Cooking competitively and cooking for a restaurant are two very different things. While competitive cooking can teach chefs a thing or two while allowing them the opportunity to thrive in the industry, cooking at a restaurant involves leadership, management and a sustainable vision for the future. And not just any chef can pull both off effortlessly.
Carl Dooley, executive chef at Table at Season to Taste is a true phenomenon. From his years under fire at Craigie on Main to his new position running the kitchen at Table near Davis Square, he has also spent significant time in a competitive atmosphere ahem Top Chef.... While Top Chef comes to mind immediately, I was behind the judging table at his most recent victory at the New England Food Show’s ‘Eater Competition’.
Having tasted his food about town but never at his own restaurant, I decided it was high time to give it a try. I am very glad I did. With only 20 seats and an open kitchen, Carl runs a tight ship. The service is precise and elegant and the pace of the meal is ideal. Starting with some bubbles (Chenin Blanc) and a turnip and jalapeño soup shot, we enjoyed warm and toasted house-made brioche with salted butter and an incredible velvety-smooth foie pâté.
With two options for each course, it is recommended you try all items to get a taste of everything. Up first was a Vietnamese-style steak tartare. This is similar to a dish Carl made that blew me away at the Eater Boston competition. His in-house rendition was even more complex and just as well-executed. A smoked Scottish sea trout with dill, marinated cucumber and lemon yogurt was also perfectly done with a smokey flavor, not over-powering.
Second was a weather-relevant ramen with chicken broth along with a plate of asparagus with large chunks of bacon. The ramen really stole the show for me in this course. The rainy, damp and cold weather of the day made this bowl of ramen a welcome refuge and I would happily have enjoyed more of this dish. Though the noodles were not your traditional ramen noodles, Carl’s house-made whole wheat noodles were interesting and a perfect vehicle for the chicken flavor.
Third, we enjoyed glazed hake with yellow split peas, spiced almonds and cardamom chutney and prize-winning veal short rib. All main dishes were a good size, enough to share without being too much for any one individual to enjoy fully themselves.
Finally, for dessert, a chocolate meringue filled with oozy chocolate and a tres leche cake with mandarin sorbet were delightful finishes to an exquisite meal. Little chocolatey earthquake cookies and home-made granola bars were delivered with the check – something I always find such a wonderful note to finish.
Whether you are lucky enough to experience Carl’s cooking under the fire of high-pressured, nail-biting competition or you manage to snag a reservation at The Table, you will be pleased with the outcome. Carl has the uncanny ability to be personable while madly whipping up dish after dish of delicious food and beautiful presentation. Table at Season to Taste is a rare opportunity to enjoy a prix fix only menu, in no pretense, but with all of the needed detail. A must-try!