My stab at being a restaurant critic: GO EAT AT 9 TABLES!

This isn’t my typical post, but I had a dining experience tonight that I want to share. If you are ever in Athens, Ohio and want an all-around fantastic, supper club-like dining experience, go to 9 Tables (in the building where Mistretta’s used to be on Schafer Street.)

My parents and I went tonight and enjoyed every minute for over two hours. This place is a gem. It’s unique — reservations only and prix fixe five or seven-course meals all prepared before you in an open kitchen. The chef/owner Bill Justice tells you about the fresh ingredients, purchased that very day, and his methods.

Bill and his wife Suzanne Mitchell let us try a little bit of everything, all while filling our glasses with a bottomless bottle of wine and moscato.

9 Tables, which literally has nine tables, looked like it was closed as curtains covered the glass doors. However, the doors were unlocked and we entered a small, efficient, comfortable space — dimly lit, warm colors, soft jazz playing. (For my friends in Seattle, this place has the ambience of the old Asteroid Cafe, complete with a restroom on the other side of the kitchen even!)

But, let’s not mess around here. Ambience, service, wine aside, the food is the strength here and Bill is a master of the sauce.

We indulged on an appetizer of crostini with goat cheese and grapes. Creamiest, smoothest goat cheese I’ve ever had. Red pepper soup. Asparagus salad with a mustard cream dressing (that was fantastic!) Bill let us sample the main courses, so our servings were small, but we got all of them: Pork tenderloin with a bourbon-shallot glaze, crab cake with red pepper-garlic aioli, strip steak with bernaise sauce, penne with parsley pesto and shrimp. Then we sampled all three desserts: Chocolate torte, cheesecake with raspberry sauce, and (my favorite) creme brûlée.

Bill’s sauces were creative, unique and scrumptuous. Special note needs to go to the mustard cream dressing and, most especially, that bourbon-shallot glaze that included peppercorns. Heavenly. The steak was perfectly cooked and the bernaise sauce was deliciously understated with a perfect consistency (something with which I am always impressed since I can’t get it right for the life of me!) The red pepper-garlic aioli was refreshing while still full of flavor.

9 Tables is only open Thursday-Saturday at this point. Bill said he wants to keep it reservation-only so that it can continue to be a supper club-like venue — personal, slow (in a good way!), comfortable. The service is precise and personal, which may make for some tough sledding for this local, small business.

However, Athenians and guests at Ohio University now have the venue where they can experience high quality food and a unique, special environment.

Block off some time, make a reservation (740-707-4966 or athensfinedining@gmail.com) and sit back and soak in a dining experience.

I’m so glad I did.

(Damn, I had some pictures, but I can’t get them off my phone right now… will add them later.)

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