Ariana's: A Farmhouse Restaurant
Farmhouse dining at this Orford farm is a gourmet treat in a rustic setting.
When news spread last August that a new restaurant would be replacing the popular Bunten Farmhouse Kitchen, many folks were curious to see if the place would live up to its predecessor. We were no exception. We invited a couple, the wife of whom happens to be a discriminating gourmet cook, to join us for dinner a few days after Ariana's opens.
Once inside, the hostess warmly greets us as we look around at the subtle renovation. It's still a small restaurant with seven well-spaced tables and a wooden bar overlooking the open kitchen. We study the menu and decide to start by just ordering an appetizer. Our gourmet friend orders the Jonah crab cake served over baby greens with Richardson Remoulade sauce. After one bite she puts down her fork. Uh-oh! We look at one another. "This is the best crab cake I've ever had," she says. Before ordering her entrée she asks our waitress about one of the chef's signature dishes – pan-roasted dry sea scallops served over a mushroom risotto with arugula, gorgonzola and finished with truffle vinaigrette. She wants to know how invasive the cheese flavor is. "I'll be right back," our waitress says. Within a few minutes Executive Chef Martin Murphy comes out of the kitchen with a tiny portion for her to try and they enjoy a "foodie" discussion.
About a month later we visit Ariana's again, with the same couple. It's a busy Saturday night and we feel lucky to get a last-minute reservation. Our table isn't quite vacated and we're invited to sit at the bar and join another couple who are dining there. Chef Martin notices us and walks over to offer us a complimentary cup of tomato basil bisque. He returns to the stoves and we watch with wonder how effortlessly he goes from broiling steak Bavette to sautéing P.E.I. mussels. "This is better than watching the Food Channel," our gourmet friend says.
Chef Martin's goal is to offer a range of menu choices reflecting different palates: "My passion is to work with high-quality ingredients and focus on using seasonable and local products." While he admits to being partial to preparing seafood dishes, there is a delightful variety of other choices. Printed at the bottom of the menu is something you rarely see, "Please feel free to make requests. If we have the ingredients, we will be happy to accommodate you." The menu is divided into sections. Our friends order veal cassoulet ($19) from the Large Plates – veal braised in a rich bean stew with house pork sausage, duck confit, tomato and rosemary, along with a house salad, ($5). I choose a Caesar salad ($7) from the Small Plates and penne bolognese ($13) from the pasta bar, while my husband orders the chicken piccata ($13) from Chef Martin's Comfort Corner along with a warm spinach salad ($8). The portions are just right: not too small and not too large.
Wine may be ordered by the bottle or glass. Our waitress is adept at helping us pair the right wine to complement our meal. The beer list includes local micro-brews as well as the standards. A natural soda without high-fructose corn syrup; a variety of teas and coffees are available.
We don't often eat dessert, but cave when looking at this menu. Our husbands order a dessert wine to accompany the "Taste of the Valley Cheese Plate," a selection of three local cheeses with sliced fruit, preserves and crostini ($12), while we sweet-toothed gals order the port and chocolate torte with macadamia nut crust and raspberry sauce ( $8). We linger over coffee and are pleased to hear our gourmet friend say how pleased she is to find a four-star restaurant in the Upper Valley with reasonable prices.
Sunday brunch at Ariana's is memorable. One can choose from traditional breakfast foods like the chef's special omelet ($10) or stuffed French toast ($11) or heartier fare such as sautéed shrimp in light garlic, tomato lemon cream sauce over capellini ($14) or pan-roasted smoked pork loin with orange ginger glaze, potatoes and vegetables ($14). As with the dinner menu, starters like salads, fruits in season, fresh juices and a house-light Bloody Mary or champagne by the glass are offered.
Many have complimented Chef Martin on his decision to offer music-free dining. "The chef and the customers make all the music needed," he explains. He describes Ariana's atmosphere as being warm and comfortable with a casual elegance, which doesn't mean children aren't welcome. When time allows he loves to leave the kitchen and mingle with his guests. Chatting with him one night we asked how he chose the name, Ariana's. "My wife and I decided to name it after our beautiful 17-year-old daughter," he says. "It works! It gives a family feel to the restaurant. Ariana's is dynamic and growing, and I'm growing with it, but my personal touch will always remain.
1322 NH Route 10, Orford
(603) 353-4405, arianasrestaurant.com
Sunday brunch and dinner every night but Tuesday, reservations suggested.
If you stop for dinner or brunch at Ariana's at the Bunten Family Farm, be sure to visit the Pantry Farm Store onsite.
This is the place for bread and butter. Farm owners Chris and Bruce Balch continue to breed and pasture Devon cows, making raw milk cheddar and blue cheese in addition to butter and heavy cream from their output. Devon cow milk is known for its high butterfat content and the Balchs claim to be the only producing Devon owners in the United States. Along with the butter find the bread to spread it on – loaves and dinner rolls, plus English muffins, the world's best vehicle for butter. Chris bakes these breads, changing the variety with the season and her whims.
If you have driven up Rte. 10 in the fall and noticed the red brick farmhouse with an abundance of pumpkins in the front yard, this is the place. Be sure to stop next time. –
Bunten Pantry Farm Store
Open during Ariana's hours and by chance
1322 NH Route 10