet exit.

Not fabulous, I would say, but worth a try. For those who want a sampling at a reduced price, check out Trapp's lunch buffet. The eclectic style at The Chef's Table is a welcome addition to the limited downtown lunch scene.

— Sarah Lemon

Correction: Lunchtime hours and days of operation have been changed in this review. An earlier version included incorrect information.

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