Portsmouth, NH Special Occasion
Okay, I'll lay it on the line. I'm indecisive. I have TWO reservations for an anniversary dinner in Portsmouth: The Dunaway Restaurant at Strawberry Banke and Black Trumpet Bistro. One, of course, has to be cancelled.
I've read everyone's comments and reviews, but some seem dated. I know the founding chef at Dunaway just left. I know Black Trumpet is new and not so known (formerly Lindbergh's Crossing). But as far as atmosphere and food go, which one is best for the occasion?
I've already poured over this: http://www.phantomgourmet.com/Showpage.aspx?content=ReportCard&id=3526
and this: http://www.boston.com/news/necn/Shows...
...but I still can't I make up my mind. Help!
Well, I made up my mind and went with Black Trumpet Bistro because it was nearby our hotel and more intimate. I'll have to make it back to try the Dunaway.
We were seated at one of the tables along the wall. A nicely-lit exposed brick interior and copper tabletops made it feel really welcoming. Started off with the small plate (really a cup) of fried almonds with olives and garlic. Tasty, a good way to warm up for the big stuff.
Then we ordered two of the "medium" dishes as appetizers. The tuna tartare and the softshell crab. Tuna was great -- delicate and perfectly diced in a coconutty sauce. After we had ordered, our server told us they were out of the softshell and substituting with a crab cake. It would have been nice to know this beforehand. But the crab cake turned out to be delicious.
Entrees were a mixed bag. My partner had the lamb shortribs. Absolutely scrumptious in a sort of meaty reduction with beans. Moderately-sized. I went with the local cod, hoping for something special. It turned out to be a watery, fava-beany plate of blandness. I'm not sure if something went wrong or I simply ordered the wrong dish for intense flavor. It wasn't bad, it just wasn't really much of anything. The one exception: the cod "shoulder" had been mashed into a sort of fish cake, which was tastier. On the whole, a bit of a disappointment.
I'd mentioned over the phone that it was a special occasion. After our entrees, the hostess brought us a slice of the chocolate torte with a candle in it, on the house! A very nice gesture. It prompted us to get some port (on top of our $50 wine) and a cheese plate.
Overall, I would recommend the Black Trumpet for a solid dining experience, especially an occasion. It seems able to accomodate groups up to 10 as well, despite the small size. If you don't have a reservation, you could try the wine bar upstairs. Same or similar food, I think, and lots of two-person tables.
One note: the menu posted online is different from the one we saw at the restaurant. Not just the fish, but some of the meat dishes (beef vs. lamb ribs, etc.) I am looking forward to visiting the BT again this summer, and hopefully with a better choice of entree!
we are going to the Black Trumpet on Friday and I will let you know how it pans out.I copied your menu so that I don't order the bad dish that you got...the menu, after talking to Sara, the hostess,sounded awesome as we love Mediterranean food. The online menu is not coming up on their website to they are emailing me the current menu- thanks for the tip...
I don't know anything about the Black Trumpet, so I can't compare the two.
However, my wife and I had dinner at the Dunaway last Friday night. We though it was wonderful. The menu on the Dunaway web site is the current menu, by the way:
We started by splitting the last three "canapes" (which were about half the size of an appetizer portion). The tagliatelle was one of the best things I have ever tasted. The risotto was excellent - the lemon cutting the richness of the ricotta nicely. The calamari, while perfectly cooked, was less distinctive.
For our entrees, we both got the "Duo of Natural Raised Beef". The ribeye was perfectly cooked - rare for me, medium rare for my wife. It had been trimmed of any fat, and sliced. The shortribs were absolutely delicious, too. The serving sizes were not huge, but certainly adequate. Looking at the on-line menu, we were not served the potato side dish. I don't know if it was an oversight, or if the side dish was removed from the menus in the restaurant. I never missed the potatoes, in any event.
For dessert, my wife got the cheese plate. She seemed to like it, but was not overwhelmed by it. I got the "Pear and Thyme Turn-over", which was really three small desserts. The roasted pear sorbet and the poached pear were incredible - much better than the turnover, which was thick and doughy. Aren't turnovers supposed to be flaky?
We began with drinks, and got wine by the glass with dinner. The wine was good, and we enjoyed it with our dinner, but we might have done better ordering a bottle. (Question - can you take home leftover wine in NH the way you can in MA now?)
The restaurant is in a nice old house with exposed beams and an eighteenth century look. I think the upstairs balcony is where you want to sit for an anniversary dinner - it's much more intimate than the main floor, which the balcony overlooks. (One caveat - part of the balcony is right over the kitchen, and it seemed to get a little smoky from cooking fumes as the night progressed. If you go, you might ask to sit on the side of the upstairs *away* from the kitchen. Note that I'm very sensitive to smoke, so someone else might not find it so annoying. It didn't ruin our night or anything, it was just a minor annoyance)
All-in-all, it was a very nice dinner, and we'd certainly return - though we may try the Black Trumpet next.
As kittychow writes, I'd give little weight to "TV Diner" or "Phantom Gourmet" reviews. I've found them quite unreliable. Chowhound is the place to check. (We're going down to Providence to have *our* anniversary dinner at Chez Pascal in a couple of weeks. We chose Chez Pascal based on Chowhound reviews - I'll let you guys know how you did. ;-)
Well, now that I've eaten at the Black Trumpet three times, a brief update to the above post:
I've decided I prefer the Black Trumpet to the Dunaway. The Black Trumpet has a much more imaginative menu, and, mostly, the food is delicious. Occasionally they miss the mark, but they get extra credit for degree-of-difficulty. And, the staff always seem to really care about the customer. For example, my wife didn't like the "Peach Gazpacho". Nothing wrong with it - she just didn't like it, and therefore didn't eat it. We said nothing to the server about it - it's not a restaurant's fault if we don't like an accurately described dish. Nevertheless, when the server saw she didn't eat it, she asked what the problem was. My wife explained that she simply didn't care for it. In response, they took it off the check. I thought that was a very nice gesture that we didn't expect.
The Black Trumpet is decidedly more casual than the Dunaway. For a special occasion, I might choose the Dunaway for its nicer atmosphere, and more polished presentation. But for a more imaginative (and, dare I say, *chowish*) meal, try the Black Trumpet.
I haven't been to Black Trumpet (yet) but can vouch for the chef and the atmosphere. It's a lovely romantic destination. I think it's a really special room and I expect that they are paying attention to every detail when it comes to the food and service since they are starting a new chapter in that space. If you get there a little early head upstairs to the tiny wine bar. Enjoy a glass and a sweet view of the tug boats.
I've enjoyed some nice meals at the Dunaway. It's a lovely room but I don't find it all that romantic. The food is well prepared but nothing has knocked my socks off. I like what I see on the menu right now. But still, there is something about the Ceres Street space that is now Black Trumpet that is somehow more special for me.
I'm not sure that I'd let the Diner for the Day or the Phantom Gourmet review sway my decision to go to either place. Hopefully you'll get more responses here that will help you make a decision.
Thanks for the response. I heard The Dunaway had a really nice candlelit interior, but maybe it's so big that there's no intimacy. I'm also concerned about the new chef. He's 22! I'm young too, but that seems a little suspect to me, seeing that the last chef won a national award.
I'm now leaning toward Black Trumpet. The menu seems more adventurous, too. Still have two weeks to decide. I'll post a review of whichever one I choose!.