Downtown restaurant aficionados have yet another sharp new bistro to add to the mix of recommended eateries on or around Elm Street.
Only this time it is a long-awaited Chinese/Asian establishment – in the unlikely locale of the former Black Brimmer – that tempts the senses when you enter and thoroughly satisfies the soul when you leave.
With two successful restaurants in Milford and Merrimack, Jade Dragon has a track record to boast of, and the arrival of a spacious and gracious Chinese spot in downtown Manchester is a welcome addition to the dinner scene there.
It is almost truly upscale, except perhaps for those who remember loud, liquor-fueled shenanigans at the Brimmer. The color scheme remains largely intact and, indeed, the tall ceilings and hardwood floors here carry sounds a long way. There is somewhat of a muffled din coming from the cocktail lounge, with TVs in the rear of the large dining room, and loud voices carry, but once we focused on the menu and the food we did not care.
Creativity abounds on the menu, especially among the main courses, sushi dinners and special rolls. Combinations of fish and accompaniments we have never seen before dominate some of the latter category.
The Main Course list also offers meat-and-potatoes-type dinners for parties mixed about their likes and dislikes, where one can order a rack of lamb with wine sauce or flank steak with mushrooms or filet mignon or surf and turf. Those traditional-sounding American dishes are mixed among traditional Chinese offerings, where we tended to gravitate.
My choice of Sea Scallop and Shrimp with XO (hot) Sauce ($22) brought the best seafood I have had on Elm Street steaming to the table – a very large helping of both peeled jumbo shrimp and sliced tender sea scallops under a medium-hot chili-oil spiced brown sauce, loaded with green beans, asparagus, carrots, and mushrooms. I kept eating bite after bite of seafood, occasionally searching for a few forkfuls of vegetables. Usually it's the other way around.
The Duckling with Vegetable Stir Fry and Red Wine Sauce ($18) was even larger, and featured a whole duckling, with bone-in legs and sliced breast and thighs, and a good deal of onions and carrots and water chestnuts. The duck was tender, fully-cooked but juicy, and the remaining skin the chef left on the cuts provided that one-of-a-kind special taste duck lovers crave. Large enough to barely fit on the large serving plate, Jade Dragon's entrees provided two dinners, plus two heaping lunches the next day, and a midnight kitchen snack.
Those entrees would have been more than satisfying, and reasonably priced, for a couple's night out. We opted for the fuller experience, and sampled a Nuclear Roll ($9), at least to try out one of the special concoctions Jade lists under Special Rolls ($6-$13). Ever seen a jalapeno on a piece of sushi? I had not, and had to go there. Featuring barbecued eel, jalapeno, crab meat, cream cheese, cucumber slices and avocado, this large, sliced roll (five pieces) was ever-so-lightly deep-fried and served with a sweet/spicy sauce. The jalapeno does not dominate; I highly recommend this dish.
We also sampled an order of Lettuce Wrap ($8), which is recommended for lighter eaters as a meal unto itself, featuring a large stack of fresh iceberg lettuce leaves, a nice helping of dried rice noodles, and a large mound of tasty sliced bits of stir-fried chicken with onions, water chestnuts, celery and plum sauce. Five nice rolled helpings of this delectable treat, found on the appetizer menu.
Service was prompt and friendly, and we enjoyed several visits from the manager/owner, who promised this new venue would feature music (the Brimmer stage is still there) and special nights of entertainment along with the vast menu offerings.
Where else might you find prime rib on the main-course menu, and a prime rib roll under the sushi list? In addition, all of the routine Chinese combination plates and appetizers are on this menu, along with lunch specials and full-bore sushi dinners for two or three, at $60 for more than three dozen pieces.
We were delighted with Elm Street's new Jade Dragon. Event-goers, tourists and the still-growing crowd of downtown diners will find it far up on the list of walking-distance restaurants.