There are so many kinds of date night. The awkward swiped-right drink. The let’s-just-get-a-pizza-because-we’re-not-really-interested-in-eating-at-this-stage-let’s-be-honest night. The Officially Romantic dinner at one of the city’s “best” restaurants when things get serious. That first Valentine’s Day, when you both pull out all the stops and it feels truly, genuinely that you are graced by love and not just supporting the red-heart-strewn Hallmark industrial complex.
Then a lot of Valentine’s Days go by. Maybe you have kids, or a very cute dog, or demanding jobs, or some combination of all of these things. Maybe you need to schedule a night to go somewhere you can just talk to each other, about something that’s not, say, why the oil light keeps going on in the car. (Why does it, though?)
This is when you want to go somewhere like The Table at Season to Taste. It’s date night for people who want to talk to each other. You can tell this, for one, because nobody is really taking pictures of their food. They are tasting it, discussing it, sharing it. It is also date night for people who love food (almost) as much as they love each other.
The room is not dimly lit, nor full of hidden nooks for canoodling. It is sweet. Copper pots hang on the walls, and there are good cookbooks shelved here and there alongside jarred sour cherries and olive oil tins. There is an open kitchen inches or feet away, depending on where you’re sitting. You can settle in at the wine bar and share a dish or two and a glass or two. Or you can sit at one of the side-by-side two-tops spaced far enough apart for privacy but not so far you can’t strike up a conversation with your neighbors if you wish.
The food that people aren’t obsessively photographing happens to be really beautiful and also really delicious, carefully thought out and prepared. Chef Carl Dooley was on “Top Chef” around the same time he was opening The Table three years ago, and he made it nearly to the end. But before that he was chef de cuisine at Craigie on Main, and it’s that skill set and experience you are getting when you eat here. (The restaurant’s unwieldy name comes about because owner Robert Harris is also behind catering company Season to Taste, in the same building, as well as nearby cafe NOCA Provisions.)
You can order single dishes at the wine bar, but to experience the full specialness of the place, it is best to go for the tasting menu. Four courses (with a few surprises) and $99 per person, it changes every six weeks or so. There is no tipping here. The fee includes labor costs, which means the people making your food right in front of you aren’t earning markedly less than the servers who bring that food to your table. The price isn’t low, but it is fair; unlike many tasting menus, the meal leaves you content rather than ruing the whole conceit.
There are two choices for each course, perfect for intimates. You and your date can order everything and share. The general structure of the meal is: raw thing, pasta, fish or meat course (a vegetarian menu is available, too), dessert from pastry chef Mary Edinger. (She was previously at No. 9 Park.)
So, to begin, one of you might have hiramasa sashimi with pickled kumquats, tangerines, spiced cashews, and Kashmiri chile, light and bright, all spice and acid with a pleasantly building heat. The other might get beef carpaccio with kimchi, pear, pine nuts, and egg yolk in a sesame-soy dressing (possibly the best thing I’ve eaten in this still-young year). The flavors borrow from India and Korea; the compositions feel familiar but original.
Next might be cauliflower ravioli with bites of sweet shrimp, toasted almonds, and a curried tomato sauce that tastes almost like chutney. The other option might be house-made lo mein in a ginger-pork broth with pig ear, enoki mushrooms, and Sichuan chile. It’s clever: The pig ear is sliced thin, so that it, the mushrooms, and the noodles are all of similar filament. It becomes, then, an exercise in texture. And that broth is no joke, so deeply flavored. Serious loving care went into that pot.
A recent third course features local halibut, perfectly cooked, with Swiss chard, couscous, preserved lemon, and the herby green sauce chermoula. The couscous is comforting; the dish reads almost like Moroccan pozole. Across the table: duck leg a l’orange with blood orange, pomegranate, pistachio, and fennel salad. It is warmly spiced, almost Christmas-y, punched up with crisp and acidic counterpoints. The balance of each dish is deft.
When it is time for dessert, there’s pistachio frangipane tart with a chocolate short-crust pastry base, amarena cherry frozen yogurt, and chocolate sauce. You either gravitate toward chocolate desserts or you don’t; I don’t. But here the chocolate is judicious, the pistachio frangipane a nice twist, and the cherry frozen yogurt a delight. Ice creams and their ilk are especially strong here. The other option, charmingly titled London Fog, features Earl Grey ice cream with vanilla bean meringue and bergamot curd. This is extremely in my dessert wheelhouse, but even if you aren’t a complete fool for bergamot (in tea or as a flavoring for tart curd) and crisp, thin shards of meringue, I think you will fall for it.
By the end of the meal, you have relaxed. You are well fed. You still love to talk to each other, it turns out. You are graced by love, which sometimes means passion and other times means you fall asleep reading in bed with the lights blazing, until one of you performs the mercy of getting up to turn them off, quietly, so as not to wake the other.
The Table isn’t done with you yet. Before you leave, there is one last treat, wrapped in a twist of brown paper. Granola bars to take home. The perfect date: It even makes you breakfast.
2447 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-871-9468, www.cambridgetable.com