Two years ago, a group including chef Tim Partridge transformed this little Jamaica Plain space from a series of crunchy luncheonettes to Perdix, a little bistro that I hoped would start a trend for neighborhood incubators of serious chef/owners. Now Partridge has moved on and his former partner, Krista Kranyak, has taken over, continuing the trend. The big change is that the new chef, Tim Weichmann, has a more classically French approach. Whereas Partridge came from East Coast Grill, Weichmann comes from a three-star restaurant in France, via Newton’s Lumière. The small changes are steel-gray brick walls (from white and aqua), slightly higher prices, and the taking of reservations. Kranyak has kept the funky music, from blues guitarist Freddy King to classic jazz on our night, and the shortish menu (five options for each course).
Because we’re in Jamaica Plain, France, now, food begins with a complimentary appetizer (amuse-bouche) of potato salad cut into tiny dice (mirepoix) and dressed with truffle oil, sautéed fennel (coulis), a fennel sprig, and perhaps a little too much salt. But golly, that was a lot of flavor in two bites. The bread basket is filled with sliced French bread, and comes with a pour of fruity Greek olive oil over coarse salt and pepper. You have to dip hard for the salt, which of course doesn’t dissolve in olive oil.
The tone is set with "Jason’s chicken-liver mousse" ($10). This is a real illustration of how classic French cuisine is both completely artificial and in service of natural flavors. You get the subtle essence of the chicken-liver flavor, but with a creamy, melting texture. The garnish is Calvados jelly, which doesn’t taste like apple liqueur to me, but instead is slightly sweet and complicated.
House-smoked salmon ($10) is an appetizer made up of a wonderful square of fish, with the texture almost of sashimi, but with a light, smoky flavor, and an elegant garnish of finely minced capers, egg white, and egg yolk. Garlic-cannelloni-bean soup ($9) follows the method of the chicken-liver mousse. The soup is sieved to a creamy elegance that contrasts with the earthy flavor of beans and garlic. The only drawback is that the fashionable service on an oversize plate brings you a bowl of soup only three-eighths of an inch deep, so it isn’t very hot. Perhaps preheating the bowl would work. Also, the croutons, intended to highlight the creaminess with a contrasting crunch, are greasy with olive oil, where we expect — if anything — butter flavor in a soup like this. Fresh green salad ($9) is an impressive job, especially on the lemony vinaigrette and chopped almonds.
My favorite of the five entrées was seared scallops ($20). Each of the four scallops is perfectly seared, and the underlying stew of sliced fennel is excellent, with what seems like an orange-peel-flavored emulsified-butter sauce (beurre blanc). I also liked the roast monkfish ($20). The flavor isn’t as meaty as the monkfish at Le Soir, but close, and the arrangement of three fillets into a kind of rose is new to me and very pretty. The buttery spinach that comes with it is ideal.
Braised pork ($19) was not my favorite, perhaps because the chosen cut was belly, with layers of fat and stringy meat that didn’t develop a lot of flavor. I’ve seen pork belly presented as a solid piece in Chinese restaurants, but never on a Euro-American menu, although Bostonians of the 19th century ate it just this way with beans or in a boiled dinner. The underlying puy lentils (the little roundish ones that keep their texture) are interestingly mustard-flavored, but a little dry. The wine-soaked prunes with the pork are wonderful. I’d keep them for the next menu, but perhaps with a pork-shoulder stew.
The wine license had not transferred from Perdix at press time, so Ten Tables was temporarily a brown-bagger’s dream. Once it obtains the license, the restaurant will offer 25 wines ($8–$12 by the glass) of considerable interest. Coffee and decaf ($3) are good.
Perdix had rather home-style "chef’s desserts." Ten Tables has upgraded, with choices like the poached pear ($7) done in white wine and served as a standing half-pear and four fanned slices, on a thin custard sauce (crème anglaise) with almonds. Lemon pound cake ($7) is served in two triangles with homemade cranberry sauce. And the chocolate pudding (mousse au chocolat pistache) has a light almond aftertaste and decorations of shaved chocolate. It offers a strong chocolate flavor along with the texture of pure whipped cream.
I counted eight tables at Perdix. I think Kranyak has just split a couple of tables to create more, and there are still fewer than 30 seats. Service in the small room is excellent, with frequent water refills and flatware reset between courses. It’s never hard to catch a waiter’s eye. The kitchen is still open, but I think it’s quieter now that there is more sautéing and less grill work. There are a lot of liquid candles, but the room is too small to be really romantic. Still, food this beautifully made and presented does draw down your focus to the tabletop, and shuts out the adjoining tables.
Despite the near-downtown prices, the crowd is still Jamaica Plain, meaning dress as you are. If it’s very cold outside, dress warmly, since some drafts get by the heavy curtains at the door.
Robert Nadeau can be reached at RobtNadeau@aol.com