As our family's first year as one of the Union Leader's Our Gourmet teams comes to a close, we thought it would be fun to look back on some of the highlights that The Dining Companion and I and our Teenage Bottomless Pit discovered eating our way around New Hampshire in 2011.
The rustic charm of The Homestead's restored Merrimack barn makes it a great place to spend the evening. The atmosphere screams “comfort food,” and the menu delivers it. The sunroom area near the door is nice, but try to get a table near the fireplace or upstairs.
If you're heading out with a group, you can't go wrong with Gauchos Churrascaria, the prix-fixe Brazilian steakhouse in Manchester, as long as there are no committed vegetarians in your party.
When the weather is nice, it's great to be outside.
The simple, no-frills fish-camp atmosphere made Wolfetrap our favorite outdoor dining experience this year. Its location on the shore of Wolfeboro's Back Bay didn't hurt, either. Town Docks in downtown Meredith was fun too, in a beachier sort of way.
One of my highest-scoring appetizers of the year was the Sweet Potato Crab Cake with Sour Cream Remoulade from the Rustic Leaf Bistro in Milford. No filler, just a great combination of main ingredients and spices.
Another that's memorable is the Cream of Garlic soup at Del Rossi's Trattoria in Dublin.
For The Dining Companion, the calamari at Hooked in Manchester was not just the best calamari, but far and away the best appetizer of the year.
And The Bottomless Pit still talks about the Shrimp and Crab Dip at The Homestead, which also served up another appetizer with its escargot.
And while he wasn't wild about the place overall, TBP was pleasantly surprised by the Rustic Leaf's Homemade Nachos with Roasted Vegetables, Organic Black Beans, Cheddar and Feta Cheese.
Among the land-based entrees, two got perfect 10s from me this year: The truly luscious Beef Tournedos at MT's Local in Nashua are as decadent as steak can be.
Just as delicious was the Chicken and Spinach Ravioli with Roasted Chicken, Roasted Peppers, Asparagus, Portobello Mushrooms and Goat Cheese Reduction at the Rustic Leaf. It was wonderfully rich, and large enough that I had to pass up dessert.
Wolfetrap came up big with two seafood entrees: TDC loved the Fisherman's Platter, calling it the best she'd ever had. And I couldn't get enough of the Fish Tacos made with tender, juicy swordfish chunks.
TBP's fondest entree memory was the Chicken Cordon Bleu at the Homestead, which he says was fantastic.
After a rich, meaty and heavily seasoned dinner at the fun and flavorful Gauchos Churrascaria in Manchester, the Limoncello Truffle was a cool refreshing treat.
TDC was crazy about the Exotic Bomba at Gauchos — three fruity sorbets molded into a whitechocolate covered ball — but the chocolate lover in her wins out: Her favorite dessert of the year was the Chocolate Fondant at Wolfetrap.
We visited some great restaurants in 2011, and enjoyed many fine dishes. Of all of them, these are the places we each judged most worth a drive for a return visit:
1) Hooked, Manchester 2) Rustic Leaf, Milford 3) Wolfetrap, Wolfeboro
The Dining Companion:
1) Hooked 2) The Homestead, Merrimack 3) Black Water Grill, Salem
The Bottomless Pit:
1) The Homestead 2) Coach Stop, Londonderry 3) Luna Caprese, Merrimack
Our Best of 2011
We still talk about our visit to Hooked in Manchester in April. We sat at the bar, and between the hip, casual atmosphere, the excellent food and the great service from the ladies behind the bar, we had a blast at this tiny seafood restaurant. It was easily our best dining experience of the year.