I have worked in food service for twelve years. Apart from basic functions like sleeping and breathing, my commitment to restaurants has been second only to my education. My last stint as a server landed me at a prominent local foods restaurant in Portland, Oregon, which is why I jumped at the opportunity to review a place equally dedicated to using seasonal and local ingredients – Ten Tables Cambridge.
The arrival of a foodie friend provided ample excuse to ignore my student budget. I made reservations several days in advance at the Cambridge location, which is the second of three Ten Tables outposts. The original location is in Jamaica Plain, while its most recent branch was opened earlier this year in Provincetown. All three establishments are guided by the same farm-to-table principles, but run by different chefs.
We were very late for our reservation, but the hostess led us to our table immediately. Located in the semi-basement of an apartment complex on the outer edges of Harvard Square, the space is dark but cozy, and reminded me of the homey feel of Alice Waters’ acclaimed restaurant Chez Panisse.
The menu was varied yet succinct in the actual number of dishes. Our server, Amy, answered all of our questions with ease and helpful detail. Following a lengthy period of deliberation, we chose three appetizers and two entrees: a farm fresh salad, house-cured Ventresca (tuna belly), rabbit terrine, salt-cured cod, and the ‘Chou Farci’ Berkshire pork.
The salad of Equinox Farm lettuces with watermelon, dill, French Feta, and pistachio arrived shortly after placing our order and was thoughtfully divided for two. Chef David Punch perfected the ratio of salad components. Each bite offered a cornucopia of flavors and textures – sweet, salty, creamy, crunchy. Thankfully, the composition paid sufficient homage to the incredible flavor and freshness of the greens themselves. And the dill provided a unique twist to the classic watermelon-feta-mint combination.
The house-cured Ventresca also offered a spectrum of sensations. Traditional tuna salad pales in comparison to this dish, which contained cranberry beans, celery, parsley, lemon, olive oil, and pickled Jimmy Nardello peppers. The fatty tuna was well complemented by the beans’ creaminess and lively acids from both the lemon and the pickled peppers.
Albeit richer than our first appetizers, the terrine’s mild gaminess was an ideal transition into the entrees. The cod, which was surrounded by a colorful ragout of tomato and sweet onions in a small gratin dish, was buttery and firm. A garnish of clotted cream helped to marry the myriad of flavors. Mini rye toasts alongside the dish were schmeared with a vibrant Romesco sauce. I would have preferred the Romesco on the fish itself, but the separation added dimension and contrast to the dish.
The Chou Farci, a traditional French stuffed cabbage dish, was far more one-dimensional than the cod. Nevertheless, the quality of the Berkshire pork was beautifully showcased through both the succulence of the actual meat and the intense jus that sauced the plate. Monotony was successfully bypassed through the addition of faro, which added wonderful nutty flavors and a refreshing toothiness to the dish.
The signs of satiety had begun at some point during the entrees but we could not resist dessert. We ordered the Greek panna cotta with raspberries, saba, and pistachios as well as a scoop of Thai basil ice cream. Needless to say, the quality of the food was consistent from the first bite until the last.
The meal was nothing short of impressive but the highlight of the evening occurred when Chef Punch arrived at our table to greet us personally. Rarely have I seen this happen, as chefs oftentimes lack interest, time, social deftness, or some combination of the three. Punch defied my stereotype and spoke to us with surprising cordialness about the evolution of his career at Ten Tables, which began at the JP location and transformed into his current position as chef and co-owner of the Cambridge branch.
After three hours of superb cuisine and seamless service, we had maxed out both our stomachs and our wallets. The bill – including a bottle of champagne, three appetizers, two entrees, and two desserts – totaled $148.
The experience at Ten Tables reminded me that while we reserve nicer restaurants for special occasions, the best create them.
Ten Tables Cambridge
5 Craigie Circle
Cambridge, MA 02138
Vegetarian: Vegetarian options available on menu as well as a vegetarian tasting menu
By: Julia Raymond
Julia is a first year Nutrition Communication student at the Friedman School. She enjoys food and cooking, traveling, the New York Times, and a daily dose of inspiration from TED.com.