Victorian House in Ashburnham, MA - review
Visiting family in Central Massachusetts over the weekend, my husband and I took my MIL out for her birthday to the nicest place we could find: Victorian House in Ashburnham.
There were four of us and we got there a teensy bit late (snow that evening) but the woman who greeted us was lovely and gracious and our table wasn't quite ready anyway - same woman had been gracious and accomodating on the phone when we needed to change our reservation. After ordering drinks, our table was ready and we headed upstairs. Our table was comfortable and not overly done, as can happen with a victorian look. We did have one obnoxious lamp light in the window behind us that was literally blinding me - felt like I was staring at a bare bulb - so we reached back and turned it off - no one noticed and it made no difference in anyone's ability to see.
The first thing I noticed was that the servers were all women and very young and in french maid costumes - 18-20, probably. Ours was fine as a server, but certainly not the polished service one might expect at these prices in central MA. Nevertheless, she did a fine job. She was a bit tripped up when I asked for her recommendations. She let me know she's only tried a few things: the chicken and one of the fish dishes. That was a bit disheartening as I enjoy getting server recs. Any other 'complaints' were minor: plates weren't cleared off as quickly as I might have liked, I sat for quite a while with no water (and I wasn't drinking anything else), no one ever came back to pour more wine. Nothing was horrible, again, just not quite as polished as I might expect at a 'fine dining' establishment.
To start with we had two dishes. First: Baked Marinated Portabella Mushroom with charred leeks, roasted garlic, red bell peppers, and pancetta. The flavor of the mushroom was nice but the dish seemed a bit fussy to me - this wasn't in layers but all these items presented seperately on a huge plate making it harder to share (cutting up each item into fourths and squeezing out the roasted garlic from it's bulb was overly complicated for the simple flavors).
Second: Baked Artichokes Victorian - artichoke bottoms and hearts sautéed in garlic butter and white wine, stuffed with Brie, and baked. The artichokes were oohed and aahed over at the table by two of our guests. While I thought they were good, I felt they were really heavy and entirely too much grease. Nice flavors and ideas, just lost something in execution.
We all had the same salad which was basic - my husband wasn't fond of the amount of iceberg lettuce, but mine had lots of tender boston lettuce which I enjoyed. Small, simple, balsamic dressing - nothing to go crazy over, nothing to complain about.
The bread basket was interesting. The popovers were great, as were the basic dinner rolls. Two sweet rolls were served which was different for me: pecan rolls (sticky and sweet) and a small apple muffin. Both were great, just wasn't what I was expecting. Both were items dessertish to me, but quite tasty. I would love them for breakfast.
For dinner my MIL and I both had a combination Petite Broiled Filet Mignon and Baked Lobster Savannah (lobster meat, shucked,put back in the shell with crème fraiche, peppers, mushrooms, and sherry), my husband had the scallop special, and the fourth companion had Seafood Patisserie ~ fresh lobster, shrimp, and scallops in a delicate crème fraiche sauce encased in phyllo dough. I have to start with a disclaimer: I eat my filet more cooked than any chef likes to do and I'm newly a fan of lobster so I am no expert on what I should be having. My filet was marvelous: I ordered it medium well (I know, I know) and it was pink and melted in my mouth. My husband had several bites (and he likes his as rare as possible). The filet was the highlight of my meal and if I were to go back, I'd wish they had a filet only entree. The lobster was OK. Not my favorite. Not horrible though. It was kinda chewy and I have no idea if that is how lobster should be (Florida girl - not a lot of lobster). The flavor of the meat was nice, but the sauce reminded me of a chicken a la king - that too heavy cream sauce with the primary flavor being red peppers. My husbands bay scallops were fine, if few and the mashed potatoes were good. I didnt try the patisserie but there were no complaints.
The side dishes were truly bizarre to me. Aside from my half of a stuffed lobster and petite filet, a side dish was filled with three items: whole red potatoes cut into mushroom shapes (very cute), braised red cabbage, and a squash an apple concoction that baffled me. The potatoes were boiled, i believe, and I did not detect any seasoning at all. The squash was just odd - not a lot of flavor - mashed together with apple, i believe? I feel badly for saying it, but the side dishes felt very ill-conceived to me. I guess I wished for one side dish, executed beautifully rather than three that confused me and I didn't eat because they didn't seem to fit with my meal. The patisserie had the same side dishes, as well.
Our desserts were really good. The flavors were nice, however the portions were HUGE (this went for the whole meal, actually) - it was way more than one person can eat and not what I think of when I imagine fine dining French cuisine. Husband and I both got the lemon cheesecake, which we expected would be a tiny sliver each but instead was the size of a NYC deli cake slice. My MIL had the winner, though: three chocolate mousse cake, also HUGE, but the flavors were light and lovely and rich and creamy all at the same time.
I cannot remember the wine, but my husband said it was really marvelous: a french red, I seem to recall.
The food was good. Not great. Not amazing. Not horrible. I feel strongly that it must be put in context: for the area and what little I know from my dinner guests about restaurant choices therein, this place was AMAZING. Out of this context, for me, not so impressive. So I want to say that if you are in the area and want to find the best around, I believe this to be it. Context is everything. Next year if my MIL wants that for her birthday, we'll take her there again and have a great time.
For reference, we paid $400 for four of us, including drinks and tip.
You are right, for the area, this place is great, but not stellar. Here a couple more good upscale options in the same area: Grand View Inn, Inn at Jaffrey Center and Aylmer's Grille, all in Jaffrey, NH about a 20-30 min ride from Ashburnham. Grand View is gorgeous on the inside, the ceiling is wood, like the inside hull of a boat; Jaffrey Center Inn is "olde New England" in atmosphere (old home) and seemed to be popular with older folks when we ate there on NYE, but the food was good, miles above other "inn" tyoe places. Had a delicious appetizer of pasta, asparagus, crumbled pancetta and Maytag blue cheese. Yum! I haven't been to Aylmer's Grille yet, but it has been recommended to me here and raved about. Looked packed on NYE.
Having been to Sonoma many times over the years, it's very good - not great. And I have been there several times when I felt like just leaving. When it does something good, it is very good. But it just seems like their food is just lacking "something" to put it over the top. Not sure what it is but they also have to cater to the tastes of the demographics too.
I also enjoy Harrington Farm in Princeton and would that up there with Sonoma.
if you are any where near Groton, MA - try Gibbet Hill
fine dining casual atmosphere - does all things well.
i have been to all the places mentioned and Gibbet Hill out ranks them all. by the way... my wedding reception was at The Victorian House - many years ago during its very popular time