Country comfort on a winter's night at Monadnock Inn in Jaffrey
If you've been following along with the dining adventures of the Teenage Bottomless Pit, you may have noticed that TBP's mom, The Dining Companion, has been absent from our team's last few reviews.
Fear not, there's nothing amiss. In fact, TDC began a serious diet in the weeks before Thanksgiving, and she decided that if she was going to get anywhere with it, going out for three-course dinners every three weeks would probably be counterproductive.
Now, at the four-month anniversary of her diet (or, more accurately, her lifestyle change) she's lost more than 50 pounds and is ready to ease her way back into the Our Gourmet dining scene. She won't be visiting any Italian or Mexican places any time soon, she'll be skipping dessert, and she's going to be picky about menus as we look for places to review.
That's how we came to select the Monadnock Inn. TDC spent some time perusing the inn's restaurant menu online and decided its array of unique salads and imaginative main-course ingredients would fit her dietary needs. The fact that this beautiful, charming inn's food turned out to be fantastic only validates my good judgment in asking her to choose.
The inn, a big, rambling house dating from the early 1800s, is the quintessential country inn. The first floor is divided into three main dining rooms plus the bar. The decor is country, but the kind of country that looks like it's original to the place. We were seated in the front room, right beside the big fireplace. It was cozy and romantic, but slightly drafty — the house is more than 200 years old, after all.
The surroundings were wonderful, but the food was better. I started with Artichoke Morsels ($12) — think of them as poppers, but with artichoke leaves instead of chili peppers. The artichoke pieces were stuffed with creamy goat cheese, breaded and lightly fried. Put together with the sweet Peppadew piccalilli served on the side, these morsels were nuggets of contrasting sensations: a little tart, a little sweet; a little crunchy, a little smooth. And a little terrific.
TDC decided to steer clear of the appetizer menu in favor of the salads. She chose the Gilmore ($9), comprising baby greens with roasted butternut squash, granny smith apples, cheddar cheese and pepitas (pumpkin seeds) with a maple pear vinaigrette. Unfortunately, this night the squash was unavailable, but the rest of the combination — including the dressing, which had only a hint of sweetness despite its main ingredients — made for a memorable winter salad that TDC said was among the best she's ever had.
Before we proceed, one note: The menu on the website is slightly out of date; several of the entrees are still on the current menu, but others have been replaced. My entree, for instance, is on the new menu, and what a great addition: Roasted Vegetable Risotto ($17).
An amalgamation of unexpected flavors and textures made this dish a home run. The risotto, rich and slightly creamy with an infusion of mascarpone cheese, was studded with chopped roasted Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, dried cranberries, and, it seemed, pumpkin or sunflower seeds.
As if the risotto itself wasn't exceptional enough, the grilled chicken filet I added for an extra $3 was tender and seasoned with a mixture of thyme and other herbs that was just out of this world. This dish was perfect high-end comfort food for a cold winter's night.
TDC ordered a pork dish ($19) from the specials menu: two center-cut pork chops served with a slightly sweet, sauteed stuffing of sorts featuring seasoned onions and apples. TDC opted for an extra "bundle" of green beans instead of the standard Yukon gold potatoes. She found the dish satisfying and tasty, though a bit oversized for her needs and the pork slightly overcooked.
A quick look at the dessert menu was all I needed to choose the Apple Chimichangas ($8), a sweet twist on the deep-fried Mexican restaurant classic. A flour tortilla encasing cinnamony apple-pie filling served warm with fresh whipped cream, it was light, beautiful to look at, and a perfect ending to this wonderful meal.
The inn has an extensive wine list, and also offers several "trails" (a.k.a. flights) of three wines for $11 to $13. You can choose one of the house assortments or create your own from the by-the-glass wine list. I opted for the "White Sweet Trail" of Gewurtztraminer, Vouvray and Reisling. It's a nice feature, and provided just enough wine for dinner.
In one of the other dining spaces, a piano/vocal duo was playing tunes that our parents would have been singing along with (in fact, as the evening wore on, some of their contemporaries were singing along). Our server, Jennifer, knew her stuff and was friendly and welcoming, and just formal enough to make us feel special.
All in all, we had a wonderful evening at the Monadnock Inn — it turned out to be a great place for TDC to make her return. The Monadnock Region is a bit out of the way for most New Hampshire residents, and that goes double for Jaffrey. But there are many attractions that make the trip worthwhile, and the Monadnock Inn is surely one of them.