Oh, O

Concord gains another gathering spot.It took much longer than expected, but O Steaks and Seafood has finally opened in Concord. The chic new setting in the Capital Commons is making a grand statement about prosperity and renewal on South Main Street. With the beautiful Red River Theatre below and the Capitol Center for the Arts just down the street, the area is primed to thrive as an entertainment and dining destination.Opening a restaurant above a theater was a challenge for Chef/owner Scott Ouellette and the builders. Construction activity had to stop by 1 p.m. to ensure the matinee film audience seated below was not disturbed by the rat-a-tat of jack hammers. For more protection, the kitchen floor was endowed with an extra three inches of insular concrete to spare theatergoers the clang of an occasional dropped sauté pan. They even had to put felt pads on the bottom of chair legs to soften the sound of movement.When the construction team tried working around the theater schedule, the local residents complained.But no one is complaining now. The restaurant with adjoining private club is beautiful. The lounge area with high-top tables and circular marble bar seats 75 and faces Main Street with floor-to-ceiling windows. Modern, red glass pendants hang from the 16-foot ceiling while an acid-stained concrete floor is both practical and a bit funky … much like the “palomino” upholstery on the seating.The dining area proper is in the back, where the open kitchen is in full view through a huge serving bay. Booth seats line two walls and the cluster of tables are covered with white tablecloths for dinner service at 5 p.m. Lunch is served from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m Monday through Friday. There is no lunch on weekends, but service in the bar starts at 3 p.m.Ouellette has built a solid reputation as a chef and restaurateur, first in the Lakes Region with Canoe in Moultonborough in 2004 and O Steaks and Seafood in Lakeport in 2006. Then, in 2008 he opened The North End, offering Italian food family-style. With something for just about everybody in the Lakes Region, fans had asked him to come down to Concord. He had visited the Concord property several times and finally “pulled the trigger” about two years ago. It was going to be a large project, but he had done it before with the major build-out in Lakeport.Experience at the Lakeport O had taught him a few things. People like to sit in the bar and at high-top tables. Here, roughly half the square footage was given over to the lounge. He also had success with a Cruvinet-type system in Lakeport and used the same system here to offer 41 bottles of wine by the glass. The wines are kept fresh with nitrogen that replaces the oxygen in an open bottle. In their refrigerated cabinets, the reds are kept at 64 and the whites at 42. “Most people like a well-chilled white,” says Ouellette, “and by the time it’s tapped and reaches the table, it’s about right.” Additional storage for wine bottles is visible through a glass wall – part design statement, part promotion.Mixed drinks are also served via modern science, a liquor-dispensing berg. An elaborate rigging of 16 spirits, three bottles each, are ready at the touch of the barkeep. With the order of, say, a Long Island Iced Tea, an ounce of vodka, an ounce of tequila and an ounce of rum are released and tumble through hosing into a shaker to await the triple sec, sweet and sour mix and Coke. Ouellette says, “It speeds up service and aids in consistency.”His biggest fan is his mother, Sandy Ouellette, who stands in as hostess, accountant and, with each new restaurant, interior designer. The interiors of Ouellette restaurants are part of their draw. Canoe is cozy and warm while Lakeport O is expansive and exciting with curves and soaring roof lines. The sophisticated but fun look in Concord will bring them in, too. Restaurant design is usually best left to the professionals, but three cheers for this family collaboration. Thanks, Mom.Ouellette is working on a new bar menu, but in the meantime offerings include all the fan favorites from his other restaurants: lobster mac ‘n cheese ($8), kobe beef O pops ($9), fried oysters ($8), sweet and sour calamari ($9), O chips ($6) and Kobe beef grilled meatloaf ($9). These appetizers and an array of burgers, soups and sandwiches are at the heart of the lunch menu. But the burgers and sandwiches are not ordinary – consider the “Wow, that’s good” burger with smoked blue cheese and 12-year-old balsamic ($12) or the Ultimate Fried Egg Sandwich with Kobe meatloaf, fried onion strings, bacon, cheddar and, yes, a fried egg ($12). Salad selections are nice, too, with a bistro salad served with a four-ounce filet and smoked blue cheese ($14).All these are fun diversions, but at heart, O is a steak and seafood restaurant. The cocktail shrimp are colossal (U-6 or U-8), the day-boat scallops succulent and the Kobe beef is decadent – even the 16-ounce cut is a splurge (market price). Other steak selections range from $32 to $34 and a rack of lamb is $29. Back to the lobster mac and cheese, you can order the dinner version with a full pound of lobster meat ($41) or the more modest 1/4 lb. version ($21) or the 1/2 lb. ($31). All in all, the menu is fun and varied and making a decision is tough. It begs you to return.Building owner Michael Simchik waited for the right tenant for this space. He also owns the 100 Market Street tower in Portsmouth, which hosts a private dining club on the top floor. To satisfy his request for the same, Ouellette is opening the Capital Club in a space adjacent to the restaurant, but with its own separate entrance. Members will have use of the private bar and meeting spaces in addition to the upscale dining that will be offered. Membership is $1,000 a year, plus a $1,000 initiation fee. In a town rich with doctors and lawyers, the club concept should be successful.The main entrance is through the courtyard where, in season, Ouellette hopes to have outside dining. Access can also be found directly through the parking garage in the rear. The garage is part of the whole complex built in modern glass and classic brick. The building looks to the future of Concord, but also honors the charm of the past. NH