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Lavinia's in Center Harbor reopens under new owners

Special to the Union Leader

May 26. 2014 10:52PM
Lavinia's Restaurant offers outdoor seating, as well as a romantic dining spot in the rooftop cupola, all with views of Lake Winnipesaukee. (LARISSA MULKERN)

CENTER HARBOR — A refreshed interior, new owners, and a new menu welcome visitors and locals alike at Lavinia’s Restaurant, formerly Lavinia’s Relaxed Dining, located in the historic Coe Mansion on a hill overlooking Lake Winnipesaukee.

Brendan McGuff, the executive chef, and his dad, Steve McGuff, purchased the restaurant in December, 2013 and spent the winter sprucing up the facility. The two-story mansion/restaurant got a top to bottom cleaning, new carpets and windows, a general maintenance once-over, a new logo, an interactive website, and a fresh, farm-to-table inspired menu.

Brendan’s experience spans a variety of roles at restaurants such as Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant in Napa, Calif., the New England Pasta Company in Avon, Conn., and the Winvian Resort, a AAA 10-diamond winner in Morris, Conn. But it was the McGuff family’s fond memories of spending summers in the Lakes Region that drew them back “home” to New Hampshire.

Brendan, 25, spent time working as a chef in California after he graduated from the University of Connecticut. His undergraduate degree was in sociology and economics, but Brendan, who practically grew up cooking, said he realized he “didn’t want to sit at a desk.”

“Finally we decided three years ago to buy a house here. I was in culinary (the Culinary School of America in California, Greystone campus) school and decided I wanted to be my own boss,” Brendan said.

“It was an adventure going out to California, but I had to come back home to settle,” he said.

When Brendan’s running Lavinia’s kitchen, Steve McGuff is interacting with the clientele. Overseeing the operation is General Manager Doug Smith, the seasoned, front-of-house personality with Lakes Region roots.

The restaurant two cozy taverns and several formal dining areas including the “President’s Dining Room,” where original, hand-painted wallpaper commissioned in the early 1820s is a main feature.

Then there’s The Belknap Club, a favorite spot for locals with an unmarked entrance from the outside that takes diners direct to the staircase leading up to the tavern. Tavern-only specials include the “Triple B” offered on Wednesdays and Thursdays — a burger, a beer and a bourbon for $19, with live entertainment on Wednesdays.

Al fresco dining is offered on a patio, where visitors can sit back in Adirondack chairs and enjoy a cocktail while sipping in lake views. To top off a unique dining experience, there’s a third floor cupola. The spot is just large enough for a table for two, cozy and romantic, with views of the village and the lake.

For more formal dining, visitors can book a table inside through the website’s online widget.

Farm to table

Brendan said the new menu reflects a commitment to the farm-to-table food movement — using as many locally and regionally grown fresh ingredients as possible. For instance, the meats on the menu are sourced from New Hampshire or Vermont.

“I realized, when I came back here for vacations, the farm-to-table movement wasn’t as prevalent here. I wanted to do something about it and I wanted to make a difference,” he said. “When a new product comes into season it allows me to do something new.”

Appetizers and first courses run from $4 for marinated olives, toasted almonds or sautéed greens, to $6 for New England clam chowder, $12 for pan-seared scallops, and $17 for chicken confit salad.

Main courses range in price from $15 for fish and chips, to $29 for Guinness-braised short ribs to $32 for pan-seared filet mignon.

Lavinia’s is located inside the 1820 John Coe historic mansion at 18 Main St., in Center Harbor. The restaurant is open year-round, Sundays through Thursdays from 5 to 9 p.m., and from 5 to 9:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

Reservations are strongly recommended from May to October.

The restaurant is also available for special events and parties. Call 253-8617, or e-mail for more information.

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