In another life, in another town, I once sampled fine wines with California vintner Peter Mondavi, who was visiting a restaurant that carried selections by Charles Krug, the Napa Valley vineyard founded in 1861 that was acquired by the Mondavi family in 1943.
All I remember about that tasting was how the wine I liked the most happened to be the most expensive.
But that was on someone else’s dime, so all I could do was enjoy that happy memory when I saw a bottle of Charles Krug Cabernet Sauvignon on the wine list at Buckley’s Great Steaks for more than $100 a bottle.
I settled for a glass of Duckhorn Cabernet instead for $16.50, one of three wines available by the glass, and, OK, the most expensive. It was a great prelude to a fine meal.
My Lovely Dining Companion and I previously visited the Merrimack restaurant to celebrate our anniversary, and it had been several years since we had dined there, which we realize now was way too long.
On that occasion, I had been swayed by our server’s description of the 12-ounce Sugar Cured Strip Loin ($39), while my wife had chosen the 8-ounce Filet Mignon ($49). While the strip loin had a great flavor and texture, it was no competition for the melt-in-your-mouth filet.
On our recent return trip — celebrating Valentine’s Day a few days early on a Saturday night — I almost made a similar decision. Once again, my companion was going to order the filet. I was about to order the Pan Roasted Faroe Island Salmon ($33), which sounded delicious — featuring a “blood orange and Dijon emulsion.”
Ah, but first, the salads. Despite my name-dropping Peter Mondavi, I have more in common with the woman who was dining next to us at Buckley’s who asked her date if the correct pronunciation was “erb” or “herb.”
When our server described the night’s salad special — sliced pears, beets, crushed pistachios and goat cheese over greens with a pear vinaigrette dressing ($12) — my gut reaction was, how about a salad with lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers like the ones I make at home?
Ultimately, I suppressed my fear of unknown flavors and, like my wife, opted for the salad special, which turned out to be a delicate blend of the savory and the sweet, the kind of culinary creation that can make dining out such a joy. The salad was big enough to split, but since they were already dressed, we each ate most of ours. They would not have traveled well as leftovers.
For our entrees, I made a last-minute decision to order the Filet Mignon, remembering that I had ordered salmon the last time we went out to a restaurant. After all, we were at a steakhouse. I enjoyed a perfectly cooked medium rare cut and opted for the peppercorn crust, which gave it a sharp bite. The filet was served with mashed potatoes and sliced carrots seasoned with sriracha and maple, a perfect balance of spicy and sweet.
While Buckley’s is a great place to celebrate a special occasion and indulge in high-end steaks, the menu includes a good selection of burgers, sandwiches and salads for a more affordable night out, and there’s a more casual setting in the bar. We won’t wait for another big night before we return.