Portsmouth Dining: Five Favorites

Lindbergh’s Crossing

29 Ceres Street, (603) 431-0887

The creative force behind the cooking at Lindbergh’s Crossing, Chef Jeffrey Tenner, is a remarkable, classically trained talent whose inspired instinct for taking the ordinary and making it extraordinary immediately engaged my interest. For what was my first meal at the restaurant since leaving the kitchen in which I myself had cooked 15 years earlier, I ordered snails in a cream sauce as an appetizer. Much as I love cream sauces, it would not have occurred to me to use one for escargot. The thought of milk with snails had at first seemed unappetizing, but when I thought of it, I remember serving them myself with Stilton and cognac, and if the cheese had enhanced their flavor, cream might as well. This unexpected combination was delicious, and I felt an affinity between Chef Tenner’s methods and my own. And this is what I liked, the fearlessness to be inventive and to seek a taste that was expressive of yourself. “Cooking is,” he told me, “a beautiful balance between passion and inspiration.”

The brick walls and the heavy beams of the ceiling were the same, and though I missed the oil paintings and the Italian carved statues in the window with which the dining room had been decorated in my own day, the room was as appealing as ever with the tables now sheathed in copper and lighting fixtures of a later design than the Colonial ones which we had installed.

My companions had ordered an appetizer mezze plate: roasted King Oyster Mushroom, fava bean hummus and marinated roasted eggplant. We followed that with a radicchio salad of spiced pecans, gorgonzola, and dried cherries in a balsamic vinaigrette. Torn between the pan-roasted pork chop with mashed sweet potatoes, a tomato, garlic and fava bean ragout and the pan-fried rabbit with mashed Yukon gold potatoes and a smoked bacon and mushroom gravy, I finally settled on the rabbit, resolving to return on another day for the delicious-sounding pork chops. If you have room for dessert after these generously portioned entrées, try a “taster’s plate.”

The prices are far from exorbitant, but whatever the price, Lindbergh’s Crossing is money well-spent. It’s best to call for reservations ahead of time but, if you care to drop in early, you might be lucky enough to grab one of the tables by the window in the upstairs cocktail lounge, where you can sit and watch the boats passing on the mighty Piscataqua while you enjoy your delicious meal.

Jumpin’ Jay’s Fish Café

150 Congress Street (603) 766-fish

The executive chef at Jumpin’ Jay’s, John Harrington, has a talent for innovation that takes the taste of fish to a whole new place. For appetizers we ordered hot southern fried catfish fingers tossed in a hot pepper sauce served with Peruvian purple potato salad, horseradish stuffed jumbo shrimp wrapped with applewood smoked bacon in an oyster sauce and a Manhattan clam chowder. (In New England you ask? Yes, and a welcome change!) As an entrée I ordered the yellow fin tuna, an admittedly unadventurous selection given the exotic choices offered, but there is nothing pedestrian about Harrington’s talent for grilling, to say nothing of his sauce; a shittake and mussel veloute that was so perfect on the tuna it belongs at the head of a directory of superlative combinations. The diner is offered a choice of sauces, a great innovation that permits one to customize the dinner to one’s own taste. (Other selections include an olive tapenade, lobster veloute, and a yellow pepper and tomato coulis.)

Chef Harrington mastered his profession by apprenticing in some of the finest restaurants in New England, enhancing the already stellar talent that has made Jumpin’ Jay’s one of the best seafood restaurants from here to Boston. The long lines on weekends attest to the quality of his food which is well worth the wait, but do yourself a favor, call ahead for reservations during peak hours.


The Rosa

80 State Street, (603) 436-9715

The Rosa, a landmark in Portsmouth since 1927, is one of my favorite Italian restaurants because it’s not afraid to dish up a red sauce in the face of a trend towards “northern cuisine” that eschews the peasant-based southern Italian cooking.

You can bring the family here without having to go into hock and enjoy a menu that, thanks to Executive Chef Johnson (late of Strawberry Court), is guaranteed to offer something to please every taste. Chef Johnson was the first chef in the area to use wild mushrooms as a ravioli stuffing. Call in for his current specials as they change weekly, sometimes more often, depending on his mood and eye for what’s being offered fresh in the market.

One of my favorites is his Chef’s Lasagna, an imaginative twist on the classic, done with chicken, wild mushrooms, spinach and roasted red peppers baked with marinara. There is a great selection of the traditional thin-crusted pizza (I’m from Chicago where thin-crust pizza was born) and a full menu ranging from seafood fra di’avolo, to steak pizzaiola, veal saltim-

bocca, and an absolutely delicious chicken puttenesca.

In the many years I’ve eaten his cooking, I have never been less than satisfied. Simply put, Chef Doug Johnson is a great chef.


The Wellington Room

67 Bow Street, Upstairs, (603) 431- 2989

New Zealand-born Chef David Robinson comes to Portsmouth after an apprenticeship in restaurants in Australia, Europe and the United States, which has enabled him to master the art of International Cuisine.

I first ate in this intimate little dining room high above the Piscataqua on a cold November evening, feasting on an appetizer of pan-seared duck foie gras served over organic Macintosh apples sautéed with sun dried cranberries and finished with a porcini mushroom syrup, followed by a filet mignon stuffed with English Stilton cheese and arugula, accompanied by truffled mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus topped with crispy leeks. We’re talkin’ delicious!!

Those who prefer staying home at night might consider pampering their inner Anglophile with an afternoon tea served Wednesday through Sunday between four and five. The menu offers an interesting array of teas, freshly baked scones served with Devonshire cream, and a choice of berry preserves; elegant sandwiches and terrific salads like: smoked salmon layered with caramelized red onions and creamy boursin cheese, shaved English cucumbers with crisp carrots and apple cider vinaigrette, pan-seared mushrooms with eggplant caviar and balsamic roasted tomatoes, just to mention a few. The view of the river from the windows of the Wellington Room is spectacular, surpassed only by Chef David Robinson’s equally spectacular talent.


Pesce Blue

103 Congress Street (603) 430-7766

Now in its second season, Pesce Blue has elicited continuous raves since its opening. With its draped wall, blue tiles, and rotating shows of contemporary artists, both regional and national, it is hard to believe that this sophisticated and calming space had ever been the unexceptional interior which, over the years, had housed a succession of bookstores.

Executive Chef Marc Segal has designed an exceptional menu guaranteed to please even the most world-weary gourmand.

On a recent visit we began dinner by sharing an elegant chilled cucumber gazpacho, followed by grilled octopus with haricot vert, capers, black olives and crispy potato with lemon vinaigrette, and a tuna tartar with avocado mousse and pink peppercorn vinaigrette. I was impressed with the small salad of fiddlehead ferns and fresh morels in a delicate olive oil and balsamic dressing that was like nibbling on springtime. Each of the pre-entrée courses was excellent, and the ingenuity of the tastes a great compliment to the chef’s selection of dishes that followed.

We had a very tasty European triglia served naked (the fish, not Rhianna our most pleasant waitress) with crispy red potatoes and fried parsley as well as an Eastern skate with peas, Maitake mushrooms and orange-ginger reduction, and monkfish on risotto that was très delicious. But the hit of the evening was a spectacular Mediterranean branzino baked in a salt crust with shaved fennel and golden raisin salad. We let the chef choose the desserts: a crème brulée, a deep chocolate sort of puff pudding with candied chestnuts, and wonderful crepes filled with crème fraiche.

Executive Chef Marc Segal deserves the raves, and we wish Pesce Blue a long and successful run.

My assignment had specified a selection of five favorites, a number inadequate to do justice to the many other establishments I might have selected.

The Metro has wonderful food and great music in the piano bar.

The Old Ferry Landing, overlooking the river, dishes up great burgers and has some hot music at night.

Moe’s is still the best for a sub.

Visit Ceres Bakery for breads, pastries and terrific coffee.

Café Brioche. Get there early so you can get a table outside, eat a chocolate croissant, and view the morning in Market Square.