SOUTH PARIS, Maine — A restaurateur in this western Maine town plans to open a Sunday dining experience that he hopes will become the next destination to bring food lovers out of the city and into rural Maine.
It won’t serve the comfort food typically expected in rural Maine. In a trial run before its full opening in January, chef Alex White of Table X served seven courses, including salmon with watercress and apples in a dashi dressing. One of the favorites among diners was the cappelletti with parm fondu, a pasta dish that includes hazelnut bagna cauda with anchovies, garlic, olive oil and chili flakes.
There’s a mystique component to Table X. Diners won’t know specifically what they will be eating until they are served.
“Table X can change people’s idea of what dining could be,” said White, who will create the menu and dishes for Table X. “We’ll give guests a lot of what they don’t know they want. You can change someone’s life through food.”
He said one person eating the cappelletti pasta commented that she liked the hint of salt in it.
“I told her it was the anchovies,” he said. “She said she didn’t like anchovies but liked the cappelletti.”
He describes Table X as having a tasting menu format with smaller dishes and high-quality ingredients that are sourced locally. He said the seven courses will fill the diner.
Behind the venture are White and Dr. Myung Kim, a self-described foodie who owns X Vault Pub & Provisions, the South Paris restaurant hosting Table X. Kim is also a dentist whose practice is above the restaurant.
White, 27, was raised in the Oxford Hills area that includes South Paris. He has worked under chef Andrew Carmellini, a James Beard award winner and owner of The Dutch restaurants in New York and Miami. He also has worked under well-known chef Barbara Lynch at French-Italian restaurant Menton in Boston.
High-end meal at a good price
Kim and White share a love of dining out at the best restaurants in the country. Kim said he was inspired by another rural Maine restaurant, The Lost Kitchen in Freedom, famous for its reservations made by notecard.
“Our major goal with Table X is to provide our patrons with an incredible edible journey for that evening using local resources and chef Alex’s creativity and passion,” Kim said.
Matthew Crandall, a local businessman who put together Table X’s website, attended the Nov. 3 dry run of Table X along with Kim’s dental office staff.
“The food was incredible, a step above Portland,” Crandall said. “It’s worth the trip to try this.”
His highlight dish was the cauliflower soup.
“I talked about it for three days. The presentation was unique and the flavor was rich and creamy,” he said. “There was grilled cauliflower on top that gave it an incredible crunch. And it had a hint of truffles and spices.”
Crandall also liked that White came out of the kitchen to talk to the diners before most of the courses to explain his thinking on creating them and their heritage.
“We were talking about food and thinking about what we were eating,” Crandall said.
Table X takes prepaid reservations online or by emailing the chef. Each Sunday a total of 35 diners spread over two seatings will pay $75 for a seven-course meal, including salad, canapes, bread, soup, fish, an entree, two desserts and four tasting glasses of wine.
Diners can let the chef know in advance if they have any food restrictions. A vegan evening is being planned.
Table X will be open Dec. 8 and Dec. 29 before opening all Sundays in January.
An early passion for cooking
White said he got his taste for food from his adoptive Italian mother, and ate lobster and caviar as a young child.
“I was always cooking,” he said. “I was big and fat until I turned 16,” he said. “But then I turned to healthy eating and lost the weight.”
His interest in becoming a chef heightened when he took a culinary arts program at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School.
White met Kim during high school. The two met again later while attending the same church and laid the plans for X Vault, a restaurant Kim started with a former partner in 2016 and where White was head chef.
White initially studied law in college, but after five semesters, he realized he preferred to be a cook. He attended the culinary program at Johnson & Wales University in North Miami, Florida.
After working at The Dutch restaurant in Miami, he headed to Boston where he worked at acclaimed restaurant Menton. But he didn’t want to stay in Boston, which he felt was crowded.
“I took $5,000 and ate my way from northern to southern California,” he said. He dined in fine restaurants and tasted meals with different influences.
He then returned to the Oxford Hills area to first work at X Vault, and now to launch the Table X venture. He also has been commuting to Boston to learn more about wine from a sommelier in a restaurant in the North End.
Table X will use upscale china dishes. The other decor in X Vault is eclectic, with steampunk pendants and track lighting and a Moser safe as a centerpiece between the kitchen and the restaurant’s cherry and copper bar.
White said he hopes that, like X Vault, the Table X evenings will attract people from elsewhere in Maine and the United States.
“A lot of people from Massachusetts stop here, plus people come to the Oxford Casino,” White said. “People are hearing more about Oxford Hills.”
The restaurant also is on the way to Sunday River ski area in Newry.
X Vault and Table X are at 10 Market Square in South Paris near the intersection of routes 26 and 119.