Ten Tables Garners Ten More Visits
A cave-like “hole-in-the-wall” restaurant in an out-of-the-way Cambridge neighbourhood is hardly anyone’s idea of basking in the glamour of Boston’s revered fine-dining scene. Then again, it’s all about the experience, and Ten Tables Cambridge is set to prove everyone wrong – it’s all about the surprise.
Step in through the door through the hush-hush alleyway of Craigle Circle and be greeted by a bombé of warm lighting, boisterous chatter, and a beaming restaurant manager. After all, inside the restaurant hardly screams fine-dining with dark parquet floors, whitewashed walls, black Van-Gogh inspired lacquered chairs, Spartan furnishings, a centrally displayed chalkboard of the daily specials, and – gasp – way more than ten tables (at actual count there were actually 13 during our visit).
Ten Tables Cambridge’s menu comprises of dishes that are locally sourced and organic. Some dishes in the set-lunch change on a weekly basis while the a la carte menu stays the same for at least a few months. Those who are adventurous should partake on the restaurants’ more nouveau dishes, but they do make an effort to keep things simple and elegant, such as the roasted beet salad and the equinox farm Organic mesclun greens. Although most typical vegetarian salads rarely hit the glam-factor, the beet salad is a must-try with its complex yet focused flavours that hit all areas of taste buds (excluding spicy). At less than $10 each, the salads are almost a steal.
If one is looking for more unique, calorie-induced appetizers, there is certainly the roasted bone marrow with fried capers, parsley, cornichons and toast points; unfortunately, while flavourful, the marrow came undercooked, leaving some of the fat un-rendered. Even the grain mustard and the parsley fail to alleviate the cloying mouthfuls that leave one stuffed – albeit not in a very pleasant way.
But fret-not. The PEI Mussels with Piment d’Esplette is a worthy redemption: expect nothing of the gargantuan, rubbery and fishy freaks of nature known as frozen mussels and instead be treated to a tender yet al-dente melange of mussel accompanied by a light, frothy saffron cream that counterbalances the flavours of the protein and the baby spinach.
Mains fare even better. The pork shank arrives looking like a large hunk of almost blackened “hostile” (Nigella Lawson’s favourite word) meat with maroon and yellow-colored accompaniments. Upon closer inspection and a first bite, it tastes better than it looks (a trend which reversed itself after it dawned upon many restaurateurs that art on a plate equals a diner eating with his or her eyes). A fork would easily disintegrate the shank amongst some fibre and fat, and the mouthful is literally a melt-in-your mouth experience. It does get overly decadent toward the end, and so the maroon and the yellow serve its purposes: the sweet and sour red cabbage almost doubles as the more traditional red-wine and balsamic reduced onion compote while keeping it mellower, crunchier, and subtly acidic to cut the richness of the beautifully cooked meat. And the pale yellow, a silky smooth celery-root apple puree is almost a worthy substitute to Joël Robuchon’s fondly revered whipped potato (thrice-mill-processed), minus the all the butter, milk and those guilt-filled calories.
While it seems everything has soared to a high it hovers back to a low, with the uninspiring pan roasted bavette of flank steak that, quite literally, comes with all the strings attached. Although it is not in any way overcooked, the fibre of the meat parches up to a dry texture that induces awkward conversation pauses with drawn-out chewing exercises. Perhaps the far more worthy aromatic, crispy fries are there to make it less of a chore to finish the beef.
Those wishing for milder flavours and a representation of their sourced ingredients should look no further than the Portuguese-Style Fisherman’s Stew, which consists of clams, potatoes, aioli and fresh herbs. A worthy title of posh-fisherman’s stew, the dish has a clean and elegant character of its own with a clear consommé that takes in flavours of the sea and the herbs. Naturally, the clams are not the least bit-overcooked but the flaky potatoes scream for their waxier counterparts. Even then, the starch addition might seem a little bit too barbarian-fisherman-esque – not quite the original intention of the dish here.
At only $8, the desserts are good values considering every effort is made to make each dish unique. Indeed, the chocolate terrine comes with sea salt and a Thai basil ice cream, the cheesecake spiked with black pepper, and the honey-poached pear with saffron. In all cases, they all are satisfyingly memorable, the terrine being a standout with a bittersweet after-taste spliced with almost herbal yet subtle oriental notes coming from the basil. The cheesecake with black pepper isn’t actually as inane as a chilli-chocolate desert, so go for that too.
With a 27/30 on the ZAGAT Restaurant guide, the title of “Best in Boston” by the city’s magazine, Ten Tables Cambridge is an experience not to be missed. Whether it be a celebration of sorts or a depression-induced urge for good food, this establishment is sure to satisfy with quality that cannot get any cheaper. After all, it’s better to just binge on edible food.
Ten Tables Cambridge
5 Craigle Circle
Cambridge, MA 02138