Some restaurants entertain diners European-style, with strolling musicians, while others confine the music to bar areas, where they serve either a full or limited menu. Some include a spot for musicians in their dining room, creating an intimate chamber-music setting.
That’s how the small Sunflowers Café in Fitzwilliam (585-3463) blends smooth jazz piano sounds into Sunday evening dining. The bright airy natural-wood-and-white dining room provides an easy, comfortable place to listen to the cool sounds of JC Donelson and Friends as you munch on fresh seasonal specialties, or one of Chef Carolyn Edwards’ sumptuous desserts. This 2006 “Best of NH” winner also offers music on Friday evenings, with a changing program of country, bluegrass, acoustic folk, jazz improv and folk rock.
Also in the Monadnock Region is one of the longest-running restaurant music venues in the state, Del Rossi’s Trattoria in Dublin (563-7195, www.delrossi.com). The names that have appeared at Del Rossi’s are familiar to anyone who follows blues, folk, bluegrass or jazz, and include a number of musicians with award-winning recordings. The tradition-with-flair Italian food is a match to the music, and the menu never skipped a beat when founding Chef-owner David Del Rossi turned over the kitchen to Chef Rich Golden just over a year ago.
On almost any night of the week in Nashua you can take your pick from a menu of music styles. On Friday and Saturday evenings, a violinist and accordion player stroll between tables serenading patrons of Villa Banca (598-0500, www.villabanca.com). No need to time your reservations carefully to hear the music here – it lasts from 7 p.m. until 11 p.m. In the kitchen, Chef/co-owner Tim Poplar and Executive Chef Doug Lunn combine old favorite Italian dishes with contemporary takes on Italian themes and ingredients, often served up with a pan-Med accent.
The Jazz Bar at Michael Timothy’s (595-9334, www.michaeltimothys.com)
offers live jazz Thursday through Sunday evenings, from 8 p.m. until midnight. You can hear acoustic from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. on some Wednesday nights.
Del Vaudo’s (598-8007, www.delvaudos.com) has added a full menu of appetizers, soups and sandwiches in the lounge, so you don’t have to choose between the music and the food. But most regulars still like the arty elegance of the softly lit, newly updated, dining room, dining first, then moving to the lounge. The schedule is filled six evenings a week: Acoustic Night on Monday, Piano Bar on Tuesday, Bag Night on Wednesday and Jazz, Blues and Rock Thursday through Saturday. The weekend jazz and blues groups include well-known names, and the upcoming calendar is always posted on the Web site. No Smoking in the lounge takes effect October first.
The Peddler’s Daughter (821-7535, www.thepeddlersdaughter.com) has a serious commitment to Celtic music, which usually begins at about 9:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday evenings. It’s great craic (Irish for fun), with the lively atmosphere, music and traditional Irish favorites on the menu, including bangers and mashed, fish & chips, corned beef and cabbage, Irish stew with Guinness and one rarely seen — Seafood Irish Coddle.
Elsewhere in the state, Wild Rover (669-7722, www.WildRoverPub.com) in Manchester brings Irish music to a traditional (almost — it’s smoke-free) pub setting every Wednesday and Thursday evening with Marty Quirk & friends. The menu has an independent attitude, with quesadillas and Bourbon Street Beef Tips alongside the lamb and Irish sausage stew. The dish that really sums up the spirit is Irish Nachos — potato wedges with bacon, broccoli and Jack cheese. In Bristol, at Cu Na Mara (744-6336, www.cunamara.net) Ray and Maryann Gardiner dish up live Celtic music every Friday at 7 p.m. and traditional seisun on Sundays at 4 p.m., along with bangers and mash, hearty Guinness beef stew and shepherd’s pie. The Shaskeen (625-0246, www.theshaskeen.com) in Manchester opened in a grand way with an appearance by The Chieftains and Michael Flatley.
Piccola Italia (606-5100, www.piccolaitalianh.com) in Manchester has live music on Saturday and a DJ on Sunday in the bar at Upstairs at Piccola to accompany their authentic Italian cuisine.
At The Barley House (228-6363, www.thebarleyhouse.com) a packed-solid calendar brings a variety of bands and solo artists to Concord, performing Monday through Saturday nights. Chef/owner Brian Shea has created a menu that matches the music and the restaurant’s easy setting, with hearty soups and stews and an internationally-inspired list of sturdy entrées that range from Irish Whiskey Steak and Cuban Mojito double chop to Jambalaya and bratwurst braised in beer.
The ambiance is a bit more formal — although certainly not stiff — at The Metro (436-0521, www.themetrorestaurant.com) in Portsmouth, where you can enjoy live traditional jazz in the lounge, Fridays and Saturdays from 7:30 to 11:30 p.m. Both the full dinner and casual menus are available in the lounge or dining room, whose rich Belle Epoch ambiance, despite the abundance of dark wood, doesn’t seem mens-clubby. Chef Jacques Desire Moonsamy presents an eclectic menu as stylish as the décor, with dishes such as a cassoulet of chicken with Andouille sausage and white beans or an Asian- inspired Mongolian center-cut pork chop with braised red cabbage.
The atmosphere is up-country rustic at Woodstock Station (745-3951, www.woodstockinnnh.com), where you’ll hear live bands Thursday through Saturday evenings. Styles can include folk, classic rock, contemporary acoustic, oldies, grunge, punk, pop, blues and R&B. And they serve a mean burger, plump and juicy and cooked just as requested.
Unique in New Hampshire — and possibly in all New England — is the live opera that accompanies dinners at the Inn at Crystal Lake (447-2120 or 800-343-7336, www.innatcrystallake.com) in Eaton Center, south of Conway. The inn’s Opera Nights, held on the fourth Thursday of the month (except November, when it’s the third Thursday to avoid Thanksgiving) have proven so popular that advance reservations are essential. Discussions, illustrated by recordings and live singing by innkeeper Tim Ostendorf, cover various operas (announced in advance, so you can choose a favorite), and are included with a four-course dinner and a glass of wine. Ostendorf trained as an opera singer and has sung professionally in operas including La Bohème and Don Giovanni. Chef Stephen Golder designs the dinner menu to complement the featured opera.
Barbara Radcliffe Rogers is co-author of “Eating New England,” a guide to local food sources and experiences, published by Countryman Press.