This is a fish story about Latitudes at the Wentworth Hotel. It starts with a beach tour so I get to learn about the real New Hampshire since what I know is negligible. We are driving the coast at a leisurely pace. Most New England coasts are remarkably similar and this reminds me of the Cape with busy beaches and of Maine's isolated coves.
As a guest at a seaside grand hotel, chefs know you're captive since who wants to drive around who knows where looking for who knows what? In my experience, these hotels are good dining. I was in Kennebunkport years ago at a place overlooking the water. We're checking in and someone asks: "Do you have lobster?" And the desk man, who must hear this 100 times a week, says: "Ma'am, you can have lobster three times a day." (Ma'am, even a zillion years ago.) The food was very good.
Latitudes is on a dock, so cruise up to the marina on the Piscataqua River that runs from Maine to the ocean in nearby Portsmouth. It's as scenic as you expect. Some tables have umbrellas but they're taken so we're inside and we don't mind since they're genuinely happy to see us. Roseanna's having California A by Acacia chardonnay, the least oaky she can find. Our server wants to know if we want bread. Yes, if we must and of course it's warm rosemary focaccia. With butter. This is so, so unfair. If bread is verboten, this is the place to inhale at length. We assure each other one bite does not count and can be taken sitting down.
Capital Grille is fine dining in Providence. It seems like they've been around forever and it's 25 years, so it is forever. It opened in 1990 and this is the original store tucked behind old Union Station. Historically, I find it intriguing that a place that was of its time then is still good at being contemporary years later. I went looking for an old menu to see what they served in 1990 but there are no clues for what used to be. I really want to know.
I don't have to tell you how hard it is to pick a place to eat. It's not like I didn't have any notice. We knew months in advance that I had to find the right spot for dinner in a place I don't know, that I can't find without a GPS and that's open Monday. There are places you can starve on Mondays and Providence is one. At the visitor's request, it must be: "A place you've never been that will break the bank, and that you can write about." Or what we call a regular working dinner. Years ago, in their Newton, MA store, I sat at the bar with beer and a wedge salad. That was when I was still allowed to have blue cheese, bacon and sour cream all on the same plate. Surely that doesn't count and so, of course, I don't tell. It's not like I'm going to have it again though I could. It's on the menu just as I remember.
Martha’s Vineyard in the Fall is the secret treasure of Vineyarders. The “summer people (some are not)” have returned to their sophisticated rat races, leaving perfect weather and fabulous restaurants to the people who really love the Vineyard – those whose families have been living in Martha’s Vineyard since, well, the 17th Century.
It is a time of weddings, fishing tournaments, sunny days and starry nights.
My favorite Vineyard restaurant, Atria, centers its activities, neither in its elegant upstairs restaurant nor its garden pavilion, but in the basement pub with its naked Marilyn Monroe photo by the bar. Now we know winter is nearby and the robust clam chowders and slow braised potpies begin to appear on the menu.
While this restaurant is local, its owner chef isn’t! Trained by our wonderful Wolfie – Wolfgang Puck, Chef Christian Thornton and his gorgeous wife, Greer Thornton have made Christian’s gourmet training and the Vineyards fresh local flavors and organic produce a marriage of perfection.
However, in the basement pub with its cool jazz on the weekends, “gourmet” is hidden among what at first glance seems ordinary comfort food – The Burger!
Amber Road Café's breakfast is worth getting up for. Lunch warrants standing on line. Dinner? Amber's not open for dinner. Bummer. We find ourselves here for lunch and the only reason there's no line and we're seated is because we're late. Not far too late and not a moment too soon.
What to have? For openers, omelets, pancakes, waffles, crepes, oatmeal, French toast, eggs Benedict, yogurt, fruit, lox and bagel and blintzes! I'm not sure this is kosher but it is unexpected. Around noon, ease into salads with grilled vegetables; eggplant and feta; lobster and bacon; beets and goat cheese. Sandwiches: tuna melt, New England with turkey and stuffing; grilled cheese, avocado and bacon. Wraps take in vegetables, shrimp ceviche, chicken Caesar, chicken and cranberry. Best kitchen thrill since my Mexicans gave me the Ninja® last year, panini: chicken, eggplant, Cuban, Brie with chutney; and California with chicken, bacon, avocado, cheddar and chili sauce. Take note.
Today's adventure begins as I leave Boston over the Tobin Bridge to Route 1 North to Middleton. I go by giant box stores and chain restaurants I've only read about. Although people drive fast in the city, outside the city they're worse. When you slow down to pull off, you're lucky they don't take you out although sometimes they do. People love shopping here, I can tell, and it's enchanting because parking is free and there's so much of it.
It's hard not to notice that the word "eatery" is big along Route 1 and we're not being snippy. As I pull in to Maggie's Farm parking lot, I see the Sol Bean Café next door and yes, here's another sign that says not just eatery, but 'healthy eatery.' Anyway, I've arrived much too early. Sadly, there's no bookstore, no market, no place to window shop, so I drive back a couple of miles to Home Depot. I manage not to buy anything. The parking is intoxicating.
Maggie's Farm: Bob Dylan wrote a song by this name in 1965. While I like '60s tunes too, the surfing ones like 26 Miles and Surfer Girl, the lyrics to Maggie's Farm describe a sad worker scrubbing floors, underpaid and fined. I'm sure Maggie's owner Mark McDonough knows something I don't. Anyway, I thought it might be farm-ish if not an actual farm but it's not, although their logo has a sheep wearing sunglasses. On their site it says they purchased "a classic 1953 International Harvester tractor to become the icon of the restaurant" but I didn't see it. What is certain, however, is that I'm very, very near a farm.
The road to John Andrews Restaurant twists and turns through woods and farmlands. We arrived at dusk while there was enough light to sit outside on the wooden deck that backed up against a grassy hill.
What looks like the decayed remnant of a hundred year old shed leans perilously to one side. Inside, the restaurant has the cozy feeling of an English road house. The floor to ceiling windows in the dining room open out onto the deck and hill in back.
Visitors come to the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts to escape the heat and congestion of the city. Offering opportunities to relax and catch up on your reading, a string of small towns with B&Bs cuts through the expanses of woods and farmlands.
With music at Tanglewood and dance at Jacob's Pillow, historical sites like Edith Wharton's home, the Mount, the Berkshire Botanical Garden and innovative exhibits at MASS MoCa in North Adams, there's plenty to keep you occupied.
Restaurants aren’t supposed to be real. Real you can get at home. Restaurants are for fantasy of one kind or another. A shot-and-beer bar with sawdust on the floor can fulfill a fantasy or bolster an ego as well as an elegant French dinner with all the trimmings. It just depends on who you want to pretend to be at the moment.
All this comes to mind because Jill and I went to a restaurant that belies everything I just said. There’s not a drop of fantasy in the package. It’s simply what it is and it does what it does and it’s been doing it at the same location for thirty-six years.
Bloodroot is a self described vegan/vegetarian/feminist restaurant that was created all those years ago by Selma Miriam and Noel Furie. Selma runs the kitchen and Noel holds down the front of the house. They’ve perfected their act and they do it exactly the way they want to do it. Your fantasies are not the issue.
When you walk in, Noel instructs you to look at the menu listed on the wall. You tell her your choices and pay up front.
“They’ll call out your name when your food is ready and then you get yourself a tray and carry it to your table.”
If you've come to the area to enjoy great food, there's more to Rhode Island than just Providence. Hop in your car and head south. Everywhere you go, you'll be rewarded with wonderful meals in beautiful settings. During the summer, stopping at a clam shack when you're at the beach is a guilty pleasure not to be denied. In the coastal towns ringing Narragansett Bay and Block Island Sound, you'll find plenty of opportunities to eat yourself silly.
If you're in Newport, try Flo's Clam Shack across the street from First Beach (4 WaveAvenue, Middletown, 401/847-8141) or better yet head up to Bristol a few miles north and stop at Quito's Seafood Restaurant (411 Thames Street, Bristol, 401/253-4500) where chef Frank Formisano and his mom, Joann, serve up clam strips, fish and chips, fried calamari, lobster rolls, fluffy and light clam cakes, sandwiches with fried fish, clams, shrimp, crab, or scallops, fried oysters, raw clams and oysters, baked clams, casseroles with fish, shrimp, lobster or scallops, French fries, hot dogs, hamburgers, Cole slaw, and clam chowder--red, white, and, because this is Rhode Island, clear as well.
On our recent summer "vacation" to the East Coast, we had one day to ourselves. Blissfully alone, with only each other to have to worry about and please. Instead of the unending stream of family that we were happy to see, but the all-at-once, all-or-nothing nature of the company had left us a bit weary. There was only time for one dinner out. One dinner that didn't revolve around a porch and a grill and the constraints of many others picky palates. Don't get me wrong, I love grilling, but I was looking for something crafted with genius and care that required a fork.
Unfortunately it was a Monday night. All my top Boston choices were shuttered for the evening. And don't even get me started on how expensive the hotel prices are. For one night. Like New York pricey. So we choose to stay in Portsmouth, NH, a destination new to both of us and on the road between Bangor and Boston. Our hotel choice was a total cinch. The Ale House Inn. Sounded like it has something to do with beer. And it does. It's located in the historic Portsmouth Brewing Co. building, which dates back to 1880. That may be considered old in most cities in the country, but not in Portsmouth which the English "founded" in 1653. The 10 rooms are masterfully appointed (Keurig/iPad/flat screen/fridge), if a bit small, but since we were just sleeping there we didn't care. The free micro brew they give you at check-in was a lovely surprise and a nice touch on a hot summer day.
Why did I love our dinner at this place so much? Could it be that The Dream Away Lodge is rumored to have been a brothel during the Depression years, which speaks of a rich history of satisfying and unburdening the cares of its clientele? Could it be that it’s so tucked away in the woods around Becket, Massachusetts that your GPS will not get you there — so that its current owner, Daniel Osman, refers to it as “Brigadoon” – a place that may exist only in a dream?
Jill and I dined there the other evening with three young and exuberantly attractive actors, who if you added up all their ages together would still be younger than me. And it didn’t matter — not at The Dream Away, where time has no sway.
Chef Amy Loveless’s menu is delightfully all over the place — as is the table setting — no plate, no fork, no spoon is like another. Thai Beef Salad; Korean Short Ribs; Moroccan Chicken; Armenian Grilled Lamb; Black Pepper Tofu and Sticky Rice; Grilled Vegetable Terrine with Quinoa Tabouleh and Olives; their self-proclaimed Famous Meat Loaf.