Our Gourmet: 11Eleven a new hit at an old address on Manchester's Lowell Street
Late last year, 11Eleven Bistro, headed up by chefs Jeff Dudley and Joseph Drift (formerly of Saffron Bistro in Nashua), opened in the same place. Recently we took a trip to 11Eleven Bistro to see if lightning could indeed strike twice at the same location.
First impressions: 9/10
We had deja vu when we walked into the cozy downtown bistro. For the most part everything looks the same, including the décor, layout and open-kitchen concept we raved about in our original review. The menu seemed more condensed than the previous establishment's, but covers all the bases with a wide variety of proteins and flavors. The wine list is also impressive. Even The Dining Companion eschewed his typical beer for a glass of vino. That's when you know we are somewhere fancy.
Our Gourmet: While the crispy calamari and caramelized scallop appetizers first caught my attention, I decided on the Beef Filet Crostinis with scallion, garlic cream cheese and horseradish aioli ($10). Upon being served, and seeing how much aioli was on the three crostinis, I wasn't sure if I should eat them with my fingers or a fork. The filet was melt-in-your mouth tender and was complemented nicely by the creamy cheese and bite of the horseradish. Realizing I wasn't getting anywhere fast with the fork, I just dug in. The key to the appetizer I found out is to eat them fast before the crostini gets soggy. Definitely worth the extra napkin. (8/10)
TDC: I had the Baked Stuffed Clams ($13). These six medium-sized clams are stuffed with applewood bacon, caramelized onions with fontina cheese. This seemed to be a milder version of fontina, a usually pungent Italian cheese, which suited the appetizer. The stuffing mix was moist and the salty bacon was a delicious addition. The appetizer was also portioned well. There was enough stuffing to satisfy, but not so much that it overwhelms the dish or your appetite. (9/10)
OG: In the past year I've become a huge fan of duck, so I couldn't pass up the opportunity to try their Pan Roasted Duck breast with saffron risotto and cranberry port wine demi-glace ($26). I was not disappointed. The duck was well seasoned and perfectly cooked with a nice, crispy skin. The demi-glace was a good foil for the rich duck, a little sweet and a little sour - I kept going back for more. I can't forget to mention the risotto that thankfully didn't suffer from the fatal flaw of having too much saffron. (9/10)
TDC: For an entrée I chose to go with the Oven Roasted Cornish Game Hen ($26). I had never had this before so I was curious if there was any difference between this and your run-of-the-mill chicken. I really only found the difference in its size; Cornish Game Hen is actually a younger bird. It was served in a deep dish, surrounded with a pan sauce. The hen was stuffed with apples, onions, sausage and was served with julienned root vegetables. The sauce kept the meat tender until the last bite and I found myself continually going back for more. I didn't really notice the apples much, though the flavor may have presented itself more in the sauce. The sausage, however, felt like an extra bonus. (8/10)
OG: A while back I spotted the Eggnog Crème Brulee ($7.50) on the online menu; I was pleasantly surprised it was still available after the holidays. After breaking through the sugar crust, I discovered that the custard was a great version of the holiday classic with the right amount of cinnamon and nutmeg. (8/10)
TDC: I had the Kahlua Chocolate Bread Pudding ($7.50), which was another first for me. I wasn't quite sure what to expect because pudding and bread present themselves as two entirely different things to me. What I got was something akin to a really soft and delicious cake. The brioche is house made and covered in an exclamation point of butterscotch crème anglaise, which was a highlight. (8/10)
Final thoughts: 27/30
We don't know if this is typical, or perhaps it was because it was a quiet night in the restaurant, but it was a nice touch to not only be greeted by the chef but also to have him wish us a good night. Service was spot on and matched the high quality of the food. The atmosphere was relaxed and a perfect place to linger over a great conversation, which we did. Our hopes were high and we're happy to report that 11Eleven Bistro is continuing the tradition of excellence in the 36 Lowell St. location.
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