Some restaurants are worth a couple extra miles, a trek out of the city, exploring beyond one's own neighborhood. 80 Thoreau is one of those restaurants. A progressive fine dining restaurant offering New American Cuisine, 80 Thoreau is set in historic Concord, Mass., at the Concord Train Depot. A small sign is all that marks the entrance. It doesn't look like much on the outside (some of us even thought the building could easily house a doctor's office), but inside is a whole different story.
After following a long hallway and ascending a staircase, one arrives in the bar area, which has a long communal table lined with plush bar stools, a Vermont soapstone bar, and some dining tables off to one side, as well as some intriguing artwork.
A slightly farther walk brings one into the dining room. The white walls, dark wood, stretches of windows and mirrors, and blue decor give a nautical but homey, inviting feel to the space. It's rustic yet contemporary all at once.
From my seat in the dining room, I had a clear view of the hustle and bustle in the open kitchen. Chef Carolyn Johnson, formerly of Rialto, keeps the kitchen running and designs the menu to focus on New England ingredients and traditions with a French flourish. Being in Concord, which is known for having several commercial and family farms, enables her to source ingredients locally and maintain real relationships with the people who grow and supply those ingredients.
The other masterminds behind 80 Thoreau are restaurateur Ian Calhoun and director of service Vincent Vela. Ian and Vincent met in the hospitality program at Cornell and made a plan to open a restaurant together. Ian completed an intensive program in French cuisine at Le Cordon Bleu during his junior year at Cornell but then shifted his focus to restaurant management. He grew up in Concord and returned to the area with a vision for 80 Thoreau. Vincent spent some time working at Per Se and Craft (in NYC), where he learned the ins and outs of fine dining. With his commitment to warm, personal fine dining, he ensures that service is attentive, yet relaxed, at 80 Thoreau.
I had the pleasure of dining at 80 Thoreau with a group of local food bloggers last Tuesday evening. I started off with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. While I'm usually all about reds in the winter, on this particular evening I was craving the crispness of a white.
|Sauvignon Blanc, Ch. Nicot, Entre Deux Mers 2010|
But I soon heard about and sampled the house made tonic and gin and wished I had ordered that instead. I bypassed the drink even though I love a good gin and tonic because I wasn't in the mood for anything very strong. I was pleasantly surprised by the lightness of this drink. It was limey, bubbly, and only lightly spiked with gin. I learned that the drink is made right in the restaurant from quinine powder (from the bark of the cinchona tree), a main ingredient in tonic. That plus some sugar, lime juice, bubbles, and gin made for a truly drinkable G&T.
|Tonic and Gin|
While we enjoyed our drinks, we sampled some small bites of mixed olives, duck liver pate, and gougeres. The duck liver pate was rich and gamy and the gougeres had light, soft insides with a crisp, cheesy crust.
|Duck Liver Pate|
|Pork Rilletes and Lardo with Pickles, House Mustard, and Toast|
|Broiled Oysters with Saffron Champagne Sabayon|
|Grilled Squid Salad with Meyer Lemon, Celery, And Saffron Cauliflower|
|Wild Mushroom Consomme with Celeriac and Parmesan Custard and Herb Salad|
Before our entrees arrived, we switched to red wine. The wine was described as a French Malbec, and it put me right back in step with my love for full-bodied, plum-y reds in winter.
My ribeye came out just as I ordered it: medium-rare. A toppling of brussels sprouts and a generous dollop of butter adorned it while the confit potatoes nestled underneath it. I loved every bite (and yes, I ate the entire thing). The brussels sprouts were nicely charred, exactly how I would have cooked them myself, so I truly enjoyed those too.
|Grilled Ribeye with Confit Potatoes, Brussels Sprouts, and Truffle Butter|
One of the hardest things after a dinner like this is finding room for dessert. Somehow I always manage to squeeze it in though. And I'm lucky I had room for it that night because Chef Carolyn sent out a number of goodies for us.
|Lemon Duet (Icebox Pie, Angel Food, Fool)|
|Ricotta Cake (Figs, Pistachios, Vanilla Ice Cream)|
|Chocolate Parfait (Mousse, Cake, Caramel Pastry Cream)|
80 Thoreau's philosophy is that "A true neighborhood restaurant should be an extension or your own kitchen table." The personal, welcoming feeling of one's own kitchen table was definitely invoked while dining at 80 Thoreau, though I must say the food was much more elevated than what I might put on my own kitchen table. And that's not a bad thing!
I dined at 80 Thoreau with a group of bloggers. This meal was complimentary, but these opinions are my own. Thank you very much to Martha of Sullivan Communications, Vincent, Ian, and Carolyn for having us in and sharing 80 Thoreau with us.
What is your favorite restaurant that's off the "beaten path" for you?