Our Gourmet: Fresh and local, good and satisfying

Our Gourmet
New Hampshire Union Leader
September 07. 2011 12:32PM
Rustic Leaf Bistro
15 Elm St. (Route 101A), Milford

Cuisine: Organic and locovore American

Serving: Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Sunday 11-3.

Prices: Entrees $18-$24; appetizers $8; salads $5/$7.
'Discerning palate' is a term rarely used in describing our teenager's dining preferences, unless by discerning one means whether the boy decided to put cheese or ketchup on something or not. So we weren't sure what to expect when we brought The Bottomless Pit along when we visited the Rustic Leaf, where the specialty is organic and local foods and the menu features a healthy assortment of vegetarian offerings.

General impressions: 18/20

We aren't typically drawn to organic foods, and vegetarian is a choice we usually make only when we haven't had a chance to stop at the supermarket meat counter. So we approached the Rustic Leaf with a touch of hesitation born of ignorance. But we were also very curious, and we were intrigued by the great variety and imaginative combinations on the menu. There's something for everyone - vegetarian dishes and a long list of salads, as well as chicken, fish, beef and pork.

The Rustic Leaf is located in a big old Colonial house just off Milford's downtown Oval. Guests enter through the bar in the back, and there's an old red railroad caboose coupled to the house that is part of the kitchen. We wound our way through the hallways to one of two dining rooms in the front of the house. Ours was a long, thin room with eight tables set for two, four or in one case, five. It was brightly painted in yellow with white woodwork, brightly lit, pleasant and clean, simply and nicely decorated.

The pace of service was a bit slow, which we attributed to the kitchen, not our server. But we also attributed it to the freshness of the ingredients, figuring there's not a lot of frozen or microwaved food on the menu, so we were willing to be patient.

And overall, we couldn't have been happier with our experience. In fact we'd definitely put the Rustic Leaf on our 'come again' list.

Appetizers: 28/30

OG: Skeptical as he might have been about the prospects of organic dining, TBP set all that aside when he got a look at the appetizer menu, which featured a variety of his favorites (all priced at $7.95). He chose the Homemade Nachos with Roasted Vegetables, Organic Black Beans, Cheddar and Feta Cheese. The tasty medley of roasted summer squash, zucchini, corn and broccoli was a great alternative to the typical Mexican-spiced ground beef, and TBP made quick work of the good-sized portion (so good sized that it in fact put a dent in his entree appetite, which is saying something). He gave it a 9 of 10.

I chose the Sweet Potato Crab Cakes with Sour Cream Remoulade. I love crab cakes, and these were excellent. There seemed to be very few ingredients in these cakes beside crab (and lots of it), mashed sweet potato as binder and a great, slightly spicy seasoning mix. Different and delicious. 10/10 The Dining Companion: One quibble with OG here - we didn't exactly choose our appetizers.

TBP likes to hedge his bets, so OG and I were TOLD that among the three of us, someone had to get the Crab and Artichoke Dip with homemade nacho chips (which I was planning to get anyway), and someone else had to get the crab cakes. It was just a question of who got what. My dip was packed with crab, just the right amount of artichoke so as not to make it too acidic, covered with cheese and served piping hot. They were low on nacho chips, so with my OK they substituted toasted ciabatta bread. The dip was fantastic, but the toast was too thick and hard.

I was able to try it with a few of the chips that TBP grudgingly surrendered, and that was the perfect match! 9/10

Entrees: 24/30

OG: I could not have been happier with my entree, Chicken and Spinach Ravioli with Roasted Chicken, Roasted Peppers, Asparagus, Portobello Mushrooms and Goat Cheese Reduction ($18.95). I got seven or eight large raviolis stuffed with chicken chunks, spinach and cheese, in a wonderful, cheesy sauce full of pieces of the mushrooms, red peppers and asparagus promised in the menu listing. It smelled wonderful, tasted even better, and was the clear winner among the evening's selections. 10/10

TBP debated a few entree choices before choosing the safe route of Grilled New York Sirloin with Mashed Red Potato, Merlot Demiglace and Garlic Butter ($23.95). A beef fan, the boy was impressed by the size of the steak and its tenderness, but he said it could have been more flavorful and thought it was overly charred, overpowering the steak itself. The steak and mashed potatoes came with the vegetable of the day, sliced and roasted carrots. He gave his entree a 6/10.

TDC: I opted for the Roasted Haddock with Lump Crabmeat, Parmesan Cheese, Garlic Mashed Potato, Crab Cream Reduction ($19.95). It was delicious, but I would have liked a bit more of the crab cream reduction. (8/10)

Desserts: 16/20

OG: The ravioli was more than enough to fill me up, so I passed on dessert. However, my dining companions did not pass on the opportunity to give me a hard time for suggesting that I might share a bit of each of their desserts - for research purposes only, of course. So I limited myself to a meager forkful of each. Both were good, but had I ordered, I would have been happier with TBP's choice of the Lemon Raspberry Cake. It was a tall wedge of cake with raspberry filling between the layers and a light, creamy frosting. Not too heavy after a big, satisfying meal. 8/10 TDC: Ahem... as for OG's 'research-only' sharing, I think his exact quote when I ordered dessert (before TBP could get his choice out) was '... and bring three forks with that!' My choice was the Molten Lava Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream. Being the chocoholic of the group, anything with a gooey chocolatey center in a rich chocolate cake is a no-brainer. The 'lava' was a bit too hot, and although not the best I've had, I still would order next time we dine here. And OG can order his own. 8/10

Total: 86/100

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