Resetting Mairin’s Table

Cooper resident and long-time chef Jonathan Locke in the kitchen at Mairin’s Table.

Photo by Jeremy Stratton

Cooper’s Jon Locke brings culinary craft to Old St. Anthony

First of all, let me start off by saying that I’m not pretending to pen a properly objective review of Mairin’s Table. In August 2007, my wife and I held our groom’s dinner at the East Bank restaurant; our cover was blown before we even walked in for dinner this January.

Owner Jennifer Schroeder was there to greet us, as usual, but we soon were in for a surprise: the “new” chef (in quotes because he’s been there since July) was none other than Jonathan Locke, a Cooper resident whose daughter Mary just completed an internship at The Bridge in December.

Locke’s connection to the paper goes even further back; in the 1990s, he wrote a column on barbeque and politics for the Seward Profile. They are essentially the same phenomenon, he said: “Both are composed of weak flame, lots of smoke and questionable meat,” he said.

Locke’s 35 years as a chef began in 1974 and include stints at Christo’s, the Dakota, the old Black Angus steak house, and Café Maisonette, a 28-seat restaurant in San Fransisco that he compared to Mairin’s Table.

“[Mairin’s] is small enough that I can have a relationship with the regulars,” he said. “And the control over the cuisine is very tight. At Maisonette, if there was a problem with the food, I knew about it. We’re in a fairly same situation here.”

Locke maintains his work as a food consultant through his company, FoodSense, but he gave a simple reason for his return to the kitchen: he wanted to cook.

“When you are a consultant, you are basically trying to find out precisely what the client needs and wants,” he said. “You don’t get to indulge yourself. [At Mairin’s], I get to play with food.”

That playfulness is reflected in the three-plus-year-old restaurant’s menu, which offered a solid foundation upon his arrival, according to Locke. “It was already a good menu, which makes my job easy,” he said. “We just streamlined it and tightened up the great dishes already there.”

Additions include zaalouk, a traditional Moroccan eggplant salad; prawns in a sauce of brandy, capers and homemade preserved lemon; and crab and fish cakes with cilantro and mint. The mainstays of the Morrocan/ German restaurant remain, including tagines of chicken, beef, lamb or vegetable; beef stroganoff; French onion soup (done right, by the way); and chicken marsala, to which Locke added figs and pomegrante syrup and seeds.

“I give him complete free rein back there,” said Schroeder of her new kitchen master.

Mairin’s offers daily fish and pasta specials; a $25, four-course tasting menu on Wednesday nights; half-price bottles of wine on Mondays and Tuesdays; and a “Moroccan Night” the first Saturday of each month, with authentic food and traditional belly dancing.

Unchanged is the intimate atmosphere in the dining room, which can seat 45–50 people “with no table more than thirty feet from the fireplace,” notes Schroeder in a recent press release.

Finally, to truly throw objectivity out the window, the restaurant was a perfect spot for a 45-person groom’s dinner. Schroeder closed the restaurant for the private party without the hoops, fees and racket that come with so many aspects of the wedding experience.

As we sat down to dinner, the setting summer sun peeked through a west-facing window, illuminating only the bride-to-be in an isolated ray like a golden spotlight.

“Oh, we did that on purpose,” joked Schroeder a year-and-a-half later.

Mairin’s Table
23 NE Fourth St.

last revised: September 2, 2009