Boston's Chef Carl Dooley Impresses On Stage And In The Kitchen

Cooking competitively and cooking for a restaurant are two very different things. Where the former task is replete with distractions from commentators, cameras, and other frantic competitors, the latter is characterized by a unified team, each working his or her station to create a coherent experience for diners. Although cooking competitions provide chefs with unique opportunities for exposure, they also focus on a limited scope of ingredients. Competitive cooking can teach chefs a thing or two while allowing them the opportunity to thrive in the industry, but cooking at a restaurant involves leadership, management, and a sustainable vision for the future. Not just any chef can pull both off effortlessly.

Carl Dooley, executive chef at The Table at Season to Taste, is a true phenomenon. Outside of his years under fire in restaurant kitchens, from Craigie on Main to his current position running the kitchen at The Table, he has also spent significant time in a competitive atmosphere (ahem, Top Chef...). Although Bravo's hit show comes to mind immediately, I was behind the judging table at his most recent victory at the New England Food Show's Eater Boston Chef Competition.

Having tasted his food before but never at his own spot, I decided it was high time to give it a try. I am glad I did. Dooley's vision for a cohesive experience — with excellent wine, beer, and aperitifs joined with a four-course meal — is clear upon entering the small and cozy space on Massachusetts Avenue near Davis Square.

With only 20 seats and an open kitchen, Dooley has to run 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 shot of turnip and jalapeno soup, we then enjoyed warm and toasted house-made brioche with salted butter and an incredible, velvety-smooth foie pate with rhubarb.

There are two options for each course; bring a friend so you can try all items and get a taste of everything. Up first was a Vietnamese-style steak tartare. This is similar to a dish Dooley 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 smoky 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 made this bowl of ramen a welcome refuge, and I would happily have enjoyed even more of this dish. The noodles were not your traditional ramen noodles; Dooley'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 while not being too much for any one individual to enjoy fully dining solo.

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 homemade granola bars were delivered with the check — something I always find such a wonderful note to finish.

Whether you are lucky enough to experience Dooley'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. Dooley has the uncanny ability to be personable even while madly whipping up dish after dish of delicious food with beautiful presentation. The Table at Season to Taste is a rare opportunity to enjoy a prix fixe menu, with no pretense but with all of the needed detail. A must-try!