After knowing about the existence of layouts I went ahead I gave it a try and voila I got rid of tables:
1. Assuming liferay was installed in ~/liferay:
./create.sh 3-column-with-divs "3 Columns with divs"
2. Edit file ~/liferay/plugin/layouttpl/3-column-with-divs-layouttpl/docroot/3_column_with_divs.tpl
3. Install the layout:
4. Now from the Liferay Server login with a proper account and select your newly created layout. Drop simple portlets like "Dictionary" and "Sign in".
5. Take a look at the source code to confirm no tables are doing any layout. If you get any tables they are coming from specific portlets.
Most of the back-end developers that are forced to do look and feel themselves still use tables and so do not expect many out of the box portlets with good separation of concerns even though in year 2009 it should be clear that tables are just to present tabular data.