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|Published Monday, April 27, 2015|
Foodies don’t need to trek to Boston for gastronomic delights as NH is attracting top culinary talent. We asked foodies to help us identify some of the most innovative or surprising culinary experiences in the Granite State.
Here we profile 11 of them, including three James Beard Award semi-finalists for Best Chef in the Northeast. (The James Beard Awards are essentially the Oscar’s of the food world). These are just a sample of the restaurants making their epicurean mark on NH. Share your choices for innovative restaurants on Business NH Magazine’s Facebook page at facebook.com/BusinessNHMag.
Stages at One Washington
One Washington St., Suite 325, Dover • 603-842-4077
Entrees: $45 (Four-course Prix-Fixe menu)
$105 (10-course tasting menu)
Chef Owner: Evan Hennessey
Chef Evan Hennessey wanted to be a Disney animator growing up but in adulthood channeled his passion into cooking. His meals are as much theater as they are delectable, drawing inspiration from such disparate muses as Dr. Seuss, the famous French Laundry restaurant in California, Monty Python’s Holy Grail and Alice in Wonderland.
Once a month, Hennessey presents a themed, multi-course meal, using locally sourced food and elevating it with unique dishes. He deems his cooking “progressive New England.”
For the Monty Python’s Holy Grail evening, guests were treated to the movie and dishes inspired by what they watched. In the film, King Arthur is given a quest that includes finding shrubbery and cutting down “the mightiest tree in the forest with a herring.” Hennessey and Chef de Partie Jackson Casey interpreted the quest with a dish that included cured and smoked Pollock, bear’s head mushrooms, black trumpet mushrooms and pickled radish in a Dashi broth with a smoked ice cube. For shrubbery, there was a layered, textured dry salad with a dehydrated olive oil vinaigrette that rehydrated in diners’ mouths.
Hennessey and Casey brainstorm ideas for theme dinners, developing three or four at a time and putting them on the calendar. But the themes are not a gimmick. They are a way to create something different for diners. “All our food is very thoughtful. There is a purpose for everything on the plate,” Hennessey says.
Stages at One Washington can seat 36 for the themed dinners through staggered reservations. Themed dinners are held once a month on a Friday and Saturday.
Five nights a week, Stages at One Washington offers a more intimate experience with seating limited to nine at “the kitchen table” (essentially a chef's table). Diners can choose either a four-course prix-fixe menu or a 10-course tasting menu.
Promoting local, sustainable farming and food is important to Hennessey, who is a member of Chef’s Collaborative, a nonprofit that brings farmers and chefs together to revive heirloom vegetables, meats and dairy and educate the public about sustainable agriculture and food sourcing. “It allows us to stay hyper local,” Hennessey says. It also means the menu changes often to suit what is in season and locally available.
All food prepared at Stages is sourced from New England, and whenever possible, from NH. Hennessey has been known to forage for seaweed along NH’s seashore. “We have a great relationship with a farm in Rye that raises ducks and geese. We constantly have egg dishes on the menu,” Hennessey says of one of his favorite ingredients to work with. “The guy who raised the birds hands me the eggs. I bring it to the kitchen, cook it and hand it to the guest. That’s an emotional interaction. There is thought behind what we do. We’re not selling food at volume,” he says.
Hennessey is also dedicated to being part of, and helping to draw attention to NH's emerging culinary scene. He started the Stages Project a year ago, which brings together food and beverage industry professionals once a month to learn from one another. Three to four professionals are invited to cook (sessions are held one Wednesday per month after the restaurant closes), learning only a week before the ingredients they can use. Each then cooks in front of their peers (the events draw anywhere from eight to 30 attendees) and then present their dishes. Hennessey, who organizes and emcees the sessions, stresses it is not a competition but a way for professionals to share ideas and inspiration.
“When you have four different people cooking with the same ingredients, you get four different avenues of thought on how to cook and present them. The rule is whatever you cook can’t have ever been or currently on a menu,” Hennessey says. “We not only want the crowd to learn, but the presenters to try something they have never tried before.” Such commitment to innovation is why Hennessey was named a 2014 semi-finalist for the James Beard Awards in the category of Best Chef Northeast, and helped him to win the StarChefs.com VitaMix Challenge in 2013 out of a national field of several hundred chefs.
Hennessey, who graduated from Le Cordon Bleu at the Atlantic Culinary Academy, has cooked at prestigious restaurants during his career, including New York City’s Aureole and Trio in Chicago. He eventually became executive chef of 43 Degrees North, and The Dunaway Restaurant, as well as Chef de Partie of the 100 Club, all in Portsmouth, before opening his own catering business with his brother and then Stages at One Washington. “It allows me creativity,” Hennessey says of his latest endeavors. “I wanted to go so far outside the box of what a normal restaurant around here is. …We’re not in this for the quick dollar but for the long haul. We’re here to make a very big and deep mark. That takes time.”
Cava Tapas and Wine Bar
Small plates with a Mediterranean influence
10 Commercial Alley, Portsmouth • 603-319-1575
Chef/ Co-Owner: Gregg Sessler
Co-owners Gregg Sessler and John Akar combined their love of food, wine and NH to open Cava, a tapas restaurant and wine bar.
Sessler trained at the culinary school at Paul Smith College in New York and has cooked at restaurants in such foodie hubs as New Orleans and California, eventually becoming an executive chef. Akar, who has a passion for wine, graduated from the University of NH with a finance degree and was working in NH’s restaurant scene.
The alley where Cava is located now more resembles old Europe. In the spring and summer, Cava’s patio dining comes to life with a vertical garden that grows on the restaurant’s façade.
Inside, diners can enjoy two wine bars offering 50 wines by the half or full glass—the list changes weekly. “People venture through my wine list to have wines they have not seen or tried before,” says Akar, who carefully selects the wine.
Akar makes sure his staff is well versed on the wines, opening bottles of even the most expensive bottles for them to try and learn about. “Several of them go to wine tastings with me. We’ve brought our staff to Spain and Italy on wine tours, Akar says. That ensures staff can help customers easily traverse the extensive list of offerings and remove any intimidation factor.
Cava is also one of only a handful of restaurants in NH with a retail license to sell wines for customers to take home.
Variety is a hallmark of the dining menu, with options changing biweekly. “We focus on layering the ingredients and letting them speak for themselves,” Sessler says. “That’s what we strive for—unexpected, innovative array of flavors and foods.” The menu, Spanish tapas with a Mediterranean influence (a nod to Akar’s Lebanese heritage) generally has 30 items.
“This type of eating was something I grew up on and is my favorite way to eat. You can eat five or six things in a meal instead of focusing on one,” says Akar.
Its most popular plates include the chicken and chorizo paella and Kristin’s Famous Churros, based on recipe by Sessler’s wife, a pastry chef. “It’s crispy fried dough rolled in cinnamon and sugar and served with spicy hot chocolate sauce,” Sessler says.
A recent menu also included such dishes as chickpea “fries” with harissa (a hot chili pepper paste), cucumber yogurt and tabbouleh; and char-grilled baby octopus with ink, oregano, potato and tomato.
Sessler introduced the POP up and coming! Dinner Series earlier this winter to showcase Cava’s culinary rising stars who take over the restaurant for an evening. Menus from these young chefs have run the gamut of French cuisine to a southern-style dinner to Japanese-
“We don’t rest on our laurels. You have to want to reinvent yourself and bring something new to the table,” Sessler says.
21 Veterans Square, Laconia • 603-527-8007
Chef: Kevin Halligan
Owners: Kevin and Gillian Halligan
Chef Kevin Halligan is making a splash in the Lakes Region with his farm-to-table eatery that focuses on organic produce and grass-fed, naturally raised meats and poultry.
That means Local Eatery’s menu changes with what’s in season, creating new reasons for diners to come back for more. A menu in March featured a crispy NH mushroom arancini with smoked cheddar cream, sautéed local mushrooms and crispy onions; grilled pork tenderloin with mashed potato, Jacob’s cattle beans, maple BBQ, and braised collard greens; and lobster gnocci with sherry cream, green house tomato and baby spinach.
While the country-chic restaurant is open year-round, Chef Halligan professes his love for the summer and early fall as those are peak seasons for NH’s highest quality fresh fruits and vegetables.
A 2002 New England Culinary Institute graduate, Halligan decided to strike out on his own in 2013, opening Local Eatery in the historic Laconia Train Station on Veterans Square downtown. He is committed to using locally and regionally sourced items and partners with local farmers primarily from NH but also from Vermont, Maine and Massachusetts, including Beans and Greens Farm and Winnipesaukee Woods Farm, both in Gilford. The wine list includes extensive offerings from NH wineries and breweries, including Hermit Woods Winery in Sanbornton, Jewell Towne Vineyards in South Hampton, Sap House Meadery in Center Ossipee and LaBelle Winery in Amherst.
Halligan, who has been selected as one of the celebrity chefs highlighted during NH Restaurant Week in 2014 and 2015, also teams with Beans & Greens Farm each July for the farm’s annual Farm-to-Table Dinner in the Field for which he prepares meat and produce grown and raised at the farm and served for attendees to enjoy in one of the farm’s meadows. Halligan says people want to know what they are eating and where it comes from, which is fueling the success of Local Eatery.
Modern American tapas
106 Penhallow St., Portsmouth • 603-319-8178
Chef Matt Louis
Owners: Matt Louis & Jay McSharry
Only one NH chef was among the James Beard Foundation’s 2015 semifinalists for “Best Chef Northeast”—Matt Louis, chef owner of Moxy. Louis has built his reputation with creative and savory take on Spanish tapas, but locally sourced and with a nod to New England’s past.
The NH native is a protégé of Chef Thomas Keller, the celebrity chef renowned for The French Laundry restaurant in Napa Valley. Louis opened Moxy with Portsmouth restaurateur Jay McSharry of Jumpin’ Jay’s Fish Cafe. “Portsmouth is an extraordinary culinary community. I am thrilled if this is one more reason for the rest of the country to come and discover what is going on here in Portsmouth,” Louis says.
“It is an amazing community of professionals, artists, farmers, culinarians, fishermen, businesses and residents,” Louis says of his decision to open his tapas restaurant in Portsmouth.
Among the dishes Moxy is known for is beef short rib marmalade with grilled bread, pickled onions and shades of bleu cheese. The menu also features Moxy mini red hot dogs with bacon-fresno marmalade, cheddar, grain mustard; New England Dinner 2.0 with corned beef brisket, Napa cabbage, crispy potatoes, Raye’s maple mustard, pickled carrot and onion; and the Johnny Cake Community with cornmeal pancakes, brown sugared pork shoulder, house sauces, crispy onion and pickled cucumbers. It also offers whoopee pie sliders with chocolate dipping sauce.
Moxy also brings the same creativity to its drinks, including The Dankness 2.0, made with Beat 3 Reserve Whiskey, Heering Cherry Liqueur, homemade beet-lemon-ginger shrub, and absinthe rinse.
These types of dishes earned him an invitation to cook at the James Beard House, creating a “Late New England Winter Meets Tapas Traditions” dinner for a sold-out crowd, and earned him Food and Wine Magazine Best New Chef nominations in 2013 and 2014.
Japanese/New American cuisine
1105 Elm St., Manchester • 603-625-6468
Chef: Steve Shoemaker
Owner: Tim Baines
Contemporary fusion fuels Mint Bistro, which offers American classics with an Asian flair, as well as a full sushi bar.
Signature dishes include Asian Short Rib “Nachos” with braised beef short rib, smoked cheddar, roasted corn, scallion, red onion, Thai bird chili, Napa cabbage, sesame, mushrooms, homemade crispy wontons, spicy sour cream and sweet soy. The restaurant also boasts Steak Frites (bistro sirloin, shoestring fries, haricot verts and demi-glace) and Red Sox Maki (jumbo Pacific scallop tempura, spicy mayo, topped with tuna, crispy shredded potato, avocado and cilantro). The restaurant recently added a sushi bar.
Chef Steve Shoemaker, who trained at the New England Culinary Institute and worked with some of the best chefs and restaurants in Southern Florida before relocating back to NH to open Mint Bistro, prepares the creative menu.
Of course, a restaurant with mint in the name would offer a classic mojito, but Mint Bistro actually offers 12 flavors of mojito that can be enjoyed at its bar that seats 20.
Mint’s offerings have won several accolades, including the Union Leader Readers Choice for Best Sushi in 2013 and 2014 and a Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence for 2014. N
Local ingredients with a Mediterranean influence
29 Ceres St., Portsmouth • 603-431-0887
Chef: Evan Mallett
Owners: Evan and Denise Mallett
Chef Owner Evan Mallett draws inspiration from his own garden, local farms and travels with his wife and co-owner Denise Mallett. That means the menu changes frequently depending on what’s in season, which keeps loyal patrons coming back for more.
A recent menu included braised octopus with olives, bok choy and Meyer lemon aioli; beet tortellini with feta-pinenut filling over kale-raisin salad; barbecued chantenay carrots, parsnip puree, vanilla brown butter sunchoke, and faro risotto; local scallop and lobster quenelles with black garlic, root noodles and miso-lemongrass fumet; and fried smelts with creamy red grits, bagna cauda and pickle. Diners can enjoy such dishes with the restaurant’s signature drink, the Black Trumpet Cocktail, which combines vanilla infused vodka, blackberry puree and limoncello, and is rimmed with sugar and pepper.
Mallett is committed to sustainability in the food system, working with farmers who share his philosophy and sitting on the boards of Slow Food Seacoast and the Heirloom Harvest Project, an initiative to join farmers, chefs and educators to identify and restore a food system native to the greater NH Seacoast. His sustainable practices include purchasing whole animals whenever possible.
“There are a few good reasons why we do this. When we receive a whole animal—whether it is a pig, a goat, a lamb or a goose (to name just a few beasts we adore)—our kitchen staff learns not only where the cuts of meat we work with come from on the animal but also the story behind the animal itself,” Chef Mallette recently wrote on his blog. “When the animal makes a transition from the farmer’s hands to ours, an important trust is passed along as well. For the farmer, who has known the animal often from birth, he is transferring his pride in the quality of his product to the chef, and the chef in turn will pass that pride on to the restaurant staff and customers.”
Mallett, a three-time James Beard semi-finalist for Best Chef in the Northeast, is self-taught. After stints in advertising and food journalism, he became a chef, working in restaurants locally and in Mexico before he and his wife opened The Black Trumpet.
Canoe/O Steaks and Seafood
American cuisine with a twist
Canoe: Bedford and Center Harbor, O: Concord and Lakeport
Canoe: 603-253-4762, O: 603-524-9373
Established: 2004 (Canoe), 2007 (O)
Canoe Executive Chef:
O Executive Chef: Chris Roscoe
Owner: Scott Ouellette
Scott Ouellette, a self-taught chef, returned home to NH’s Lakes Region after making the rounds in Atlanta’s culinary scene (including serving as chef to the Australian Olympic Team during the Atlanta Olympiad) to open his own upscale restaurant.
The motto at Canoe is make it fresh, keep it simple and make it great. And it has been doing so on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee with dishes ranging from Lobster Mac and Cheese to award-winning Sweet and Sour Calamari to a fried baloney sandwich, Ouellette’s homage to one of his dad’s favorites.
The restaurant’s success led him to open O Steak and Seafood, which now has two locations in Lakeport and Concord; O Bistro, which opened its doors in Wolfeboro this past fall; Capitol Club, a private, members-only club in Concord with its own bar, dining room, conference rooms and a $2,000 membership fee; and a second Canoe location that opened in Bedford in February.
With O, Ouellette focused on classic steak and seafood dishes, using only hand cut steak and putting his own spin on them with such menu items as corn pudding and the Kobe Beef “O Pops.” Ouellette, one of the “celebrity chefs” featured during this year’s NH Restaurant week, personally selects O’s extensive wine list.
Rainbow Grille & Tavern
Upscale comfort food
Tall Timber Lodge, 609 Beach Road, Pittsburg
800-835-6343 or 603-538-9556
Chef: David Caron
Owners: The Caron Family
Pittsburgh is known as a nature lover’s paradise where tourists go to “get away from it all,” kayak, hike and moose watch along Moose Alley. It’s not where you expect to find upscale dining. That’s why the Rainbow Grille has been pleasantly surprising new visitors for 17 years and gaining a loyal following among locals and annual vacationers.
The secret to its success? “It’s as though we’re cooking for friends at home. It’s unpretentious, relaxed, enjoyable and satisfying,” says self-taught chef David Carron of the family-owned restaurant.
Don’t expect fussy white linens and sleek furnishings. Rainbow Grille has lots of knotty wood and a stone-hearth fireplace. The food it serves is as hearty as the North Country, but with a refined flair.
Among Caron’s signature dishes is the Woodsman Steak, a one-pound Certified Angus Beef Ribeye grilled over mesquite; the Pine Nut Platter with haddock, scallops and shrimp rolled in a ground pine nut blend and topped with citrus buerre blanc sauce; and Lucky Duck, a grilled duck breast served with blackberry cognac sauce.
In addition to winning accolades for its food, Rainbow Grille is a valued community member, winning 2014 Business of the Year from the North Country Chamber of Commerce.
Pearl Restaurant & Oyster Bar
Southeast Asian meets New England
1 Jaffrey Road, Suite 1, Peterborough • 603-924-5225
Executive Chef and Owner: Harris Welden
Fine dining and strip mall aren’t exactly synonymous, yet The Pearl Restaurant & Oyster Bar makes it work by catering to adventurous diners seeking a “big city” culinary experience in a small town. Classically trained in French and Italian cooking at Culinary Institute of America, Chef Harris Welden sharpened his skills at renowned Spiaggia in Chicago before returning to NH to open his own eateries—Pearl Restaurant & Oyster Bar and later Bantam Grill literally two doors down.
Welden crafts meals with fresh local ingredients using Southeast Asian cooking techniques. The results are such signature dishes as Crazy Chicken (spicy chicken in a chili lime sauce with fresh herbs and rice noodles) and Panko Crusted Haddock (North Atlantic haddock pan fried with spicy brussels sprouts and jasmine rice). There’s also the Pearl House Cocktail with Tito’s Vodka, fresh ginger and sparkling wine.
Asian fusion, farm-to-table
11 Depot St., Concord • 603-225-8181
Chef: Sunny Chung
Owners: Sunny Chung and Kim Lully
Defying expectations is nothing new to Kim Lully and husband Sunny Chung, whether it is people sometimes assuming her name is Kim Chung and are then surprised that she is not Asian, or when new customers try their unique take on Asian flavors at their Concord restaurant.
Sunny’s Table features an ever changing menu that fuses a Pan Asian and a farm-to-table philosophy, with local farms providing an array of vegetables including tat soi (a cabbage mustard green), daikon (radish), and Chinese cabbage.
Both Lully and Chung grew up in the restaurant business—Lully in her family’s Aroostook, Maine family restaurant and Chung in his mother’s Korean-American restaurant—and believe eating should be an adventure. “Food has to be interesting,” says Chung, the chef of the pair. “There are too many spices not to try them.” Chung’s creations range from Korean food truck tacos made with pork belly to twice cooked beef short ribs and chicken Tikka Masala. Adds Lully, “Who doesn’t like tacos? Then try one done with pork belly. It’s fatty, it’s rich and it’s versatile.”
Chung focuses on creating meals that are balanced and have contrast, whether it’s temperatures, textures or tastes. The menu changes frequently, and regulars get free off-menu items, such as a spicy Golbangyi (snail) perched on a crisped nori (seaweed) strip. They also hold occasional special Sunday suppers for regulars that feature a dozen unique courses served at the bar. “It shows what the kitchen can do. You need customer critique to keep improving,” Chung says.
Sunny’s is only open four nights a week, Wednesday through Saturday. Chung and Lully spend their three days off in part exploring other restaurants, as Lully says eating is the only way to expand your food knowledge. They frequently go to Portland, Maine for its restaurant scene and say this schedule is possible because the restaurant is doing well. “We always joke you have to be a better eater than a cook,” Lully says.
Lully says the pair chose Concord because it is a small intimate community and because their location off the main strip is walkable. The restaurant is small, with capacity for 50 to 60, which it reaches regularly on Friday and Saturday nights. There is room for more tables, but the pair says it is quieter and more intimate this way. “We have a lot of fun with food here,” Chung says.
Revolution Taproom & Grill
Modern take on a colonial tavern
61 N. Main St., Rochester • 603-244-3022
Chef: Dale Raymond
Owners: Mark Marchionni
Revolution Tap Room & Grill brings a fresh take on a tavern to Rochester, combining more than 40 beers on tap (mostly craft ales) and rustic cuisine with a modern sensibility. Owner and General Manager Mark Marchionni describes the menu as “fresh, simple and rustic with a deep flavor profile.”
That includes crispy brussels sprouts with a bacon-stout marmalade; braised pork shank with a smoked cheddar polenta, pumpkin seed sage gremolata and cider braised cabbage; bourbon glazed drumsticks with apple jicama slaw and jalapeno sea salt; and the 10 AM Burger with applewood bacon, a fried egg, Swiss cheese and hand cut fries. The restaurant only uses meats that are steroid and hormone free.
While beer is a big draw, the restaurant also offers signature cocktails, including Death To The Empire, which mixes Tanqueray Rangpur, ginger liquor and sweet apple cider.
Head Chef Dale Raymond is a Rochester native who first gained attention as a young sous chef at the Exeter Inn before moving on to the Wolfeboro Inn and a brief stint as executive chef at the Eagle Mountain House.
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