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.

Ten Tables on Urbanspoon

Advertisements

If you don’t know, you better ask somebody. Gran Gusto is hands down the best pizza in the Boston area. While the 7 pizzas account for a small fraction of the menu, you would be a fool to go and not order at least three pies. They impress across the board. The beautifully thin crust, which manages to pack two distinct textures within an eighth of an inch of substance- the charred crispy flavor of olive oil layered over a fleshy and giving underside of dough- defines the pizza, with the toppings serving as garnish for this triumph of the brick-oven. The pastas hold their own, though my search for a decent tomato sauce continues on. The gnochetti al forno were drowned in a thick swamp of red, a stark contrast to the fresh ingredients which characterized the other dishes. The simpler dishes like the pappardelle with mushrooms and sausage afford a more central role to the homemade pasta, much to this eater’s delight.

The decor is simple, which is fine, and the waistaff friendly. Extremely friendly. Verging on the weird. Our waiter sprinkled his description of the menu with suggestions of Liz’s beauty (Liz also dwarfed me in the proportion of eye-contact received), and found it appropriate to vigorously swirl our glasses of wine after pouring, assuring us that it would “make it taste better”. Perhaps. But perhaps this kind of paternalism might exceed the customer’s threshold for kitschy eccentricity. Perhaps the customer will be sitting in his seat anxiously clenching the bottom of his chair struggling to understand why someone found it necessary to swirl his wine. I bit my lip and suffered through it, but hear this Gran Gusto: next time I won’t be so well-tempered. From this point forward you will operate under the assumption that should I want my wine swirled, I will swirl it my self.

Despite these minor service foibles, you should make a date to go to Gran Gusto as soon as possible. I fear that its somewhat remote location will translate into a short stint for the restaurant, or worse, lead to a compromise in the quality of the ingredients. So do yourself and the greater Boston area a favor and go. Excellent pizza places are hard to come by.