Hot New Restaurants 2008

The table is set.
The door is open.
Act One is about to begin.

In spite of the miserable economy, a good number of brave chefs are offering you, the dining public, new options to soothe your inner angst.

Let restaurants, new and old, offer an escape from the reality that is your sunken 401k plan. Enjoy the theater of the dining room — the inviting set, the low lights, the chef as prima donna. Applaud his (or her) stunning presentations on a plate.

Yes — eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow is probably another brutal day out there
in the real world.

Epoch Restaurant and Bar

The Exeter Inn has been revitalized in the same way an aging dowager with good breeding would reveal the inner princess after layers of time are peeled back.

Hay Creek Hospitality purchased the Inn (they also revitalized the Centennial Inn in Concord, and are working on the Wolfeboro Inn) and gave it a new face. They christened the former Terrace Restaurant with a new name, Epoch, that signals the start of a new era for the historic building near Exeter Academy.

A team of designers added orange accents, slick banquet seating and a backlight staircase to bring the dowager into the modern era. Chef Stephen Harding, formerly of Wentworth by the Sea was brought on board to create elegant cuisine with a contemporary touch. His signature items include corn encrusted crab cake appetizer ($11), fennel-seared Chilean sea bass ($28) and hoisin-grilled Neiman Farms pork chops with a cashew-butter sauce ($26).

Epoch’s Sunday brunch with lobster Benedict is a special occasion, indeed.

The Exeter Inn, 90 Front St., Exeter, (603) 772-5901,
Open for lunch and dinner every day with a brunch on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Four Restaurant

It's all about steaks and hot oven roasting at Four Restaurant in Portsmouth. In fact, the name Four is the French word for oven. Steaks are seared, pizzas are finished, and even root vegetables and mushrooms get the kiss of heat in the wood-fired oven. The menu offers all the usual steak options, but with creative sauces and two sides of your choice are included. Prices for steak start out at $19 and top out at $39 for a huge cowboy steak. Appetizers are fun and affordable and include fantastic sticky ribs ($9).

If you are not in the mood for steak, Chef Simon Lampert offers a different four-course tasting menu ($44) each night. Co-owner Bryan Dagostino says this is fine dining, but in a casual, fun atmosphere. Both Lampert and Dagostino are formerly from 931 Ocean in Hampton Beach. They also have brought on a sommelier who created a short, but unique wine list.

189 State St., Portsmouth, (603) 319-1547,
Open Monday through Saturday for dinner at 5:30 p.m.

Damian's On the River

Chef Damian Martineau cooked for presidents, legislators and, yes, even Hillary Clinton while working in Washington, D.C., for the past 25 years. The requirements of Homeland Security, especially in state kitchens, finally drove him to look for some sanity in his state of birth.

Martineau purchased the old Shipwrecks restaurant in New Boston, leveled it and built a 44-seat restaurant that takes advantage of the river views.

A dessert case in the entry is a reminder to save room. Cakes and tortes are Martineau’s specialty. He hired Chef Christian Gruenerbl to handle the savory side of the menu. Offerings are creative and upscale, and Martineau is proud of his “scratch” kitchen. He believes dining should be an experience, not just a means to an end — the over-full belly. The dining room is refined, with linens and crystal, and a huge fireplace built from granite from around the world greets guests. Nice, but not stuffy, and casual dress is welcomed.

737 River Rd., New Boston
(603) 497-8888,
Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday, Noon till 9 p.m.

900 Degrees Neapolitan Pizzeria

Opening in November of 2007, 900 Degrees Neapolitan Pizzeria in Manchester’s mill district rapidly became the place to be seen. Owners Priscilla Lane-Rondeau and Erik Sealander created a fun and funky atmosphere with the rustic décor of exposed beams and bricks in a former horse barn. The take here on pizza is Neapolitan-style — a very thin crust with a good choice of creative toppings. The most popular seems to be the Margherita ($13), with a red tomato sauce made from San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella cheese and basil leaves. The canned tomatoes come from Italy, of course, as does their Caputo flour, which adds a bit of chew to the crisp crust. To add to the authenticity, drizzle the fruity olive oil over your pie. This is one place where you don’t leave the crust on the plate. A lengthy bar and long drink list keeps the camaraderie going into the evening. Look for open mic and other entertainment midweek.

90 Dow St. (enter at the corner of Canal and Dow)
(603) 641-0900,
Open for lunch and dinner, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Tuesday, 11 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday

Holy Grail Food & Spirits

You can’t help but shriek, “I’ve found the Holy Grail,” the first time you locate this Irish pub on a residential street in Epping. Owner David Kennedy spent a good deal of cash converting the former St. Joseph’s church into a dynamic room — perhaps the perfect place for an Irish wake after-party.

The open space retains the stained-glass windows, the choir loft and even the baptismal font that was left behind. Kennedy doesn’t seem to tire of church-related puns, e.g.: “It would be a sin not to try the Drunken Mushrooms.” Has he gotten much flack from dabbling in the profane? “The worst part was dealing with the planning and initial permits; all that is behind us now,” he says.

The menu is typical pub-style food, but all dishes are made from fresh ingredients, especially the fish. In addition to Dublin-style fish and chips, the Grail offers seafood fra diavolo, shrimp scampi and pan-seared scallops.

The beer list is growing, with 19 beers on draft, many imported. Most evenings entertainment starts at 8:30 p.m.

64 Main St., Epping
(603) 679-9559,
Open for lunch and dinner every day,
Monday at 4:30 p.m.
Tuesday through Sunday at 11:30 a.m.

Aylmer's Grille at the Woodbound Inn

Executive Chef Aylmer Given has made the move from Main Street Jaffrey to the Woodbound Inn in Rindge. The total renovation project includes a larger dining space, complete with a separate chef’s table area with views of the kitchen. A bar was added to a former porch area and is the place to get lunch or lighter fare from its separate menu. The new dream kitchen for Given and his staff is, well, a dream come true.

The space maintains the historical feel but with a fresh, clean look. In the kitchen, Chef Given and the staff create inventive seasonal American fare, as shown on our cover, with the pumpkin stuffed with a pumpkin risotto garnished with sun-dried tomatoes.

In the plans for Sundays is a brunch service such as one might find in a big-city hotel, complete with carving stations and ice sculpture.

Woodbound Inn
247 Woodbound Rd.
Rindge, (603) 532-8341
Open Tuesday through Saturday,
lunch from 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
and dinner from 5 p.m.-8:30p.m.

Blue Trout Grill

Chefs Amy and Ryan Miller struck out on their own after Amy worked the
local restaurant scene in Keene for a good number of years.

The Blue Trout Grill in Keene is a family affair that raises the stakes for good American fare in a fun atmosphere. The bar is lively and is hosted by one of the best mixologists in the area. The renovation breathed fresh air to the space of the former 176 Main, the last restaurant occupant.

Beef, poultry and fish are handled by an on-staff butcher who prepares house-smoked bacon, house-made sausages and other charcuterie. Fish is purchased from a friendly fishmonger in Boston three times weekly. The Porcini-dusted filet mignon with Bordelaise sauce and wild mushroom risotto just dents the wallet at $22. Chef Ryan, a CIA graduate, is managing the front of the house and offers suggestions from the growing wine list. Lunch choices include a smaller serving of the house-made hickory-smoked, dry-rubbed ribs ($12).

176 Main St., Keene
(603) 357-0087,
Open every day for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
and dinner from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Lighter fare is served at the bar until 10 p.m.

Nonni's Italian Eatery

Chef Mathew Mitnitsky found a successful formula with his Nonni’s in Hillsborough. Now, he offers diners Italian-American food like “Nonni” used to make — heaping plates of a bright red tomato sauce on pasta with chicken parm, eggplant and veal — in a new location at the Holiday Inn Concord. The offering of family-size platters makes dining out affordable for many. A brick oven provides a nice thin-crust pizza topped with the usual suspects and more, as in the Maplewood ($15.50) with maple-cured bacon, roasted chicken, sweet onions and smoked Gouda cheese.

But there are also more upscale offerings like chicken marsala ($19) and a slow roasted veal chop ($28). In addition, seasonal menus add to the variety. Look for a classic osso bucco in the winter.

Lunch time brings an à la carte menu or buffet ($9.99) with several marinated salads, hot pizza, garlic knots and pasta fired to order with your choice of sauce.

The newest Nonni’s just opened in New London. And yes, there will be more.

Holiday Inn Concord, 172 North Main St., Concord
(603) 224-0400,
Monday through Sunday, Express lunch buffet
and à la carte menu 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Sunday, Mon through Thursday dinner 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Friday and Saturday 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Corks A Wine Bar

The venerable Bedford Village Inn is spinning the dining experience to focus on wine and drink options. The former Gathering Room in the main house has been transformed into a cozy wine bar with rich décor — an intimate place to meet and sample a great selection of wines by the glass. A new Cruvinet system keeps open bottles fresh and allows the wider selection. A special “wine making” menu will allow guests to create their own blends, as they pour a little of this into a little of that. As Jon Carnevale says, “Life is more interesting with variety.”

A special new menu will feature small plate options.

The Bedford Village Inn
2 Olde Bedford Way, Bedford, (603) 472-2001
Open Tuesday through Saturday evening,
Sunday and Monday may be reserved for group functions

Categories: Hot New Restaurants