Hot new restaurants 2005
Takumi: Serenity and the Sea
By Rachel Forrest
Stepping into Takumi is like stepping into a Zen garden. The new Japanese restaurant in Nashua is a place of serenity, where design imitates nature. A bed of white stones glitter near the entrance like a quiet beach while a half dozen koi, the brilliantly colored Japanese fish, laze in a small black stone pond and flash magenta, white and gold.
This attention to classic Japanese design was my first hint that Takumi, co-owned by Toru Oga of Oga’s Japanese Cuisine in Natick, Mass., was going to be out of the ordinary and that, along with the elegant lines and waves in the pine and cherry woods of the décor, I might also get some real artistry in my meal. I was right. The sushi, maki and sashimi here are cut from whole fresh fish and decorated and arranged with both flavor and visual appeal in mind.
With one word, “omakase,” I put myself in the hands of Executive Sushi Chef Michael Wang, who came to Takumi after a 10-year stint with Oga. As he slices, molds and garnishes the fresh fish, I hear the tink and clang of knife on metal as Teppan chefs entertain diners with stir-fry hibachi theater. The nine-station Teppan room behind me is separated from the dining and sushi rooms by long screens of copper chain. Chefs spin eggs for fried rice, flip shrimp tails into pockets and set fire to an onion volcano, but lively noises don’t interfere with the serene atmosphere of other spaces or with modern jazz playing in the background.
Chef Wang places small dices of white horse mackerel and bright green chopped scallions inside a dried fish, its head and tail curling upward to form a natural bowl. I sip a premium sake, kept chilled in an iced pitcher, and let the mackerel melt on my tongue. It is truly some of the freshest sashimi around.
He scoops spoonfuls of burnt orange uni, the Japanese sea urchin, from a wooden box and sets them atop a pile of glossy white shredded daikon radish with slivers of lemon peel. I bite in tentatively, remembering a bad experience with the unusually flavored sushi, but this is smooth as custard with a delicious hint of mild musk. Manager Motoi Nakanishi proudly tells me about the special white Unagi, the fresh eel they’ve just gotten in, and the salty white and grey morsel shows up in a series of sushi including a quickly torched rich red toro, or fatty tuna with pickled purple daikon.
I swish slices of pale yellowtail through two dollops of hot red sauce and take a bite, then sample more chopped red toro in a tall cylinder topped with green tobikko, the small crunchy flying fish eggs flavored with wasabi, before moving on to smoky orange salmon with a silvery skin.
There are also hot appetizers like Enoki-beef maki, thin ivory mushrooms inside soy marinated beef, and entrées are inventive as well. Marinated in sweet soy and citrus, a filet of silver cod is slightly caramelized alongside a tangle of sesame noodles. Tempura choices include an exotic coconut shrimp or sweet lobster with a fan of deep-fried noodles, but it’s the sushi here that shines — each bite fresh, flavorful and beautiful.
Takumi Sushi and Hibachi restaurant
197 Daniel Webster Highway, Nashua
Sushi $3-$13.75, Kitchen sushi $12.75-$19.75, Teppan-yaki meals $15.95-$29.95
New York to New London
By Barbara Radcliffe Rogers
It’s been only a few months since Chef Jarod Rockwell has headed the new restaurant at the New London Inn, but the word is already out: It’s outstanding. Creative combinations wow the taste buds and elegant presentations please the eye.
The menu begins with seasonally inspired openers. The summer menu featured buttery sea scallops seared and served with a salad of finely diced watermelon and celeriac. Tiny hard-boiled quail eggs and grilled tuna replace the standard egg slices and canned fish in the Salade Niçoise. We liked its “deconstructed” composition, with each ingredient presented separately on and around the mixed baby greens. The pesto-based dressing included tasty whole pignoli nuts. The carpaccio is an artistic masterpiece; paper-thin slices of tenderloin elegantly arranged in a single layer on a square plate, bordered in capers.
If there was a weak dish, to us it was the Caesar salad. The baby romaine was impeccable — all white and pale green and crisp-fresh — but the dressing lacked the character we expect. Someone in our party put it well: “An anchovy may have been involved, but he wasn’t committed.” Small quibble, and in the context of a less superlative meal it would have been an excellent salad.
Too often a chef has trouble keeping the entrée up to the visual and culinary standards of such an appetizer list, but Chef Rockwell seems to have no trouble following this tough first act.
The pork chop with Spanish flavors (pictured on the cover) was thick-cut and juicy, presented with meltingly tender chorizo, tiny potatoes and steamed Mahogany clams, a combination reminiscent of the traditional Iberian dish, porco alentejo, but in far more sophisticated dress. The Nantucket striped bass was perfectly cooked, redolent of the sea and resting in a pool of rich New England clam chowder with roasted fresh corn.
For dessert the chocolate terrine, while rich, was not heavy, and the cheesecake was well flavored and creamy. Strawberry sorbet tasted like a bowl of chilled fresh-picked berries. But the surprise was the lemon-lavender ice cream. Lavender’s delicate nuance is usually lost, and almost certainly when combined with any other. But while this ice cream had a brisk lemon nose, the flavor was garden-fresh lavender.
Innkeeper Bridget Leroy, with New York City roots, has created a setting just as stylish as the cuisine, with custom-built chairs, a collection of rare Venetian goblets and wooden sconces by local craftsman Peter Block. The solid wall of windows overlooks the town green.
New London Inn, 353 Main Street
New London, (603) 526-2791
A Bistro Majoring in French
By Hillary Davis
We’ve moved away from wanting food as an impersonal experience. Formal dining in a hushed atmosphere at an expensive price has been jettisoned in favor of a total experience infused with a chef’s or proprietor’s personality and philosophy. These are the restaurants to which I make a special trip.
Thierry Navette, owner of the French Bistro in Milford, is carving out a reputation for offering such an experience. Drawn from a childhood growing up in northern France, to his training in Michelin star restaurants, to working in luxury hotels bent on pleasing a customer’s every whim, he has the ability to offer diners a gastronomic memory.
Care and thought for the details create the setting for what will be a special meal. There is the water decanter, sought for its design. Little wooden baskets hold salt and pepper, wine labels are lacquered onto tables and corks playfully displayed on the walls. You can choose to dine in the sunny yellow entry with its two large tables, idyllic to be with family or friends, or you can head upstairs to smaller tables in a restored caboose.
The menu majors in French cuisine, but you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the twists and turns it takes. A classic duck confit will arrive on a cloud of buttery Italian risotto. Rosemary has taken part in the 12-hour marinade for the confit, as well as a place in the risotto, subtly marrying the French and Italian sides of the dish. Or take the striped sea bass, which sits on vinegar-doused spaetzle, dazzling your taste buds.
There’s a plat du jour in addition to the regular menu, as well as a tasting menu on Sundays. Here a series of small offerings are big on flavor, each one amplified by a different pairing of wine.
The chef achieves technical perfection in his rendering of the opening plate, a tartar of house cured Scottish salmon. Fork into the tiny poached quail egg sitting on top so that its warm yolk runs through the dish and the crispy fried threads of onion. Take a sip of the dry Spanish Albarino wine and you see why Thierry’s restaurant is gaining well-deserved recognition.
The French Bistro, 15 Elm Street
Milford, (603) 249-9605
Tasting menu, Sundays $54
Good Wine, Chic Ambiance
By Frisky M. Stal
Shannon Drake’s dream of her own restaurant has come to life splendidly. 55 Degrees, a wine-friendly tapas destination at 55 Main Street in Concord, offers bistro-style cuisine punctuated by stunning presentations, soft lighting, eclectic wines, starched white tablecloths, fresh flowers, candles … and an ambiance that takes its cue from the warm Brazilian cherry floor and the tall old brick walls.
You can relax at 4 o’clock with a glass of wine and a small plate. Or come for dinner, combining two or three plates to take you through dessert, to Lavazza coffee, a dark roast that’s soft on the palate. There’s a small bar in the back where you can also have dinner, and next summer there will be a back patio for al fresco dining.
Shannon will tell you that achieving the restaurant was tough. “We hauled out over 20 tons of debris — three ceilings and walls four layers deep. When we cut through that last wall we discovered the brick! We also found beautiful things — an old safe, fixtures, artwork — that we incorporated into the restaurant.”
Chef Corey Fletcher is the 24-year-old shining star behind the imaginative menu. Well-educated in the culinary arts, he apprenticed at two four-star restaurants before taking the culinary reins at 55 Degrees.
Starter plates may include a roasted beet salad with golden and chiogga beets, mâche, a caramelized shallot vinaigrette and an ice cream scoop of soft Vermont goat cheese. A favorite is the shrimp and lobster “roll,” actually a crepe, resting on sweet pear tomatoes with a chiffonade of basil, lemon oil and tiny speckles of dried, minced lobster roe.
The cheese plate can be your first course, your finale or one to share over wine with table guests. Samples may include Linqot du Quercy, a French nutty goat cheese; Bianco Sardo, a robust, Italian sheep cheese; aged Gouda, Berkshire Blue or Garrotxa, a mild Spanish goat cheese. Selections change frequently but are always wide-ranging.
For heartier dishes there’s the pan-seared salmon with quinoa tabouleh, shaved fennel salad and a brilliant yellow saffron aioli; the seared scallops with applewood bacon, sweet, fresh corn and scallions; and the grilled breast of duck with an herb-polenta cake, duck confit and tangy-sweet onion currant confiture. The expanding wine list offers very good wines, often from small producers.
Don’t miss dessert! There’s the popular vanilla/ginger-infused crème brûlée with macerated blackberries, a lush, six-layer chocolate thyme cake with multiple chocolate fillings and a white nectarine/raspberry phyllo pillow with vanilla bean butter. Yum!
Note: In June, 55 Degrees won Best Main Street Restoration in the State of New Hampshire.
55 Main Street, Concord
By James Haller
“Through the fields of clover we will ride to Dover …”
Dover, N.H., used to go to bed at about 6 p.m. If you wanted to stay out later and have a great dinner you drove to Portsmouth. That’s over. In the past couple of years terrific restaurants have opened in the Garrison City and last evening we went to the newest, Little Louie’s Fish House, and I must confess, it’s one of the best places to eat in the entire state.
The dinner was inaugurated with an excellent Vouvray from a very sophisticated cellar.
From “The Little Plates” we chose a cornmeal crusted calamari with a smoked tomato dipping sauce, cherry peppers and baby greens; a duck confit accompanied by mandarin pancakes, shiitake mushrooms and a hoisin and black bean relish in a scallion vinaigrette; and lastly a spicy tuna tartare with jicama and chayote squash salad, shaved scallions and fried wonton chips. Each dish was so flavorsome I could have made a meal from it, particularly the calamari.
In “From the Fields,” their selection of salads, we loved an heirloom tomato panzanella salad with ciabatta bread, pecorino and Bermuda onions in a Thai basil vinaigrette, then a grilled salad of radiccio, frissee, endive, toasted walnuts, bleu cheese and Bosc pears, and happily, a roasted beet and goat cheese salad with mixed baby greens and a champagne vinaigrette. They were all excellent, but I have to tell you the panzanella salad is really a knockout!
The main course menu offers more than fish. There were also short ribs, a New York steak and chicken breast, along with an interesting vegan dish, but we all decided to go for the fish menu. One of the nice things about going out to eat with a crowd (if you’re doing a review) is that you get to taste everyone’s choices.
I selected scallops with a truffled potato purée and grilled asparagus in an orange butter sauce. (I was not happy about having to share them.) They were great! A pan-seared skate wing in a brown butter lemon sauce was tasty, as was the delicious tilefish that had been pan seared in a balsamic demi-glace. The John Dory, fish in a mixed berry sauce, was a stretch that Chef John Welch handled with style. The taste was impressive.
For dessert we shared an apple raspberry crisp, a ginger crème brûlée and a flourless chocolate cake topped with a mocha frappe.
The atmosphere was very pleasant — a red wainscoting with white walls and watercolor paintings of fish. Connected to Louie’s is a coffee bar and a drinking bar, both attractive and inviting rooms and, judging from the good-looking crowd in both places, Little Louie’s shouldn’t be missed.
Executive Chef John Welch and his very talented sous chefs bring American cooking to a spectacular forefront, mixing ingredients and styles from Asia, Europe, North and South America (and who knows where else) to be part of our national cuisine that makes the U.S.A. kitchens the most creative in the world. John, you’ve got a great future!
Little Louie’s Fish House
364 Central Avenue, Dover
(603) 8346961, www.littlelouies.com