Portsmouth Eats: Portsmouth Baking Company And Cava

Finally, three weeks after my first dress appointment in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, I returned with my mom and sister. Unbeknownst to me when I was scheduling the appointment, that weekend also happened to be the weekend of the Portsmouth Air Show. Apparently, this is a big deal. We tried to no avail to find a hotel room in Portsmouth for Friday and Saturday nights. Finally, my mom found a room in Hampton at a place called Lamie's Inn. The inn was very quaint, and our room, though small, was just perfect for the three of us for the weekend. Even though we couldn't be right in Portsmouth, being in Hampton was much better than being in Boston. We could see the traffic on 95 on Saturday morning and were so relieved to not be in it.

After we checked into the inn on Friday evening, we headed into downtown Portsmouth to find some dinner. I was trying to keep dinner casual and suggested we try Fat Belly's. Big mistake. The fried pickles were incredible; the service was terrible. We waited way too long for our food, and no one came over to let us know what was going on or how much longer it would be. I think it's probably a good place to sit at the bar, munch on fried pickles, and throw back some drinks, but it wasn't the best place to grab a bite to eat after traveling all evening.

We headed back to the inn to get a good night's sleep.

The next morning, knowing there might be traffic even on Route 1, we left almost an hour early for my dress appointment. Traffic was not as bad as expected, and this gave us plenty of time to head into Portsmouth for breakfast. I had seen the Portsmouth Baking Company the night before when we were looking for a place to have dinner and wanted to go there.

Portsmouth Baking Company, Portsmouth, NH

I don't think I've ever seen such a pristine-looking bakery. I found myself wondering if any of the food was actually made there. Of course it is, but the whole baking process happens in a tucked-away space behind glass.

Portsmouth Baking Company, Portsmouth, NH

Widescreen TVs allow patrons to see what's going on up there.

We surveyed the baked goods and left with a croissant and a tomato and cheddar strata for my mom and I to split and a loaf of crusty bread for my sister.

Portsmouth Baking Company, Portsmouth, NH

Croissant at Portsmouth Baking Company, Portsmouth, NH

Cheddar strata at Portsmouth Baking Company, Portsmouth, NH

All three were fresh and flavorful. I'm a sucker for a flaky croissant, but I think I actually liked the strata better. It was firm, eggy, rich, and cheesy. We ate these on the way to Madeleine's Daughter and finished them up in the parking lot while we waited for the shop to open at 10 a.m. (I don't know what it is about me and needing to stuff my face when I'm dress shopping!)

Portsmouth Baking Company on Urbanspoon

We were shown to a dressing room after I checked in, and McKenzie, my consultant, came to greet us shortly after. She and I went in the back where she pulled my dresses from, so I could tell her what order I wanted to put them on in without my mom and sister knowing.

I tried on four dresses for them, and my mom started tearing up when I put on the last one, which was my favorite. It was everyone's favorite. It was THE dress! I reluctantly took it off, changed back into regular clothes, and had my measurements taken. Then we paid for the dress and had the rest of the weekend to do whatever we wanted.

We drove through Kittery, Maine, stopping at some outlet stores and the new When Pigs Fly Bakery and Pizzeria, and then we continued on to Ogunquit, Maine, and wandered around some shops there for a little bit.

We headed back into downtown Portsmouth for dinner. I didn't want to pick again and end up making a bad choice, so I simply said if I had my choice, I'd want to go to Cava.

Cava, Portsmouth, NH

We happened to pass Cava as we strolled around, and my mom was drawn to the menu. My sister, who is very picky, was a good sport and said we could eat there if we wanted. We were shown to a small table right out on the patio.

Cava, Portsmouth, NH

My sister just had plain beef sirloin and saved room for an after-dinner gelato, while my mom and I did the tasting menu. The hostess and our waitress both told us the tasting menu was a great way to experience the restaurant and get a feel for the chef. It sounded like fun to us as we both like to sample lots of different dishes.

We started with some cocktails. I can't remember the name of the drink my mom ordered, but I, predictably, got a St-Germain cocktail. Cava makes it with St-Germain, Poema Cava, and sparkling water and serves it in a giant glass.

Cocktails at Cava, Portsmouth, NH

First up on the tasting menu was yellow fin tuna with watermelon, yuzu, jalapeƱo, and coriander. This started our meal on a light, bright note. I'd always wanted to try yuzu after hearing it mentioned time and again on Top Chef. The gray salt on top of the watermelon was a nice touch as well.

Yellowfin tuna with watermelon at Cava, Portsmouth, NH

Next, we moved on to the heirloom tomato gazpacho and white corn soup. I don't know what I was expecting, but it definitely wasn't a bowl with two soups neatly divided down the middle like we got. The tomato gazpacho filled one side of the bowl and had more of a bite to it, and the corn soup filled the other side and was creamy and sweet. I liked scooping my spoon down the center and getting some of each soup in every bite.

My bowl had olive oil drizzled on top in a "G" -- perhaps for my future last name!

Heirloom tomato gazpacho and white corn soup at Cava, Portsmouth, NH

The olive oil drizzled in my mom's bowl resembled a heart.

Heirloom tomato gazpacho and white corn soup at Cava, Portsmouth, NH

Next, we each got a piece of cold smoked pork tenderloin with red quinoa, grapes, fattoush, and sumac. This was the favorite course for both of us. I loved the contrast of the sweet grapes with the smoked pork.

Smoked pork tenderloin at Cava, Portsmouth, NH

I tried my best to like the next course -- day boat scallops, plums, saffron, serrano ham, and viura -- but I just don't like scallops. I always try to but something about the flavor and texture never works for me. I did enjoy the crispy serrano ham and soft plums though. And my mom liked the scallops.

Scallops and plums at Cava, Portsmouth, NH

The patatas bravas came at a good time. We'd had mostly light dishes, and the potatoes were much more filling. They were accompanied by a garlic aioli for dipping and were topped with herbs, sea salt, and chili threads. The insides were soft and creamy and the outsides hot and crisp.

Patatas bravas at Cava, Portsmouth, NH

The last savory course was star anise-rubbed beef sirloin with chanterelles, summer squashes, and goat cheese. We loved all but the meat in this course. We both decided we would have liked it better if it were filet mignon versus sirloin. The sirloin was just too tough to enjoy. I did love the idea of pairing goat cheese with the beef though.

Star anise-rubbed beef sirloin at Cava, Portsmouth, NH

Next we had golden pineapple with lime and pomegranate molasses. This served as a nice palate cleanser before the dessert course.

Golden pineapple at Cava, Portsmouth, NH

Dessert was an almond torta with peaches, peach preserves, vanilla bean yogurt, granola, and mascarpone cream. Despite each dish before seeming like just a few small bites, we were pretty full at this point. It was nice to be presented with a light, fruity dessert. I really loved the mascarpone cream topping the moist, nutty torta.

Almond torta with peaches at Cava, Portsmouth, NH

We had such a lovely evening at Cava. The food was delicious, the atmosphere inviting, and the service friendly and attentive. It was such a great place to celebrate finding THE dress! I recommend this restaurant to any adventurous eaters who find themselves in downtown Portsmouth. I can't wait to go back!

Cava on Urbanspoon

After dinner we did a little wandering on our way back to Hampton and found a great place to see the water and walk around for a little bit.

It was the perfect way to end the day.

Have you been to Portsmouth? What are your recommendations?