>> Thursday, January 03, 2013
We had such a great thing going. Why did it have to be cut short so soon?
Bryan and I moved into the neighborhood just north of Harvard Square a little over a year ago. After ten years, we had gotten quite comfortable living between Central and Harvard Square (where we'd established our favorite haunts). It was a bit unsettling to start all over when we moved.
Thankfully, we soon discovered Ten Tables, a cozy, quaint little restaurant tucked away on a residential street just a few minutes' walk away from our new home.
Chef David Punch was super friendly and showered us with warm hospitality every time we visited. Soon, we became regulars, preferring to sit up front at the newly installed bar so that we could chat with Dave, mostly about our common passion: food.
One day - out of the blue - we arrived at Ten Tables to learn that Chef David Punch was no longer there. He had left to open his own restaurant in Newton Center. Chef Dan Janus (who had been sous chef while Dave was there) had been promoted to executive chef.
Newton?? Why so far away, Dave??
We knew we had to visit our old friend and say hello. A couple days after Sycamore opened in December, we drove through rush hour traffic (yes, it took 45 minutes from Cambridge) to visit Chef Dave Punch and his new digs.
The menu at Sycamore is divide into four sections: snacks ($4-$7), starters ($9-$13), mains ($19-$25), and sides ($5-$6). Some of Dave's signature dishes from Ten Tables, such as his incredible boudin blanc, have made their way over to the Sycamore menu.
The plan is to change the menu relatively frequently, guided by the seasonality of ingredients and Dave's imagination.
We ran into some friends who were dining there that same night. After exchanging pleasantries, they got straight to the point.
"You have to get the gougeres. They are transcendent."
That got my attention. These friends of mine do not use the word "transcendent" lightly. It sounded like we had to try some for ourselves. The Warm Gougeres, which Dave calls "alpine cheese puffs", is a "snack" that's sold for only $4. We immediately placed an order for gougeres.
Warm Gougeres $4
The gougeres were delicious. They were light and airy, yet had a substantial and deep cheese flavor at the same time. Instead of being thick and dense, oozing out cheesiness like some gougeres I've had, these were more like pillows - light as a feather. You could eat these all day and not feel weighed down.
In fact, our friends liked the gougeres so much they decided to get two additional orders as their dessert.
I kid you not.
Because we really didn't know what to order, we just asked Dave to "cook for us." We gave him complete free reign in deciding which dishes he wanted to share.
Keep that in mind while you look at these pictures. While some of them may reflect the actual size of the dish on the menu, in other cases he may have scaled down the portion sizes since we ended up eating 5-6 courses.
We started with the Roasted Beet Salad, a "special of the day" that is not on the regular menu. This particular salad came with pistachios and a horseradish (or was it parsnip?) cream. As I've come to expect from Dave, the ingredients were fresh and excellent quality. I love beets in general, and I liked having the combination of red and golden beets. It was a great way to begin the meal.
The Grilled R.I. Squid came next served over pinquito beans, arugula, braised cardoons, and crispy black olives ($13). Chef Dave is a master at cooking rustic, flavorful dishes, and this was no exception. The Mediterranean-inspired flavors came together beautifully, and the squid was incredibly soft and tender. They were barely cooked (that's a good thing!) and had absolutely no hint of that rubbery texture you see too often with overcooked squid.
Dare I say this? It was the best squid I'd had since the squid sashimi I had at Sukiyabashi Jiro in Japan.
This dish was most definitely a winner and probably my favorite of the night.
The Roasted Fluke, a main dish, came with crispy potatoes, artichokes, and garlic confit. It was served with this vividly green herb puree and topped with a Meyer lemon chip. The fish was executed well, with simple but solid well-balanced flavors.
The Handmade Agnolotti (a "starter" on the menu) became a mid pastas course for us. It was tossed with sage in a savory roasted bird jus sauce. The texture of the agnolotti was excellent (yay fresh pasta), and the roasted bird jus gave the dish an intense, deep umami flavor.
One of the most special items on the menu is the Hudson Valley Duck Board for two for $60. On this board, you'll enjoy duck prepared a number of ways - roasted breast, leg confit, grilled sausage, and duck marmalade. The board also includes chestnut puree, grilled pear, parsnip mostarda, and cranberry compote.
The picture above only shows you a portion of the duck board. My friends had ordered it and had already started eating it when we arrived at the restaurant. I was able to snap a photo of most of the board (looks like the leg confit and the breast are still intact, but maybe they ate all the sausage?).
Dave also served us various bites from the duck board, such as the leg confit over crostini.
Dave's house-made duck sausage was fantastic served with a little bit cranberry compote.
The roasted duck breast was gorgeously cooked (look at how pink it is on the inside!) and came served with the grilled pear (also part of the normal duck board). Our friends were very impressed with the entire duck board, and I must say that all the little bites we had were excellent. This was another one of our favorites from the evening's "tasting."
For dessert, the server highly recommended the Lemon Pot de Crème, which came topped with huckleberries and served with a side of rosemary shortbread ($9). Bryan and I both loved this dessert. The pot de creme was rich and creamy yet well balanced by the tartness of the sweet huckleberries. I loved the intense fruit flavors that came from the huckleberries as well.
I would definitely order this again.
Bryan got the Warm Beignets ($8), which came with apple butter and canela crème anglaise. Not surprisingly, these were delicious, though I've had good beignets in lots of places. It's a safe stand-by, but I personally found the lemon pot de creme to be a much more interesting dessert.
Overall, we were very impressed with all of the food. For a restaurant that's only been open for less than a week, we were pleased with how smoothly everything went. The place wasn't completely packed, which probably made it easier. Chef Dave said they wanted to open quietly and softly so they could slowly ramp things up. Honestly, they seem to have it together pretty well already.
Chef Dave Punch is really talented, and it's exciting to see him finally open up his own place. I can't wait to see what he dreams up once spring arrives and he has the whole bounty of spring produce with which to experiment.
Expect rustic, flavorful dishes that are executed really, really well. You won't see anything too crazy here (no foams or weird gels). After all, Chef Dave is more of a traditionalist when it come to cooking ("kids these days can use all these fancy gadgets yet don't even know how to properly grill a fish!"). He uses age-old techniques, but executes with extreme precision and skill. Sometimes I swear the food he cooks is so tender it must be done via sous vide, even though I know it hasn't. The guy's just that good.
I'm still a bit sad he's not in my 'hood anymore, but I'm also really excited for him. Opening up Sycamore is a fantastic opportunity, and I'm sure he'll do really well.
And it's not like Ten Tables disappeared. In fact, Chef Dan has been doing a great job as executive chef so far, and we still continue to frequent Ten Tables. At the end of the day, perhaps the biggest blessing of all is that Boston gets to gain an excellent restaurant without losing another one.
Win win, I say.
(especially for you folks who live in Newton)
755 Beacon St
Newton, MA 02459