Dinner at (the new) Ten Tables.

I’d been wanting to check out the new Ten Tables in Cambridge for a while.  I had visited the original Jamaica Plain restaurant at the end of the summer; the memory of that meal had stayed with me over the fall and winter, so when Keith suggested trying the recently-opened Harvard Square spot for dinner I immediately made a reservation.

Ten Tables, 1I started with the spring sorrel velouté with bacon, crème fraîche and a sprinkling of chives.  I chose the dish because I specifically wanted to experience the soup’s texture; a traditional velouté is one of the five “mother sauces” in French cuisine, and its name comes from the word for “velvety” — the perfect adjective to describe each spoonful’s mouthfeel.  Honestly, I think I have a pretty decent vocabulary, and still I can’t come up with a better word.  Flavor-wise, the smoky bacon and sweet, tangy sorrel were a fantastic combination, and the rich, slightly sour crème fraîche added even more lusciousness to every slurp.

Ten Tables, 2The follow-up to my starter was an adobo-rubbed bavette steak, frites and a ramp-infused aïoli.  When asked, I had requested that the meat be brought to medium-rare, which it was; in retrospect, I should have said something like, “Whatever the chef thinks is best.”   Don’t get me wrong — my steak was perfectly cooked, but the cut did not lend well for medium-rare.  Each bite was a challenge to chew, and its squishy texture made it difficult to cut… which was all too bad because it tasted wonderful.  We all know I’m a heat-baby, but the spice rub here balanced intensity and elegance exactly like The Tightrope Walker (which I saw in Chicago earlier this year).

Ten Tables, 3As soon as I spotted the chocolate terrine with sea salt and Thai basil ice cream on the menu, I knew I had to have it.  The terrine’s texture and taste were both reminiscent of an ultra-dense mousse — which made me incredibly happy, as chocolate mousse just might be my all-time favorite dessert.  Chewing was completely unnecessary, as each concentrated, chocolatey mouthful slowly melted on my tongue.

The ice cream was an utter surprise, oozing a refreshing licorice fragrance.  Normally I back away from all things anise, but this cold globe was the exception to the rule.  This I want to eat directly from the carton, in front of the open freezer, at three o’clock in the morning.  It was that good.

You might have noticed that I didn’t mark each course’s cost with its description; that’s because Ten Tables Cambridge runs a special on Sunday nights, the best evenings to stop by.  For $38.00, you can pick an appetizer, an entrée and a dessert from the menu.  Not a bad deal at all, particulary for food of this caliber.  After all, the restaurant is located in the basement space recently vacated by the old Craigie Street Bistro (now Craigie on Main on the fringes of Central Square), giving it some pretty big culinary shoes to fill, something I think it does excellently.

Ten Tables
5 Craigie Circle
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138
617.576.5444
tentables.net

Ten Tables on Urbanspoon

Café Round-Up: Peet’s Coffee + Tea.

Who: Peet’s Coffee + Tea
Where: Harvard Square, Cambridge.
When: Two hours in the early afternoon.
Ordered: Almond croissant and small latte for $5.52
Info: Not a lot of seating.  Classical music in the background.  I don’t get a seat at the bar or on a bench, and find the chairs very uncomfortable.  Consider bundling up coat and scarf to make a supportive pillow of sorts for lower back.  Very limited sockets.  End up sitting next to the bathroom in order to plug in.  Very high-traffic area — don’t want to breathe too deeply, especially when door swings open.  Am so uncomfortable I contemplate leaving without writing; instead reposition self so can spy on patrons sitting in Ideal Spot on a high bench next to a socket.  When they leave I shall swoop in.  Feel like a vulture.  Free wireless, but access code needed to log in.
Conclusion: Avoid if you plan to linger or get any real writing done.

Peet’s Coffee + Tea
100 Mount Auburn Street
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138
617.492.1844
peets.com

Peet's Coffee & Tea. on Urbanspoon

Lunch at Blackbird.

Friday afternoon found Keith and me in almost the same place as the night before, but instead of being at 615 West Randolph, we were at 619.  And  instead of sitting inside Avec‘s slick wood-paneled walls, we sat by Blackbird‘s sleek floor-to-ceiling glass window overlooking the street.

Blackbird is owned and operated by the same team behind Avec, but the parallels between the two restaurants mainly end there.  Both spots share an attention to detail, but it’s clear even from the sidewalk that Blackbird is Avec’s more sophisticated older sister.  While Avec is all edgy hard angles, Blackbird’s interior could only be described as, well, sexy.  It’s almost as if each surface craves human contact, particularly the soft gray banquettes.

Sexy or not, lunch is definitely the more economical way to experience Blackbird, where the dinner entrées average out at $32.50; the restaurant offers two different prix fixe menus alongside its à la carte choices.  You can select three courses from a set menu for $22.00, or spend $15.00 on a sandwich and a salad; for an additional five dollars, you can even get a glass of Blackbird’s featured wine.

blackbird-1Regardless of the special lunch deals, I ordered off of the regular lunch menu, mostly because one of the appetizers sounded too good to pass up: duck tartare with dried strawberries, A1 and tater tots ($14.00).

First of all, isn’t this the prettiest plate?  Second, a clarification: the A1 smears each encased dollops of strawberry preserves, and  were dotted with crumbled up bits of dehydrated strawberries.  It was not mixed with the tartare, which was probably the most surprising thing I’d eaten in a long time.  The first bite I took brought Asian flavors to mind — mostly sesame, specifically — but after that all I could think about was its marvelous texture and delicate taste.  In fact, I soon realized that I was sliding smaller and smaller amounts onto my fork, to make the tartare last that much longer.  When my plate was scraped clean, I asked for more detail on the tartare, and learned this: the following parts of the duck are roasted at a low temperature for four hours, then bound together with a housemade mayonnaise — breast, skin, and heart.  Now, eating heart didn’t and doesn’t bother me at all, but I did say to Keith that I found it interesting that this particular ingredient hadn’t been listed on the menu.  Should it have been?  Or is Keith right in saying that the sort of person who doesn’t mind eating a duck tartare probably wouldn’t mind eating heart?

But back to my dish…

I should take a second to say that the tater tots were fantastic.  Not too long ago, Keith and I ate at Cambridge’s Garden at the Cellar with our friend Melissa; the three of us discussed the restaurant’s tater tots.  They’re like deep-friend balls of mashed potatoes, I had said, to which Keith had replied, Isn’t that what all tater tots are? Melissa and I tried to explain that sometimes tater tots are made of shredded potato, which is exactly how Blackbird makes theirs.  Crunchily, saltily, perfectly so.

blackbird-2For my main, I chose the croque-madame, a grilled ham and Fontina sandwich topped with a fried egg and served alongside a substantial pile of pommes frites ($11.00).  I’m always so torn as to what to do with the egg on a croque-madame; I don’t know if it’s “proper” to break the yolk and let it soak messily into the toast, but that’s how I like it.  While the sandwich itself was very nice indeed, I almost felt sorry for it, as it had to follow as incredible an opening number as the tartare.  Personally I’m very familiar with having to play second fiddle, so in that regard I’m sympathetic to the  croque-madame, charming as she is, but at the same time I don’t know if anything on the menu could compare to my starter, I really don’t.

There’s a thoroughness at Blackbird that’s lovely to behold; Keith had a gorgeous little baby spinach salad with morels and white asparagus ($12.00) that was so beautifully composed that I wish I had a photograph of it to share with you.  Since I haven’t, I’ll just hope that those of you who can do drop by Blackbird.  Take advantage of the lunch menu, and pretend I’m there with you, praising each plate set in front of us.

Blackbird
619 West Randolph Street
Chicago, Illinois 60661
312.715.0708
blackbirdrestaurant.com

Blackbird on Urbanspoon

Café Round-Up: Carberry’s Bakery + Coffeehouse.

Who: Carberry’s Bakery + Coffeehouse
Where: Central Square, Cambridge
When: Two and a half hours in the late afternoon.
Ordered: Foccaccia with chicken, mozzarella, red onions and chipotle mayonnaise, and a bottled Diet Coke for $8.80
Info: Extremely quiet, Magic Lite FM playing in the background so softly I have my iTunes on the lowest volume and still all I hear is my own music.  Patrons are definitely on the older side — I would guess forty is the average age.  Wooden chairs have excellent back support though the metal tables’ textured surface takes some getting used to, especially if writing by hand.  Two of my favorite features are 1) the huge, bright windows which let in a great deal of light, and 2) the small customer-only parking lot.  Wireless situation unknown.
Conclusion: Good for writers who need a quiet, bright space.

Carberry’s Bakery + Coffeehouse
74 Prospect Street
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139
carberrys.com

Carberry's Bakery and Coffee House on Urbanspoon

Café Round-Up: Crema Café.

What: Crema Café
Where: Harvard Square, Cambridge
When: Three and a half hours spanning early morning to just before lunchtime.
Ordered: Toasted plain bagel with lox and plain cream cheese, and a latte with sugar-free vanilla for $8.51
Info: Extremely busy, though there are a few undesirable tables — wobbly, cramped, in tight corners.  The crowd doesn’t let up at all; there doesn’t seem to be a quiet period.  I pounce on a table near a socket but have to drag another table over since the one in the covetable spot is wobbly.  Very loud, what with customer chatter, background music and employees calling out names for latte pick-up, but I like the commotion.  Wireless limited to certain hours.
Conclusion: Only for those who don’t mind writing amidst hustle, bustle and preying on empty tables.

Crema Café
27 Brattle Street
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138
617.876.2700
cremacambridge.com

Crema Café on Urbanspoon

New Year, Old Thoughts.

I was walking down the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway not too long ago and found myself thinking again/as usual about Boston, and all the other places in the world where I could possibly be (Belize, Belarus, Belgium, Bahrain, Burundi, Bonaire).  Then I thought, The sun today is so pretty, shining just so, why can’t Boston be enough? So I decided, to keep me company as I warily made my way across the remaining patches of ice and snow, to make a list of things I love about this town (well, metro-area).   I came to Boston for a reason, after all, and have stayed for others, and when you’ve lived in one place for as many years as this it’s bound to leave its mark. I know that no matter where I go and where I end up, I’ll always have some sort of wanderlust hovering at the edge of my vision, almost the aura that zips along the corner of my eye just before I slip into a migraine — but without the pain.  Well, maybe not without the pain; it’s just different, when you long for something so much.  I just keep telling myself, Soon soon soon.  Hopefully it’s the truth.  Until then, this town is my home.

  • 90 Chestnut Street, my favorite building in all of Beacon Hill.  Next time I’m in the neighborhood (and when I have a working camera again) I’ll take a photo for you.
  • The back streets of Cambridge, and the literary history of the city.
  • Bloc 11, since it’s much easier to park in Union Square than it is when visiting its sister coffeehouse, Diesel Café, in Davis.
  • The Brattle Theatre, where I don’t watch movies often enough.
  • Commonwealth Avenue Mall, especially the portion between Exeter and Dartmouth Streets, where I shot my first student film with a 16mm Bolex.
  • The double-door brownstones in the South End, because they’re so stately.
  • Good, the gorgeous and pristine boutique on Charles Street selling such wares as John Derian découpage items and Satya jewelry.
  • Grub Street, where I’ve taken countless helpful and encouraging writing workshops.
  • Forest Hills Cemetery, which is both free to visit and incredibly beautiful.
  • Formaggio Kitchen, because — let’s face it — I just can’t live without cheese.
  • Janet Warner at Salon Marc Harris on Newbury Street, who has been cutting my hair and making me laugh since 2003, and doing a damn good job at both.
  • Porter Square Books, because sometimes it’s nice to actually buy a book in a store and not just at Amazon.
  • The view of the Charles from the roof of 132 Beacon Street, a sight I’ll probably never see from the same vantage point again since the building is currently being renovated into luxury condominiums.
  • Volle Nolle, the makers of the some of the best sandwiches in all of Boston.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.

I remember the first time I had read The Handmaid’s Tale — I was twelve, I was at my grandparents’ house in the Philippines, and I had found a beat-up copy amongst my mother’s things. My mother’s books were always forbidden to me, mostly because she read (and still reads) the sort of literature that includes a lot of bodice-ripping, flashing eyes and strong, muscular arms. There was something about the cover of Margaret Atwood’s novel, though, that I couldn’t resist, and for about a week or so, I would sneak-read it whenever I stole a chance. I ended up smuggling the book back to the States with me, buried deep within my T-shirts and shorts.

For me, The Handmaid’s Tale has held up over the years; its dystopian and distant future always makes me think about what we consider to be important and how much of that actually is expendable. The novel, interestingly enough, takes place in Cambridge and Harvard Square, areas I never imagined at age twelve that I would eventually become intimately familiar.

Atwood tells the story of a mother who has been — over the course of a short period of time and an internal war within the United States — separated from her young daughter and husband, who may or may not be dead. She goes through what I suppose could only be called behavioral rehabilitation so that she can learn her new role in society, and what it means to be a handmaid. In the story, some women have somehow become barren, making children especially precious and valuable. The narrator and her equals are used for reproduction; they are the few whose ovaries are still viable, and are allocated to high-ranking members of the military. The narrator is given the name “Offred,” which I always inevitably read as “off-red” even though I now know it is actually intended as “of-Fred,” as in “belonging to Fred.” Fred, as it happens, is the name of the military official to whom Offred is designated, though she refers to him solely as The Commander.

Ultimately, The Handmaid’s Tale is about more than women’s roles in society, though it is incontestably about exactly that. Atwood writes about the power religion holds over us, as well as the multiple meanings behind the word and the act of sex. She writes about motherhood, daughterhood and sisterhood, as well as the traps our own minds will set for us during a time of great distress. Told through a mixture of haunting flashbacks and equally disturbing depictions of the novel’s present, The Handmaid’s Tale ultimately describes the lengths some women will go through to survive.