Friday, November 16, 2018

The Table at Season To Taste: An Intimate Gem

As I've mentioned before, it's usually the newer restaurants that get the most attention. Thus, as time goes by, some excellent restaurants fall off the radar, despite the fact they remain worthy of your attention. They are generally known by the appreciative locals that live near the restaurant, but others may rarely make the effort to journey to those spots. Shining the light on these under-appreciated gems is more than warranted.

Recently, I dined, as a media guest, at one such restaurant, The Table at Season To Taste, located in northern Cambridge on Massachusetts Avenue, not far from the Arlington line. Having opened in 2016, the restaurant has an unassuming facade and it adjoins their catering division. The restaurant is owned by Robert Harris, a chef who graduated from the Culinary Institute of America and has worked at other local restaurants including Olives, Rialto, East Coast Grill, EVOO, and Casablanca. I'd never dined here before and knew little about it until recently. Now, I can't wait to return and try their new menu when it changes.

Inside, you'll find an intimate restaurant, with only twenty-seats and an open kitchen. It has a homey vibe, with four seats located at the counter in front of the kitchen and sixteen seats at tables on the left side of the restaurant. I love open kitchens and enjoy the ambiance of this tiny spot. Due to its small size, I strongly suggest you make reservations to ensure you can get a seat.

Executive Chef Carl Dooley, a Cambridge native presides over the kitchen, and his passion for cooking and restaurants extends back to high school, when he started working at a lobster shack in Maine. He eventually graduated from the New England Culinary Institute, and in time, started working as Chef de Cuisine at Craigie on Main under Chef Tony Maws. He earned a “Rising Star Chef” award in 2015 and participated in the 13th season of Top Chef. In 2016, he went out on his own, to head the kitchen at The Table. I'll note that several of The Table's employees also once worked at Craigie on Main.

The Table offers a Four-Course Tasting Menu, priced at $98 (with tax and hospitality included). For each course, you have your choice of two options, and the entire menu changes every 4-6 weeks. A Vegetarian menu is available upon request and you can order a la carte options ($17-$35) at the Wine Bar seats.

Their pricing system is progressive, intended to benefit everyone who works at the restaurant, both front and back of the house, and your gratuity is included within the pricing. As their website states, "As a means to more equitably support our team and cultivate a sustainable staffing model we have all decided to no longer accept gratuity, but rather include labor costs in the price of our food and beverage. This ensures a living wage for our entire staff, both front and back of the house." Thus, when you look at their menu prices, including their beverage costs, consider that tax, gratuity and hospitality is built into those prices.

With your dinner, you can order a Wine Pairing for $55 per person. Jesse Eslin, their Wine Director, has curated an intriguing wine, beer, cider and beverage list. You'll find interesting non-alcoholic choices, including House-Made Shrubs, Non-alcoholic Wine, Spindrift Soda, and MEM Cold Brew Iced Tea. There is a small list of 12 beers and ciders ($6-$18), including items such as Schlenkerla Marzen and Dieu de Ciel Peche Morte (a Montreal Imperial Coffee Stout).

The wine list certainly perked my interest, which contained more fascinating small producers, some using more unique grapes. They have 9 wines available by the glass, including 1 Sparkling, 3 White, 3 Red, and 2 Rosé wines, priced $15-$17. They also have about 50 wines available by the bottle, including 3 Sparkling, 12 White, 17 Red, and 17 "Last Call" wines, priced from $59 to $143. Almost half the list is from France, with others coming from Germany, Italy, Spain, Austria, Portugal, Oregon, California, Texas, and New York. The list changes on a regular basis as well. Wine lovers will be excited as they peruse the list, curious to sample so many different bottles. The Wine Pairing option is a good choice to experience several different wines, chosen specifically to match each dish.

For example, we began dinner with a flute of the Hild Elbling Trocken, a German sparkling wine made from the more unique Elbling grape. I've never tasted this grape before and this example was impressive, with bright acidity, pleasant flavors of tart lemon, apple and peach, and an underlying minerality. Dry and clean, this bubbly was an excellent aperitif and it's inclusion is indicative of the type of intriguing wines that Jesse has compiled.

Another of the wines we enjoyed was the Filipa Pato Tinto, a Portuguese wine made from the Baga grape. This is a killer producer who always delivers, and this wine wasn't an exception. Silky smooth, with delicious black fruits flavors, enhanced by spice notes and a touch of chocolate.

During our dinner, the wine service was conducted by Felicia Aronson, who usually spends about half her time working the floor, and the other half working in the kitchen. She brought plenty of passion and wine knowledge, providing excellent service.

Prior to our first course being served, we received an extra starter, which included Venison Salami, Mutsu apples & Shelburne Farms Cheddar, and a Turnip & Pear Soup. A fun, tasty and seasonal group of dishes. Though I'm not a turnip fan, the creamy soup was good, with bright pear flavors. And the venison salami was excellent, with a touch of rustiness and nice spices.

As for dinner, as there were two of us, we could each order a different option, and thus have the opportunity to experience the entire menu. I highly recommend this course of action if you don't mind sharing.

For the First Course, one option was the Smoked Trout & Cabbage Salad, made with apples, house-made mustard and pickled turnip. I tasted the trout which was cooked just right and was flavorful with a pungent touch from the mustard.

I selected the option of Duck Liver Mousse En Gelle, cured duck breast with pickled cherries and grilled onion. The dish doesn't photograph well because of the very dark cherry gelle atop the mousse, but it was absolutely delicious. A silky and earthy mousse with sweetness from the cherries, I slathered plenty on the home-made, grilled bread.

For the Second Course, one option was the Local Broccoli Ravioli, with little neck clams, oregano, and Parmigiano-Reggiano. My dining companion, who had been at the restaurant before, loved these ravioli, mentioning they were one of her favorite items. I'll note that this was an ample-sized course and not just a small teaser.

I chose the Brown Rice & Sweet Potato Congee, with wild boar sausage, Matsutake mushrooms, pine nuts, and Szechuan chili. Congee is basically an Asian-type of rice porridge, and there are many variations in the various Asian countries. This dish impressed me with its depth of flavor, varied textures, and it was perfect for a chilly fall evening. There was plenty of moist, tender wild boar, chunks of sweet potatoes, and crunchy pine nuts, There was a mild spiciness to the dish which built over time, and it was also an ample-sized dish. Pure comfort food and highly recommended.

For the last savoy course, one option was the Roasted Chicken Thigh with butternut squash curry, pickled mango, and toasted almonds. I tasted the chicken, which was incredibly moist and flavorful, probably one of the best I've tasted in some time. The curry immediately brought to mind the tastes of India and perfectly complemented the chicken. Another winning dish.

My choice were the Glazed Local Scallops with heirloom apple purée, braised kimchee, and sesame oil. There was a great sear on the sweet scallops, and they were enhanced by the apple puree. Another well-composed and tasty dish, with Asian accents.

Desserts and breads are created by Pastry Chef Mary Edinger, who also once worked at Craigie on Main as well as No.9 Park.

The Pumpkin-Nicke Bundt Cake, with rum raisin ice cream, bittersweet chocolate sauce, and fried pepitas, was a fine seasonal dessert.

My choice was the Apple Slab Pie, made from local apples and topped by green cardamom ice cream. The light, flaky crust was buttery, the apples were tender and flavorful, and the ice cream added an intriguing flavor component with the cardamom. An excellent ending to this meal, and I would love to have this on my Thanksgiving table.

Overall, The Table at Season To Taste and Executive Chef Carl Dooley earn my hearty recommendation. From the intimate feel of the restaurant to the creativity and taste of the cuisine, the restaurant delivers a quality experience. Combine that with stellar service and a fascinating wine list, and the experience is even greater. I look forward to checking out their next menu, to see the new creations of Chef Dooley and his team.

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