The Tin Table is up the creaky, wide, wooden stairs in Odd Fellows Hall on Capitol Hill. (The door is by Molly Moon's; to get there, follow the waffle-cone fumes.) At the top of the stairs, on the left, is the tatty grandeur of the Century Ballroom, where couples teleported from the past salsa or swing dance with varying degrees of assurance. If you can watch this for a few moments without being seized by a powerful emotion—a chest-compressing nostalgia, regardless of your own ballroom history—you, my friend, have a heart of stone.
People in the hall carry sneakers by their tied-together laces, having put on their dancing shoes. To the right, on the way to the Tin Table, is another doorway, different music, more couples moving in and out of view. And inside the Tin Table, frequent flurries of rhythmic clomping may be heard overhead; there's dancing upstairs, too. The barkeep says patrons sometimes complain. Such people should go somewhere silent and stay there. They would not be missed.
The Tin Table has a sparkling, see-through wall of antique stemware lined up on shelves, glassed in and glowing; on the other side is a lounge with room for two pairs, one threesome, and a few tiny tables to cram with food and drinks. The rest of the place—it's not large—uses a wooden-joist ceiling and exposed brick to good effect. It has the dim, private appeal of the Alibi Room (though that's underneath Pike Place Market, whereas this is hidden on a second floor). The bar, where people tend to eat as well as drink, is topped with weathered steel salvaged from one of the building's old fire doors, and so is the nominal table: a big square one for parties or communal seating. A few more tables hide around a corner. Then candles, a couple pieces of art, and there you have it.
The chef is Bo Maisano, who cooked at 1200 Bistro (a great dinner there lodged his name in my mind), then has been at the Madison Park Cafe (mostly known for brunch). The menu has a little bit of everything: pasta, fish tacos, a pulled-pork sandwich with fennel slaw (the latter as yet untested, but a good bet: Maisano's from New Orleans, and a few more Southern dishes would not be at all amiss). The uniting principle: extremely noteworthy value, with snacks and vegetable selections averaging around $7, and entrée-sized "Sea" and "Range" dishes from $7 to $15. These prices are akin to neighborhood favorites Cafe Presse, Boom Noodle, and (downstairs neighbor) Oddfellows Cafe, but those feel like cafeterias—albeit extrastylish ones. The Tin Table feels like a hideaway for a really good date (with well-made cocktail classics and a thoughtful wine list there to help).
The first couple dishes I tried at the Tin Table when it first opened in March were not at all compelling: pasty, bland salt-cod fritters (only $5, but still) and gnocchi with mealy roast chestnuts, bits of venison, and sage ($12)—gummy texture, underwhelming flavor. Disappointment kept me from returning until recently, and I am now kicking myself; almost everything's been a delight. For instance, last night, roasted baby carrots ($8) were slender, almost-still-snappy, and of different colors, with a restrained amount of oil, melting bits of goat cheese, and a scattering of halved grapes: simple goodness. A skewer of toasty hunks of house-made bread and chunks of fresh mozzarella doused in an unrestrained amount of olive oil with anchovy-herb bits ($7) was extremely rich, yet undeniably delicious. (Share it or you may end up preemptively full.) Halibut ($13) was pan-seared to a lemony crust, then laid over a springtime bed of fava beans, peas, asparagus tips, and bits of beet green: again, simple goodness. And Thai pork ribs ($12) were stacked like a not-that-small log cabin of meat, smoky with chilies, gingery sweet, and covered in a confetti of chopped fresh cilantro. The meat was tender, the serving was enough for two.
Other very pleasing dishes: octopus confit and garbanzo salad (all smoky-tasting courtesy of quite a bit of bacon, though the beans were just shy of creaminess, $12), a special of two seared scallops with a hint of truffle oil (a subtle surf-and-turf on a lemony fava-bean puree, $9), a very creditable burger (with sweet roasted onions, bacon, and cheddar, $12). The standout so far might be the steak frites ($15): two thick pieces of hanger steak with a plummy wine reduction, a glob of bacon–blue cheese butter (arguably overkill), arugula salad, and supercrisp, truffle-scented shoestring fries. It's a screaming deal. One failure: a dish of past-prime asparagus with soggy morels, a poached egg, Reggiano, and a lot of liquid standing on the plate ($12).
Maisano's beignets ($5) seemed a little chewy, as did the pastry for a profiterole ($5), but either would hit any sweet-tooth spot, as would an extracreamy espresso-flavored crème brûlée ($7). Selections from a dozen or so cheeses ($4 per ounce) from near and far would also make a fine conclusion.
Service can slow down when the place is full (which is regularly the case), but it's graceful nonetheless. Several of the staff are modern dancers, holdovers from when the Tin Table's room housed Stranger Genius Award–winning company Velocity. Landlord Ted Schroth bought the building in 2007 to renovate it and rent to higher-end tenants, forcing Velocity out. The company has a new space a few blocks away, and where the dancers used to make art, now they make money waiting tables. It's an arrangement that must feel bittersweet; the building's history is all around, closer than you think.