This is a valentine. Ten Tables, I have a thing for you. Always have, hopefully always will. I know I'm not alone in that - you have many suitors, and I have to fight for my fraction of your attention. No, you say, I can't see you this Saturday night. Nope, not next Saturday either. And if five friends and I want to see you together, we'll have to beseech you eons in advance. But maybe you can fit me in at 9:30 p.m., or on a Monday, and I will be glad. After all, you do only have 10 tables. I get that. I really do.
Perhaps you're surprised to learn of my affections. Probably not, though. You know you've got it going on. I mean, not in a conceited way or anything. Part of your charm is your humility. You could brag if you wanted to. For one thing, there's your looks. Forgive me for being superficial, but they don't hurt. The dark gray-brown paint on your walls is just the right mood-creating shade: It catches the candlelight and makes the space feel instantly cool. You're so cozy, a little box full of good smells. When the lights are down low, jazz is playing softly, the chefs in the open kitchen are laughing, plating, drizzling, and the aroma of creamy celeriac soup or culotte steak is wafting over our heads, it's easy to see looking around the tiny room that you make diners feel good.
It would be hard for them not to, considering what's on the table. Plump, rosy little slices of duck breast edged in spice rub make one see things through rose-colored glasses. They're chewy but tender, the juices from the bird melding with honey gastrique to create a delirious, ducky broth at the bottom of the plate. Culotte steak is all meat, no fat, striated slivers of beefy bliss. Charcuterie is made in house - there's a wonderful pork pate one night, with buttery toasts, cornichons, grainy mustard, and a golden-raisin relish; a peppery sausage is served atop simple white beans with a drizzle of truffle oil.
But though chef David Punch and crew have a way with meat, it's the other components that really make you lick your chops. What would that duck be all by itself? OK, it would be great, but it's even better served with bright green chard and slivers of opaque cooked fennel. The steak wakes up in the company of bright green chimichurri, watercress, and roasted peppers; it also comes with smashed potatoes.
Seared scallops are everything seared scallops should be. And then more, because they're served on nutty, toothsome farro, with tiny red squares of beets scattered throughout like confetti. On top is a Meyer lemon salsa with green olives. The olive taste gets lost a bit beneath the burst of sunny citrus, but everything works wonderfully together.
And when meat steps out of the way altogether, I have some of my finest moments with you, Ten Tables. It's hard to think of a better way to spend $25 than on your vegetarian tasting menu. Four courses! For 25 bucks! I'm mentally comparing that to single dishes I've eaten recently that cost more, and I have to laugh. The satisfaction-to-dollar ratio comes out overwhelmingly in your favor.
What that menu might be changes from night to night, from season to season, and with Punch's whim, often permutations of what's on the regular menu; recently, it was an extremely creamy bowl of carrot-fennel soup (I would have liked to taste the carrot and fennel more); a salad of escarole, radicchio, and candied walnuts with vinaigrette and Parmesan; a dish referred to as semolina gnocchi that was creamy, polenta-ish diamonds fried to a deep brown on either side, served atop mushrooms and kale; and an olive oil cake topped with cinnamon whipped cream, served with a piece of dark chocolate and hazelnut bark and a bright orange marmalade. Everything was beautifully plated - lest I forget to mention later how much I appreciate your artistic nature - and delicious. I've never once missed meat during one of these meals.
I also have no complaints about your Wednesday night offering of appetizer, entree, and dessert for $29. Not to mention your Tuesday night wine dinners - four courses with four glasses of wine for $39. Your wine list is comfortably affordable, too, with a few higher-end bottles for splurging.
I'm not saying you're perfect. There are things I would change about you if I could. For one, your reservations system is crazy-making. I call and get voice-mail; the message says to leave my name and number and you'll call me back if there's room. I wait and I wait and I wait. The uncertainty kills me! You don't call me back, so, guiltily, I call again. But someone answers, and there's room. Why play hard to get? It's not attractive.
Or I call and your voice-mail box is full. I call and I call and I call. Your voice-mail box is still full. For Valentine's Day, maybe I'll get you a bigger voice-mail box. It's a gift we'd both enjoy.
I wish there was something I could do about your restroom situation, but you're on your own with that one. It takes some serious spelunking to get to the facilities: through the tiny kitchen, weaving between staffers, and down a narrow and nearly vertical staircase. The situation has a quirky charm, but I know people who hold it against you.
Likewise, not everyone will love the leisurely pace of a meal here. There's plenty of time to digest between courses. Personally, I appreciate the room to breathe. You're not a rat race kind of place, and that's just fine with me.
I'd like to say you're the one for me, but I'm not into restaurant monogamy. I wish there were more out there like you, though. And maybe soon there will be. Word is, owner Krista Kranyak hopes to open a similar restaurant in Somerville soon. Will you still see me if I start something with your younger sibling?
Devra First can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.