The Wooden Table serves fine Italian fare in an urbane and stylish setting
A lifetime ago, or so it seems, Jane Duncan Knauf and Brett Shaheen worked together at the late Sambuca Jazz Club in downtown Denver — he as sous-chef; she, general manager. Their careers took them in separate directions but both always worked downtown. She ended up as food and beverage manager at Magnolia Hotel. He spent five-and-a-half years in Frank Bonanno’s kitchens, first as chef de cuisine at Luca d’Italia and eventually as executive chef of the wildly successful Osteria Marco on Larimer Square.
Over the years, they stayed in close touch and often talked restaurants and food-and partnership. “After 11 years of running other people’s businesses, it was time to run our own,” Jane said. They kicked around a number of ideas before deciding they wanted to bring downtown flair to the southern suburbs where “there was nothing like that” she said.
On September 14, they opened The Wooden Table. Despite its shopping center location, it is sophisticated and upscale. The striking décor features gunmetal gray wainscoting and captivating framed black-and-white photographs hung on beige walls. And, yes, there are wooden tables.
The dining room’s centerpiece is a large rectangular table made of myrtle, surrounded by smaller tables topped with gleaming walnut. Against the back wall is a small bar topped with a single slag of cherry. Brett’s father-in law Jeffrey Hills, a retired dentist-turned-Taos-woodworker, made them all. The photographs in the manner of Ansel Adams are by Jane’s mother Deborah Milburn. The sound system infuses the room with mellow jazz but never intrusively. The sophisticated space invites adult conversation. No wonder the restaurant is popular both with local couples for “date night” and women who get together for midweek lunches.
Brett developed an Italian menu because that had become his culinary comfort zone and area of expertise. Although The Wooden Table is Brett’s first ownership experience, he knew something about recipe development because Bonanno always encouraged his chefs to take charge of their stations and write their own menus. He also remains a hands-on chef who would rather be cooking on the line than standing at the pass and dispatching food orders, a restaurant role he considers busy but boring.
Brett tries to use local vendors when practical doesn’t flaunt it. He adjusts the largely Italian menu seasonally but also tweaks it with new ideas. He is a stickler for scratch-made, including stocks and pastas, which are cornerstones of Italian cuisine. He also loves seafood. His killer frutti de mare crudo, a medley of marinated baby octopus, scallops, tuna and shrimp tastes of the sea, and mussels have topped the appetizer leaderboard practically since opening day.
Such filled pastas as tortellini and ravioli are customer favorites at lunch, as are scallops and duck at dinner. Desserts have mixed parentage, with Brett and others making what they do best. There are always seasonal tarts, and a sous-chef specializes in pots-de-crème. Jane, who handles the restaurant’s business end, dons a chef ‘s apron for her awesome tres leches cake for a Mexican accent to an Italian meal.
Suburbanites who are accustomed to chain restaurant prices (except chains on the order of Del Frisco’s) might experience some sticker shock, but then again, The Wooden Table serves topflight chef-crafted fare.