Our Gourmet: A Portsmouth icon with great seafood

October 23. 2012 8:17PM

980 Lafayette Road, Portsmouth

Serving: Sunday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m., Friday and Saturday until 10.

Prices: Appetizers $4-$15; sandwiches and salads, $8-$18; pizza, $9-$12; entrees $17-$24.

Handicapped accessible

We all know restaurants come and go, and those that stick around for a generation or longer have more than a long story to tell. The Kamakas family has been serving fresh seafood and well-rounded dinners since 1960 at the Dinnerhorn, and anyone who has been there has probably been back for more.

The Dinnerhorn can easily take its place alongside the Puritan Back Room, the Bedford Village Inn, Taipei & Tokyo, Villa Banca, Cotton and various Common Man's in offering excellence to its guests in the forms of reliable service, outstanding food and an expertise in running a restaurant that covers every base.

The beginning: 18/20

Our Gourmet: When we're in the mood for seafood, the Dinnerhorn tops our list. Not only for quality fish near the coast, but also for tried-and-true restaurant reliability that runs top to bottom. Yes, the parking lot floods at a strong high tide, but patrons are ready for that and the parking lot is large. Yes, lobster is expensive, but it's available in smaller portions as part of a salad or on a sandwich roll if one does not desire a full lobster dinner. And yes, other restaurants might include a salad with your entree, but two side orders are included with Dinnerhorn meals and the half-salad that qualifies is larger than any dinner salad you might come by.

All in all, your evening is set up splendidly before you walk in the door. There is ice water waiting at the table. Booths are sturdy, attractive and comfortable. Servers know exactly how to proceed. It's all part of the quality dining experience that patrons have come to rely on at Dinnerhorn for 52 years. 9/10

The Dining Companion: We knew to go slowly. Appetizers the size of other restaurants' entrees can seriously impinge on one's ability to enjoy supper, so we split an order of Fried Calamari ($10.95) — and left half of it for lunch the next day. An impressive mound of lightly breaded, gently fried, round squid portions was generously doused with a sweet and slightly spicy Thai chili sauce (another sauce of garlic butter and hot peppers is available), and accompanied by a healthy portion of homemade tartar sauce.

Although we love calamari, the choice was made somewhat difficult by other appetizer choices ($3.95-$15.95) including the Dinnerhorn raw bar (oysters, shrimp and clams), mussels, Greek grape leaves with egg and lemon sauce, crab cakes, Buffalo wings, coconut shrimp, chicken fingers, various soups including clam chowder, and quesadillas. Starters are a bounty here. 9/10

The middle: 19/20

OG: Somewhere between cocktails (from the adjoining Bratskellar Pub) and dessert comes the relaxing part of a meal, and our server, Mary L., made us feel right at home. Another fresh, warm roll with your appetizer? Already there. More time with the menu? Relax and enjoy your choices. Questions about food perparation, what the chef recommends, or what is included? Basically, whatever you'd like, however you'd like it. No worries. Substitute this for that? No problem. More drinks? Anytime, just holler. The service is quick, friendly and thorough, and makes you feel well-attended every moment. When it is accomplished in a most relaxed way, that's experience, and it's as valuable as it is comforting. 10/10

TDC: I was having a devil of a time deciding among menu choices, prioritizing side orders, considering my dietician's possible opinion, and possibly saving room for dessert. Then I saw the specials menu, and all problems were solved, choices shelved. We were nicely settled and had a whole evening in front of us, so we let a delicious appetizer and the promise of a delectable seafood dinner carry us right on into the meal. 9/10

The menu: 18/20

OG: Dinnerhorn's menu is vast, but everything is not a mountainous batch of deep-fried seafood. For lighter diners an array of salads and sandwiches can easily satisfy. Salads come in all varieties, including those with seared tuna and seafood Louis (crab, shrimp, lobster with avocado, tomato, hard-boiled egg and mixed greens). There's also the Fresh Sampler (lobster salad, chicken salad and tuna salad with potato salad and cole slaw), Greek, Cobb and Caesar (available with chicken, shrimp, grilled salmon or steak).

Sandwiches include everything from burgers to lobster or fried-seafood rolls, pastrami reubens, fish tacos and more. Plenty for every taste and appetite. 9/10

TDC: Dinnerhorn's regular menu offers nearly three dozen entrees ranging from baked, broiled, pan-seared or fried seafood to prime rib, steak, chicken, veal and lasagna. Some entrees are served over pasta, and there is a Roasted Half Chicken dinner ($16.95) which probably gets little attention among the others but is probably outstanding.

But it's all about seafood for some diners, and Dinnerhorn has all bases covered with swordfish, scallops, haddock, sole, seafood fettuccine (with scallops, shrimp and lobster with vegetables under alfredo or pesto sauce), baked-stuffed seafood dishes (sole, haddock, lobster), crab cakes, various captain's-plate combinations and shrimp scampi. 9/10

The food: 18/20

OG: Sesame Seared Ahi Tuna ($20.95) with ginger wasabi sauce, a half salad and broccoli was my outstanding choice for the evening's meal, and it was a winner all around. A large, thick tuna steak was well-seared to my order (medium rare) and accompanied by a delicious wasabi-ginger sauce that was both sweet and slightly spicy, served with a healthy portion of steamed broccoli and one of the largest side salads I have ever seen. The tuna, well-crusted with sesame seeds, held its flavor and its heat nicely from the broiler to the plate. I had scoured the menu for just the right dish, and was superbly satisfied with the preparation, presentation and taste of a delightful meal. 9/10

TDC: The specials included Pan-Seared Halibut ($19.95) with Maine baby-shrimp risotto under a creamy lobster sauce that was absolutely to die for. Thick, but tender, the halibut was just the right light fish for my taste, but the sauce added dash and the rice brought a nice starchy component to a well-balanced dinner. Highly recommended. 9/10

All the rest 18/20

OG: There is another entire side to the Dinnerhorn, literally. Bratskellar Pub, in the adjoining huge room, offers a lively cocktail lounge and a few dozen tables for drinks and its pub menu, which is far more than the standard burger-and-fries-or-wings fare. But it is entirely separate, with televisions and a boisterous crowd, but the sound is nearly wholly deadened by carpets, wall construction and the placement of the TVs. That is a big bonus, and allows the Dinnerhorn crowd to eat and talk in a relaxed, quiet manner. 9/10

TDC: Mary, our server, added value and comfort to an already winning atmosphere. It's an attractive, comfortable, proven atmosphere befitting a popular Seacoast eatery that has turned the corner toward a century of serving customers. 9/10

Total: 91/100

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