Inside the Copper Door

Bringing the light of the big city to suburban Bedford.

Does food taste better in deluxe surroundings? The new Copper Door in Bedford has raised the standard for upscale fare served with a dash of class and a bit of shock and awe. The place is designed to impress – from your first foot in the door.

The principals of Great New Hampshire Restaurants Inc. (T-Bones and Cactus Jack's), Tom Boucher and Dan Fraser, decided to make the leap to finer dining. Not fine dining, which has been pronounced dead by the dining public, but dining in an upscale atmosphere where the cost of entrées average in the twenties or more. Here, diners are not expected to dress up for the outing or speak in hushed tones. It's about creating a hip environment that makes dining out a fun event and hopefully the quality of the food rises to the occasion.

Tom Boucher has been representing New Hampshire as a board member of the National Restaurant Association for a number of years. In that capacity he travels to Chicago, New York, and, as he says, "someplace warm," watching the dining trends in trend-setting places. He has wanted to bring the big city and bright lights to New Hampshire for some time.

Seeing an upswing at T-Bones and Cactus Jack's, Boucher broke ground in Bedford last July and opened the Copper Door this past December.

The new construction was basically designed by Mark Fenske, who has been in the restaurant business for more than 30 years and was one of the original founders of T-Bones. He understands the mechanics of food service and translated that into an intriguing floor plan and inspired structure. Additional layers of design were added by the partners, including Tom Boucher's wife Dana Boucher, who created several of the large landscape paintings that grace the walls. Boucher says, "We kept a book of swatches and ideas from our travels."

Giving credit where credit is due, the partners did a superlative job on the overall concept and interior design. It's all a big wow from the moment you heave open the impressive copper door. That door, custom fabricated in Vermont, cost $35,000. But as Boucher says, "We felt obliged, after all it is the name of the restaurant."

There is another big wow when you enter. The ceiling soars but the dining spaces are intimate. The materials used are solid and substantial. Looking closer you notice the details – a beautiful stone fireplace commands center stage, the bar top is solid metallic and, yes, it has purse hooks! The large U-shaped bar fosters community engagement while a communal table, a new trend in dining, provides a setting for about eight strangers or intimates to converse easily. Another space called the Roost provides seating in Ethan Allen upholstered chairs with a smattering of small tables. It's a cozy place to wait for a table or enjoy a drink or two.

Also on the left side of the restaurant is a small room – Twenty West – with seating for groups of 20 or a quiet environment on busy nights.

On the right side of the restaurant is more conventional seating, but thought has been given to table arrangement that breaks up the space with half walls, booths and banquettes. A banquette for eight faces the other side of the great stone fireplace and is, as Boucher says, "the best seat in the house."

It's not all about pretty. Partner Dan Fraser says, "We made sure the facility was built with all the LEED standards." He says the HVAC units are one-sixth the size required for the Hudson T-Bones.

The total look is urban but the space is firmly rooted in New Hampshire tradition with wood, stone and a post-and-beam spin-off.

Service has been given a face-lift, too. Boucher says it's all about teamwork and to promote that mantra, both the front of the house and the kitchen staff wear the same brown uniformed look.

In the kitchen Chef Zack Martineau has been brought on board to change the face of what one might expect from this "chain gang." Martineau has fine dining experience in Chelmsford, while locally he worked for Baldwin's On Elm and also led the banquet side of C.R. Sparks. His kitchen boasts a huge wood-fired stone oven utilized for the heart of the menu – pizzas, high-end steaks and roasted vegetables. Everything tastes better with a little caramelization and a bit of char.

The menu is broad-based with offerings from grilled cheese to Delmonico steak, plus a nice selection of "snacks" for those who like to graze somewhere in-between. One of Boucher's favorite lighter dishes is the roasted beet salad – a carpaccio of golden beets and sugared pecans with a nicely acidic dressing.

With a full-time pastry chef the dessert list is compelling. Most alluring is the oversized carrot cupcake set in a white chocolate "wrapper." Also from the baker, a savory monkey bread served with dinner.

The wine list has been given serious consideration. Bottles start at $35 and you can even find Opus One for $240. With high turnover, they expect to offer about 20 wines by the glass. Both red and wine wines are in custom-built, temperature-controlled cabinets to ensure proper serving temperatures and the backup storage is chilled, too.

Local ingredients include bacon and ham from the North Country Smokehouse in Claremont and produce from a local farm in season.

The menu is expected to be updated three times a year with a switch-out for seasonal items. A unique way to be invited to the seasonal menu tastings is to become a member. The Copper Door offers three VIP levels starting at $2,000. For the up-front cash you get a card loaded with $1,000, 10-percent discounts on bottles of wine and invitations to the menu tastings. Additional levels offer more incentives.

Come spring, the south terrace, lined with a granite stone wall, will open for outdoor dining to bring the total seats to 225 in the 8,000-square-foot space.

One would suspect that this restaurant pretty much checked off all the boxes on Boucher's restaurateur wish list. It should be a good investment for diners, too. NH

Copper Door is open for lunch and dinner seven days a week with the lunch menu served until 4:30. Reservations are taken only for parties of six or more.

Categories: Features