The dining scene around New Hampshire has treated your Our Gourmet reviewers to a splendid year of tastes and treats.
Focusing predominantly on new-to-us eateries around the southern tier of New Hampshire, we found creative menus and culinary delights all around.
So take a bow, all you chefs of the Granite State, and all of the restaurateurs that make this little corner of the world a lively and rewarding place to go out to eat.
At year’s end, this OG team (remember, we’re one of three) likes to recap the true highlights that have made our travels well worth our time, and hopefully our readers’ time.
So, in no particular order (except for the soup, at number one), here are our picks for the top tastes of 2017.
1. Best Soup: Hands down, hats on or off, no contest here. The new Daw Kun Authentic Thai restaurant on Brown Avenue puts forth the very best Tom Yum Soup we have ever tasted, and there have been more than a few. The only problem we could possibly think of is that the serving in the bowl is too small. But at under $4 for chicken-added, and $4.50 for shrimp-added, if you love this soup as much as we do you can simply order another bowl. That would be a complete meal, bursting with bountiful flavor, and vegetables, and lots and lots of strong Thai-spiced broth. It’s good for what ails you, and all that does not, worth a trip from anywhere in New Hampshire to the sparkling clean and spacious Daw Kun. We’ll probably see you there. www.dawkunthai.com.
2. Best Salad: This was a very recent trip we took to the middle of Derry, where Amphora is hidden away in a nook of Hood Commons, and where the Tsoupelis family brings to your table all the expertise they have perfected over the years. Dozens of tempting dishes here, but the salads are extraordinary because of the super-fresh ingredients and the over-the-top house dressing. On the house salad, or any of the add-on versions with steak, lamb, chicken or antipasto, the house dressing is so good it has built a business all its own, available in-store or at the website. www.AmphoraNH.com.
3. Best Atmosphere: For the special ambience of New England country charm, Country Spirit in Henniker exudes class and comfort. Not fancy class, or plush comfort, this restaurant delivers an authentic, rustic and warm family atmosphere, and a steadied pace of serving, for leisurely dining. Full dinners with all the trimmings (seafood, steak, BBQ chicken and ribs, rack of lamb, etc.) and a generous, full bar make for an all-around great meal, in a setting of abundant timber and finished wood furniture and decor. It’s as comfortable — and comforting — as slipping on your favorite winter sweater and settling down on the sofa near the wood stove with a good book. hennikercountryspirit.com.
4. Best Tapas: Another clear winner from our occasional dips into small-plate dining, Moxy on Penhallow Street in Portsmouth makes small plates large. It helps that Moxy’s prices are very small-plate appropriate, so diners are apt to order many of them. When you do that, the bill resembles full-plate costs, but you pay that anyway for a good meal out so why not try half a dozen or more plates for all their variety and chefs’ special touches. We dined on various top-choice presentations ranging from Korean kimchi, fried pickle chips, baby arugula salad, whitefish, pan-seared chicken thighs, crispy potatoes and beef short ribs, with whoopie pie sliders for dessert. The food portion of our dinner bill totaled $67, a terrific value in Portsmouth for such hearty and tasty fare. moxyrestaurant.com.
5. Best New Restaurant: The Birch on Elm — no reservations allowed — was definitely new to us, and a recent addition to the downtown Manchester restaurant scene when we visited. Dinner, Sunday brunch and a crafted, speakeasy-cocktail expertise draws the downtown crowd to The Birch, which creates combination meals you would never think of. Have you considered octopus with Korean barbecue sauce, Cuban pork belly with fried plantains and sliced pickles, corn vinaigrette-infused crispy Brussels sprouts, or peanut butter-and-jelly cheesecake? We dare you to attempt those dishes at home, but why bother with The Birch right there at 931 Elm St.? www.TheBirch.restaurant.
6. Best Sandwich: Coming soon to a review in this space, a knockout roasted turkey sandwich on light rye, with mayonnaise lettuce, tomatoes and Russian dressing, from a bagel shop in south Manchester that we visited too late for a 2017 review. But we ate this sandwich — twice — during 2017, so it belongs here.
7. Best Steak Under $20: Another runaway winner, this top-of-the-menu item at Halligan’s Tavern in Derry is a superb grilled Angus beef sirloin for $17.99 with hefty portions of mashed potatoes and sauteed green beans. The best part about the steak — besides its quality — is that it is served immediately after coming off the grill. Still sizzling. That’s a great steak. thehalligantavern.com.
8. Best Dim Sum: Not a lot of Chinese restaurants offer this family-style meal, and most offer it only on weekends. North Garden in Pinardville offers its delicate small-plate brunches Saturdays through Mondays. Think tapas before they became popular as tapas. Dumplings, vegetables, minced meatballs, taro turnovers and rice rolls with shrimp are just a few of the nearly three dozen small plates of delicious Asian brunch dishes — nearly all of them under $5. A terrific treat far from the traditional Chinese meal. northgardenrestaurant.com.