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Our Gourmet: Squalls aside, a great evening at Squam Lake Inn Kitchen + Bar

28 Shepard Hill Road, Holderness NH

When faced with persistent thunderstorms, most people would find something else to do rather than drive an hour-plus to Squam Lake. But not us — we went ahead with our plans, and our determination was rewarded with a great dinner at a wonderful little restaurant just off the beaten path in the heart of the Lakes Region.

Atmosphere: 18/20
Located just off Route 3 east of Holderness village, Squam Lake Inn is a beautiful bed & breakfast — though “bed & breakfast” is a bit of a misnomer. Over the past couple of years, the owners have converted the food service from eggs and muffins for the overnight guests to a full-service, high-end restaurant open to the public. The restaurant is in the back ell of the charming old home that houses the inn. Besides the main dining room, with about 10 tables, there are several more tables and the bar on the screened porch, and still more outside on the deck/patio. The décor is country, but not rustic; what would no doubt be rough-hewn beams in the main dining room's ceiling are boxed in by simple, dark-stained woodwork. You can't see the lake from the inn, but that's really no matter: the wooded property, with the inn and its big red barn (which houses a gift shop), is engaging on its own.

Appetizers: 17/20
Our Gourmet: Whether you're coming for lunch or dinner, you'll have access to most of the same appetizer choices, ranging from local cheeses to oysters to asparagus & prosciutto to short-rib sliders. I was strongly tempted by the sliders, but I decided to go with the crab cake ($8). I think you can tell a lot about a restaurant from its crab cakes, and these were an excellent start: plenty of meat (shredded, not chunks) in a bright, fresh-tasting cake, lightly seared and served on salad greens with a spicy remoulade sauce. 8/10

The Dining Companion: As our server ran down the extensive list of nightly specials, the cold vegetable platter sounded just perfect. Beets, orange and gold carrots, heirloom tomatoes, and wedges of fresh Brie cheese on greens, served with a watermelon and pink peppercorn vinaigrette. The beets and carrots were blanched perfectly, the tomatoes were mildly tart, and the vinaigrette gave a sweet/tart/peppery overtone that the brie mellowed. It was the perfect light start. 9/10

Entrees: 17/20
OG: Dinner choices also include pasta and everything from chicken to pork chops to filet mignon, but we went with seafood. I picked the sauteed scallops ($24). I got four large sea scallops, seared to a light gold outside and just cooked through, sauced with an apricot-lime-chipotle glaze that included several slices of apricots. The sauce was spicy and a bit too sweet on its own, but the sweetness moderated wonderfully when combined with the creamy polenta and sauteed greens (of the kale variety) that accompanied the scallops. 8/10

TDC: Although the nightly specials tempted me, I decided on the swordfish ($24) from the regular menu: a dry rubbed swordfish steak, grilled, and topped with Sicilian salsa. It was served over mashed potatoes with the same mix of sauteed greens as on OG's plate. The fish was grilled perfectly, moist throughout, and the salsa — a mix of tomatoes, kalamata olives, and fresh chopped basil — was a light and fresh complement. 9/10

Desserts: 16/20
OG: The dessert menu varies, but there appear to be some fixtures. I chose peanut butter pie ($6), which was a comfortably sized slice with chocolate crumb crust, a thick peanut butter mousse filling and a layer of whipped cream topping. It was rich and it was good, but in retrospect it was a bit heavy for a warm summer night — I'd have appreciated it more in the fall. 7/10

TDC: I was a bit disappointed when looking at the dessert menu online — there seemed to be no chocolate option. But when it came time for dessert, I was relieved: There were two ice-cream sandwich options with brownies as the base — and I chose the one with a favorite — coconut ice cream. The brownie was rich, dense and loaded with chocolate chips and the coconut ice cream — from the Sandwich Creamery — was luscious and lightly flavored. I found it to be a perfect combination! (9/10)

All the rest: 18/20
The Inn + Kitchen seems to be a perfect fit for its location near the beautiful, reclusive Squam Lake: It's casual and comfortable, yet the food is refined and creative. Our server, Anna, was cheerful, helpful and knowledgeable, and everyone on the staff seemed to be enjoying taking care of their guests.

The inn's website, one of the more attractive we've seen, has a wealth of information about the inn, the restaurant (including current menus) and the region.

One other item of note: The rolls we were served when we were seated were truly fantastic: piping hot square pillows of delicious, dense bread with sun-dried tomatoes and a just-al dente, slightly salty herbed crust. They should sell them by the dozen!

Total: 86/100


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