In the TW Food entry I made passing reference to my fondness for Ten Tables. It holds an almost mythical status in my mind – that charming, affordable, delicious neighborhood bistro that I’ve never had. So it is with some sorrow that I can’t give it an unqualified ringing endorsement after our recent dinner there. Aside from a beef dish that was far too dry (for medium), the food was solid. But only that. Nothing impressed or inspired. In addition to the steak, we sampled a charcuterie plate, red pepper and smoked mozzarella soup, steamed mussels, fideos with pancetta, and chocolate pudding with banana whipped cream, and all were run of the mill incarnations of the dishes. Satisfying, but totally forgettable.

The limited menu has 5 appetizers and 5 entrees, which is fine so long as those 10 dishes reflect the added time and effort afforded by having such a small menu. To my mind, they did not. All of us mulled over the menu longer than usual because nothing really sounded that appealing; nothing sounded bad, just boring.

David Punch, the head chef, was not in the house which could account for some of the issues, but would it affect the creation of the menu itself? Maybe certain dishes are only made when he is around, which would explain the modesty of the options.

Punch’s mustached replacement was disappointing on another level. Ten Tables is an incredibly small restaurant (300sf?). The kitchen is wide open and very visible to customers. In other words, the chef is on display and must act accordingly. Don’t cook like you just got dragged away from your favorite television show and are pouting into your ingredients. Upon receiving an order, Mustache placed his hands on his hips, closed his eyes, tilted his head back and let out an exasperated sigh, as if saying “You want me to make more beef?” Well, considering the universe has been limited to 10 options, yes. You will be making the same thing over and over. These nonverbals combined with several failed attempts to mute heated conversations with the waitstaff led me to conclude that the kitchen was the last place he wanted to be. This is not a good image to project to a diner sitting 10 feet away.

Hopefully all these issues resolve when Punch is back in the kitchen, but my illusions of Ten Tables have certainly taken a hit. I would return if I knew the head chef was cooking, but if problems arose again then Ten Tables would stop meriting the drive out to Jamaica Plain.

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