By Tuesday, I had been sweating constantly for at least three days straight. The heat finally broke last night with a couple quick rainstorms. On Tuesday, though, we were still in the thick of the 90 degree days with no end in sight. It was a long day: I rushed from work to band rehearsal with a heavy backpack containing my giant camera, my flute, and other assorted useless weight. I left band practice early, still lugging around the giant bag, and I walked quickly towards my next destination as an incoming rain storm began dribbling lightly. The destination? The inaugural Mystery Meet, a foodie prix fixe dinner with a location that remains a secret until a few days before the event. In the prior weeks, three clues hinted at the restaurant, which was eventually revealed to be the Cambridge location of Ten Tables. Even knowing the restaurant didn’t eliminate all the mystery: the location is well-hidden, extraordinarily tucked away on residential Craigie Street in the basement of an apartment complex. More mystery: who would be there? Would I end up alone in a corner awkwardly talking to no one? (Answer: Yes, for a little while as we waited for a table. Later on, no.) What are we eating? (I knew it would be a four-course tasting menu featuring local ingredients, and I knew it’d cost me $40, but everything else was a surprise.)
As I desperately searched Craigie Street for street numbers, Michelle (Fun and Fearless in Beantown) and her fiance, Bret, exited a cab nearby, and we headed in together to find Megan (Delicious Dishings, Meghan (Travel Eat Love), and Kristen (Indulge Inspire Imbibe). While the name “Ten Tables” is a slight underestimate of the Cambridge location, it’s really not far off. This place is absolutely tiny and rather claustrophobic on a hot summer’s night when I’ve already been sweating for three days straight. After 15 minutes or so, 17 or 18 Mystery Meeters were crowding the minuscule waiting area, and we were all wondering where we’d fit. The acoustics lead to a loud, echoing chaos when the restaurant is full, and I quickly grew restless. Finally, a table cleared out, and seven of us sat down. I dined with Michelle, Bret, Megan, Meghan, Kristen, and Justin. (Two more tables were seated much later. For future events like this, it’d be great if we could all sit down together, but in a place the size of Ten Tables, I can see how that’d be a logistic nightmare. The three tables didn’t get to interact very much.) I’m not sure whether problems were on the restaurant’s end or Mystery Meet’s end, or both, but we did have to wait for awhile after our reservation time.
Service started out a bit shakily. (One of my fellow diners described our waiter as “surly” on a post-meal Twitter update. I’d agree, although he livened up a bit later on in the evening.) There were very long waits between courses and we were often left with empty water glasses and empty plates for a bit too long. As the restaurant emptied out, though, timing and moods improved.
While some diners got tasty-looking cocktails like the KK (passionfruit and ginger topped with champagne) and the artfully presented Gaston 76 (white lillet with cucumber and tarragon on the rocks), I stuck with water. We started out with some very tasty bread, although we never received bread plates, an odd omission for a nice restaurant. Fortunately (?) the white tablecloths were covered with brown paper - another odd feature for a nice restaurant - so we didn’t hesitate to use the paper as our bread plate. Some crayons would have been a nice addition...but seriously, there’s no excuse for nice restaurants to put brown paper on tables. It brings the whole atmosphere down a giant notch.
Course One: The Appetizer
Prosciutto Americano with asparagus, fava beans, shaved pecorino, toasted walnuts, breakfast radishes, and black truffle vinaigrette
For a dish that could easily have been too salty, the Prosciutto Americano restrained itself. The subtle sweetness of the walnuts and the bland beans balanced the sodium. (I’m just not a fan of fava beans; the texture weirds me out in the same way that chickpeas do.) While I initially found the combination of ingredients to be random, everything actually came together well, and each component (aside from the beans) tasted very nice, especially - surprisingly - the radishes. (I’m surprised because radishes usually don’t have much of an effect on me, good or bad.) I could eat a whole plate of shaved pecorino and toasted walnuts. We all cleaned our plates entirely on this course.
Course Two: The Fish
Pan-roasted cod with cucumber gazpacho, cherry tomatoes, and a zucchini-stuffed squash blossom
That last bit of the description might be off, but I think that’s how it was described. In any case, it was a flower stuffed with something. I was a bit disappointed when this course arrived as half the table got a different dish: Cape Cod bluefish with yellow Indian woman beans, sugar snaps, pea tendrils, and spicy Spanish chorizo sauce. I would have loved to try the spicy sauce. My dish surprised me, though, and I was satisfied after all: the cucumber gazpacho was light and fresh, the tomatoes were among the best I’ve had - exploding with flavor, and the fish was cooked perfectly - crispy on the outside, flaky on the inside.
The service began warming up somewhere around here, but maybe to a fault. All of a sudden three or four different people were checking on us constantly, asking how everything tasted. There must be a happy medium in there somewhere. I’m being overly picky, though. As a whole, the service was pleasant, so don’t let my minor grumblings turn you away from Ten Tables. (I get grumpy when I’m sweaty.)
Course Three: The Meat
Berkshire pork chops with chipotle and saffron over creamed corn
I’m fairly certain the server said the corn was from Ward’s Farm in my hometown of Sharon. Hooray! (Turns out Bret is also from Sharon, as is the boyfriend of someone else at the table, but I can’t remember who.) This course led to an interesting discussion of pork-eating and Jewish guilt (or rebellion). I grew up in a non-Kosher home where we wouldn’t cook pig products, but we’d eat them outside of the home, particularly bacon and sausage. None of us would ever order pork or ham as a main dish in a restaurant, though; it just seemed weird. (Now I’ll order anything.) Joel and I actually met on JDate, and for our second date - on Shabbat! - he cooked pork chops, which was a good indicator that we were on the same very-non-Kosher page. Ten Tables’ pork dish was worth any residual feelings of guilt: smoky, tender, and filling. The creamed corn was happily more corn than cream; it was too late at night to handle rich foods.
As we were finishing up the third course, Chef David Punch came over, drinking a can of PBR and checking up on things. “Welcome to my basement,” he declared, arms outstretched. He spoke to us about how he tries to focus on local ingredients, especially Allandale Farm (Brookline).
Course Three and a Half: The Palate Cleanser
Strawberry coulis with house-made buttermilk sorbet
“It’s like a frozen strawberry cheesecake,” said Justin. Cool, creamy, and fitting nicely in a shot glass, this was the perfect transition to dessert.
Course Four: Heaven
Chocolate terrine with sea salt and house-made Thai basil ice cream
There’s nothing to say about this dessert. It’s amazing; end of story. Chef Punch came back over while I was photographing this course to make sure I was getting a good angle. I appreciated that because it shows that he really cares about the presentation of his work, not only at the table but as it lives on in memories and reviews.
Despite getting off to a rough start, and despite the lengthy waits that persisted throughout, I really enjoyed my meal at Ten Tables. I can imagine feeling very cozy there on a cold winter night, watching through the small garden level windows as the snow falls delicately outside. I would never return with such a large group, though. When the restaurant name even reflects its small size, it’s a good idea to put it on the romantic date-night list rather than the big party list.
It was a pleasure spending time with some fellow food bloggers, most of whom I had never met in real life, and I look forward to the next Mystery Meet.