Isn’t it funny how sometimes things just fall into place? Just the other day, I was saying to Keith that Ten Tables was on my short list of restaurants to consider for my birthday. The next morning, Stephanie suggested a dinner there with our friends Amanda and Darlington. So two nights later, the four of us met up outside the postcard-sized restaurant ready to eat.
And ready to drink, apparently, since Ten Tables hosts a wine dinner each Tuesday night. The wines are generally connected by region; in our case it was Chile, but upcoming nights will be featuring Provence, Spain and “weirdo grapes.” It may have been for this reason that the Jamaica Plain restaurant was so crowded that we had to wait on the sidewalk, but it also might have been the fact that Ten Tables has, well, ten tables.
Even though we repeatedly told him that we were fine chatting in front of the sparkling windows, a member of the waitstaff insisted that we come inside. We were hesitant; I mean, Ten Tables is so tiny that if we were to wait inside we would be practically sitting in the other diners’ laps. What we didn’t understand was that he had something else in mind.
He asked us, “Would you like to wait downstairs?”
Since none of us had even known that there was a downstairs, we said yes out of sheer curiosity and followed him through the dining room, into the kitchen and down the steepest, shallowest stairs I’ve trodden outside of Yankee Stadium. We found ourselves in the stainless steel prep kitchen; the restroom, the walk-in and the cookbook library are all adjacent. As we took in the space and staked out a corner, the server uncorked a rosé. Soon after his leaving, Chef Dave Punch came barreling down the stairs looking for peas. Come to think of it, I don’t remember if he found those peas since he immediately began enthusing about The French Laundry Cookbook, calling it his personal version of porn. He was so full of energy and just plain funny, turning the well-thumbed pages so ardently that I thought a few were going to fly out of the spine. It was exciting to hear someone speak as passionately about food, especially since the man speaking would be preparing our dinner.
Soon after we were seated in the dining room and presented with our first course and first official glass of wine. Our plates were heaped with a salad composed of white anchovies, baby arugula, oranges and olives — a really lovely combination. Personally, I feel as though the anchovy has somehow got an undeservedly bad rap (in this country anyway, since they are wildly popular around the Mediterranean) but I’ve always had a special place in my heart for them. Their salty, briny flavor complemented the sweet orange and peppery arugula so well that I had to pace myself. The accompanying wine was a 2007 Santa Rita Reserva Sauvignon Blanc. I will be the first to say I have no special knowledge whatsoever when it comes to wine, but this was extremely smooth and citrusy so it was a really nice pairing with the salad.
Our next course (for the carnivores, I should say), was a bowl of swordfish chowder that was incredibly hearty and highly satisfying. I sopped up a few spoonfuls with a piece of bread, not even caring that I was making a mess. The paired wine this time around was another white, this time a glass of 2007 Casillero del Diablo Chardonnay, which I think I may have liked as much as I did based solely on the translation of its name: The Devil’s Cellar. How fantastic is that? (It should be noted that, at this point I was on my third glass of wine, and I’ve never been much of a big drinker.)
The third course was perhaps my favorite: Ten Tables’ Steak Tartare. It was my first official steak tartare; I’ve had I suppose what could be called the Armenian version — raw seasoned ground beef and bulgur rolled into bite-size balls. While I love the cuisine I grew up with, if I had been raised eating Ten Tables’ version… oh my. This beef was coarsely ground, which I suppose could be off-putting, but you know what? It was delicious: both savory and sweet, with the tiniest hint of salt. When spread upon a piece of crunchy buttered bread — nothing could have torn me away, not even the plummy 2007 Indomita Merlot.
The fourth and final dish was of course dessert, and it was such a lovely one at that: chocolate truffle cake. What was interesting was that our plates were placed in front of us with the points facing outward; Amanda immediately rotated her plate so that her slice’s tip aimed at her heart. The server gently explained that the center of a cake pan is the moistest, making it the section to savor. Savor it I promptly did, particularly the forkfuls I twirled in my dollop of Chantilly cream. If the cake’s presentation was interesting, then the companion wine was surprising: a 2007 Aresti Pinot Noir. I was expecting something like a muscat or an ice wine (though I don’t think ice wines are produced in Chile).
Prior to dinner, I had mentioned to my dining companions that the one grievance I had heard over the years about Ten Tables was its proclivity to serve smaller portions than other restaurants. As we ate, I couldn’t help but think that the complainers don’t understand the meaning of the word satisfaction. Which is exactly what I felt full that evening, aside from fantastic food.
And, as a fun exercise, I gave us the task of describing our meal in ten words, one for each of the restaurant’s tables:
- Amanda: “Tasty experiment: eating a slice of chocolate truffle cake upside-down.”
- Darlington: “Cozy conversation with subtle alcohol blurred edges and pleasing flavors.”
- Nayiri: “The funniest part was hanging out in the basement, drinking.”
- Stephanie: “Delicious wine, perfectly portioned courses prepared by a cute chef.”
597 Centre Street
Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts 02130