Melancholy is a “leitmotiv” in Harvard…

…every walk here in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is a reminder of how splendid our lives could be in a wealthy, well-educated, peaceful New England environment without oil spills and far-away wars. Had a meeting this morning at Harvard Business School, followed by a mediocre roast turkey sandwich for lunch, so I started looking for some comfort and found it first in the fabulous Harvard Book Store where passionate readers from around the world meet from dawn to dusk and until quite late at night, and there’s a great cooking shelf, too.

Julia Child & Company: book shelf in Harvard.

Have been strolling quiet avenues then for quite a while. I was walking tiny streets bordered by university departments, stem cell institutes, rocket science cathedrals and precious private houses hidden in precious private gardens where well-dressed ladies were raking gravel paths or walking giant poodles. By then, I was sure that I would find something nice for dinner in such a plush environment…

One of America's oldest cemeteries: the home of the brave.

Pretty in pink: life is sweet in Massachusetts.

A veranda waiting for Scarlett o'Hara: off Harvard Square.

And so it was: I found Ten Tables, a New American restaurant, highly ranked by the Zagat guide and chosen as the best restaurant in 2009 by Boston magazine. The chef can boast to have 27 out of 30 possible Zagat points which in the logic of the food guide means that he’s close to perfection. I would say: he’s very, very good. Some of his dishes are outstanding, some are not. I was going for the surprise menu dégustation, four courses for 42 US$ (35 Euros) and here’s what I’ve got:

Potatoes, leek and stuff: a brilliant start at "Ten Tables".

At first, a magnificent cold soup made of a lot of white vegetables. There was asparagus involved, small radish, and the overall texture was creamy without any cream, buttery without butter, so this one came out of the molecular lab which didn’t surprise me, actually, dining so close to the M.I.T. Next, there was fish.

Sweet and sour and salty and funny: salmon à la Ten Tables.

Scottish “organic” salmon to be correct, enthroned on a bed of young spinach leaves and apples and raisins, topped with (very) sweet pepper. This was a real New World dish, I’d say, very tasty, extremely tasty even, on the brink of exaggeration but bold at the same time and absolutely not boring, very much on the exiting side.

Taste explosion causing collateral damage: hanger steak.

The meat course was a marinated hanger steak, that’s the piece the French call onglet, a rare and beautiful chunk of beef, yet the Ten Tables‘ chef had decided to kill it twice. He took the dead meat and built it into a over-the-top composition of onions and potatoes and sour cream and salad and a very dominant, Turkish-style garlic sausage, a weird failure. Weird, because the meat was brilliantly done, cooked to perfection, and if the cook had only added salt and pepper and maybe some thyme, it would have been just wonderful. Like this, it wasn’t, and if I was working for Zagat, I’d give 30 points for the product and not many for the cooking; too much stem cell theory involved instead of, pardon me, just having sex.

Greedy as I am I ordered some American raw milk sheep cheese (San Andreas) which was fabulous (but again over-decorated with leaves and “peach mustard” and nuts and stuff). The kitchen then sent a perfect little verrine filled with a rhubarb mousse and an amazingly beautiful buttermilk sorbet (which, in Europe, would have been served before the meat course). And then it was dessert time, finally, and the chef was back to the summit.

Less is more: a breathtaking dessert in Massachusetts.

I don’t really know what he served there but it had to do with the US military strategy of shock & awe, it was a real chocolate attack just perfectly checked by a wonderfully spiced icecream, a fine moment for bravos and a real reason for a deep bow to a chef who – across the board – really knows what he’s doing and why. Brilliant staff.

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