Good Food, Great Views
While the dinner on the table and the vibe of the dining room are prime considerations for choosing a restaurant, a smashing view can add the finishing touch to a perfect dining experience. And from the seacoast to the mountains, New Hampshire has enough scenic settings to go around.
Despite the dramatic crashing waves outside and the open-ocean view, all is not seafood at Ron’s Landing (929-2122, www.ronslanding.com) in Hampton, where Chef/owner Ron Boucher arranges some non-traditional marriages of land and sea. The white-linens-and-candlelight setting of an old Seacoast home highlights a menu where a Maryland-style crab cake might share the plate with charbroiled filet mignon, or veal cutlet could be topped with sautéed king crab meat. In a signature dish, Chef Boucher surrounds veal medallions in a pistachio nut crust and garnishes them with lobster claws. On Friday and Sunday evenings, the mood for a seaside dinner becomes even more romantic with live music.
Not far away, in New Castle, Latitudes (373-6592, www.wentworth.com) sits closer to the water below the grand Wentworth by the Sea. In the foreground a marina of white boats bob in the waves, and the view moves upward past a wide swath of blue water to a fringe of soft marsh-grasses and the trees of the opposite shore. Here and there the shoreline is interrupted by a seaside home and an occasional sailboat skims across the picture. Wentworth Executive Chef Dan Dumont met the challenge of how to keep diners’ attention on the table by choosing contemporary free-form china and providing roomy upholstered chairs, then designing a menu that charms at first sight with a tempting array of small dishes (oyster shooters or a trio of bite-sized burgers, each treated differently) and substantial salads, as well as more traditional entrées. Open daily for lunch and dinner until Labor Day and then weekends through Columbus Day.
Not all of New Hampshire’s water views are of saltwater, of course. Lakes from Winnipesaukee to tiny Crystal Lake have dining rooms with windows on the water.
Lago Costa Cucina in Meredith (279-2253) extends the dining area right over the water with a dining deck over Meredith Bay. The casual atmosphere of rustic wooden tables and murals of rural Italy set an easy vibe that fits nicely with Chef Scott Martin’s menu of house-made pastas, and homey favorites such as osso buco (his is made with pork instead of the usual veal) or rainbow trout roasted with garlic and fennel. A full wall of windows brings the lake views to indoor diners.
Across the lake in Wolfeboro, the “lobster shack” adjunct of Wolfe Den American Bistro overlooks the wooded shores of Back Bay, with the low profile of the Belknap Range providing the backdrop for the view across the lake. At Wolfetrap Grill and Raw Bar (569-1047, www.wolfetrap.com), the laid-back mood is set by the long copper bar and the lobster tank — which provide most of the décor, as well. Make it a total water experience by arriving on their vintage boat, which will transport you free from the town dock. Wolfetrap may not be on the ocean, but the seafood is strictly ocean fresh.
While there is no shortage of good views in the White Mountains, some sites simply beg for a dining room with a wall of glass. The Mount Washington Hotel at Bretton Woods (800-314-1752 or 278-1000, www.mtwashington.com) obliges so well that there is hardly a table in the entire dining room that doesn’t have a view of Mount Washington. Not just Washington, but its only-slightly-lesser neighbors, rising from a wooded foreground. From the breakfast table you can trace the progress of the Cog Railway trains as they exhale puffs of smoke along the track. Everything about the dining room is grand: its round shape and cruise-ship atmosphere, and the live dance music that invites guests to waltz or lindy between courses by Executive Chef James Dyer.
You can also see Mt. Washington from Sunset Hill House in Sugar Hill (823-5522, www.sunsethillhouse.com), although in the distance. Closer — in fact the large dining room windows look straight at it — is the western side of Cannon Mountain, and it’s a stunning sight at any time of year. In winter, the setting sun reflects on the snow, a phenomenon known as Alpenglow, but in the fall that same red glow seems to set the autumn leaves on fire. The fall menu created by Chef Joe Peterson might include a pair of venison chops with a lingonberry-roasted pear sauce and creamy polenta; whatever is offered is sure to bring everyone’s attention back to the table
At the White Mountain Hotel (356-7100, www.whitemountainhotel.com) in North Conway, The Ledges overlooks another mountain famous for its skiing — Cranmore. Windows form the entire east wall of the large dining room, so you don’t need to ask for a window table to see the Mt. Washington Valley spread before you. If you are lucky, the setting sun might catch in an early evening shower to bring a rainbow arching over the mountain. Not as formal as the Mount Washington Hotel, The Ledges’ easy resort atmosphere provides a balanced setting for Chef Dana Lunn’s complex and artistically-presented dishes: Veal Oscar is my all-time favorite, sautéed veal cutlet with flavorful crab Florentine, tender-crisp asparagus and Béarnaise sauce.
The Inn at Thorn Hill (383-4242, www.innatthornhill.com) dining room looks down onto the tidy little village of Jackson, a more intimate view than some of the sweeping mountain vistas of the large hotels, but a thoroughly pleasing one. Just as pleasing is the dining room itself, where guests can dress casually, but the settings and surroundings are undeniably elegant and the service far from casual. Executive Chef Jonathan Cox has added a Mediterranean accent to the menu since his arrival. NH