Cozy November Dining
As winter temperatures descend and winds escalate, the salad days of patio and terrace dining give way to the cozy glow of firelight and twinkling candles. It’s the time of year for intimate dinners for two in quiet surroundings, for a touch of elegance to replace the summer’s casual cookout atmosphere. New Hampshire restaurants are up to the occasion, with just the right settings to match the menus. Perhaps the coziest place of all to retreat to on a frosty evening is The William Tell (726-3618) in Thornton, where the cheese fondue is as warming as the crackling fire. The Swiss décor creates a cheery and intimate alpine setting for the Swiss and German favorites that Chef Franz Dubach serves. Cashews crust a chicken breast for an updated variation on the wiener schnitzel theme, or you can order the real thing made with tender white veal. Plump veal rouladen are rolled around shrimp and asparagus for a flavor blend reminiscent of veal Oscar. Southeast of the Conways, in Snowville, Snowvillage Inn (477-2818, 800-447-4345, snowvillageinn.com) is under new management and Chef Lincoln will be offering a chef’s table in the kitchen for an insider’s view. Re-opening for Thanksgiving after a renovation, they will be offering family-style service with your own turkey or ham for parties of four or more. You can even take the leftovers home. Farther north in Gorham, Libby’s Bistro (466-5330) is the definition of intimate, with low lights softening the high-ceilinged former bank. Chef/owner Liz Jackson pampers guests with entrées that may suggest exotic touches from Morocco. Her gingerbread is a homey touch for dessert on a cold night and the house-baked breads are always welcome. The restaurant will be closed in November until Thanksgiving, but new (and open all November) is the room downstairs serving lunch in an informal atmosphere from 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. In the center of the state, Inn at Pleasant Lake (526-6271, 800-626-4907, innatpleasantlake.com) offers a full evening of dining experience at a single-seating fixed-price dinner. Guests assemble early in the cushy parlor to meet Chef/owner Brian MacKenzie and hear what the five courses will include, with notes on their preparation and the ingredients. They then move to the nicely spaced white-linen-clad tables in a softly lit dining room to enjoy the set menu, with a choice between two entrées. From the soup (perhaps a woodsy bisque of wild fall mushrooms) to the dessert (Chef MacKenzie excels with chocolate), it’s a memorable evening filled with complex flavors, artfully presented. L.A. Burdick in Walpole (756-9058, burdickchocolate.com) is small, with a chic bistro feel, although quieter than the usual French bistro scene. The intimate Sunday brunch has an equally stylish (and très French) menu, served from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. The French Bistro in Milford (249-9605, thefrenchbistro.com) is the ultimate in cozy. Set in a restored caboose and a small adjoining area, you will find excellent continental cuisine complete with a chef’s tasting on Sunday evening. Open for lunch and dinner, it’s a great spot for an intimate mid-day meal, too. (Story on page 29.) The small rooms and well-spaced tables at Bedford Village Inn (800) 852-1166, bedfordvillageinn.com) provide an intimate setting for enjoying the inspired cuisine of Chef Jodi Geiser. Her fall menu offers the all-vegetable, but substantial option of roasted heirloom beets, mixed with horseradish, citrus aioli and marinated cucumber. Or begin by ordering grilled quail with red lentils, chorizo, scallions and honey, scented with rosemary. The fireplace and comfortable upholstered chairs encourage lingering long enough to make room for this or the other temptations on the long dessert menu. Richard’s Bistro (644-1180, richardsbistro.com) is perhaps Manchester’s most intimate dining spot, with tables numbering in the teens and a chic minimalist décor. Tables may be a little close, but the individual table lighting seems to make each a little cocoon. And watching Chef/owner Richard Vareschi in the open kitchen provides entertainment while waiting for a table (which may be necessary even with reservations, since no one is in a hurry to leave this warm, cozy restaurant or the splendid food). The late fall menu may include a hearty osso bucco, or my favorite, soft-shelled crab in a citrus crust with aioli. Richard’s menu is accompanied by an excellent wine list, priced from below $20 a bottle, or under $5 by the glass. In Portsmouth, couples head down the stairs to the brick-and-stone-walled dining room at Anthony Alberto’s (436-4000, anthonyalbertos.com) for an intimate dinner. Executive Chef Jethro Loichle offers a seasonal selection of antipasti, including a tenderloin carpaccio topped with a wild mushroom filled puff pastry. For an entrée try the anatra alla montagna, a pan-seared breast of duck and leg confit served with a rosemary-Gorgonzola risotto. A harbor view with lights reflecting off the water is always conducive to tête-à-tête dining, and Portsmouth’s Wellington Room (431-2989, thewellingtonroom. com) offers views from its widely spaced tables, an intimate, modern setting that suits the cuisine perfectly. Cool weather makes the sumptuous rich flavors of foie gras appealing, and Chef David Robinson pairs his seared version with poached kumquats tossed with watercress and chipotle macadamia nut butter and boysenberry nectar. That’s a tough act to follow, but Chef Robinson always offers several selections of ocean-fresh fish for a lighter entrée. And after dinner, tea drinkers are in for a treat, with a full menu of rare teas, properly brewed. Literally, from Coos to the sea, New Hampshire offers abundant choices for diners seeking a cozy, intimate dinner. NH Barbara Rogers is co-author of “Eating New England,” a guide to local food sources and experiences, published by Countryman Press.