12.09.2005

The Dunaway, Portsmouth NH, first impressions.

The Dunaway, part of the growing empire of Jay McSherry and located at Strawberry Banke, opened for lunch this summer and dinner only a bit later. It's been on my radar, but I both like a restaurant to settle a bit and needed to save up some money and find an occasion - it is that kind of restaurant.

When we finally went this past week, we hadn't really heard much about it. B had checked it out for lunch and liked it. I checked out the menu online and liked that. We knew the chef had at one time worked at 43 degrees north, one of our two favorite fancy-pants places.

We met there, and I arrived first. They have their own parking. Super extra check plus for a Portsmouth restaurant. I was immidiately enchanted, charmed, by the interior. Warm, cozy but not home-y, soft lighting with candles on all sorts of surfaces (but not so many you worry about the place burning down). There is a nice cozy area for sitting and having a drink, a nice little bar, a nice little fireplace. They took my coat, offered me a drink (which I didn't get so I don't know if they have special bar drinks) and I waited by the fireplace.

We had asked for a 7pm reservation, which they didn't give us. "How about 6:30 or 7:30?" Umm, ok. We took 6:30. The place was dead. I have no understanding of why they did that. It's not like they had less staff on duty that night, and needed to worry about 1 waitress handling all 4 tables (all two-tops). Anyway.

There's a downstairs seating area near the semi-open kitchen (also very charming - I really really wanted to love this place based on its decor. Really. So I guess I am giving away the ending here) but everyone there was seated upstairs, above the kitchen, which is also where they sat us.

The wine list is a decent size, not too big, but with enough various and interesting selections to be a good list, if you are not faint of wallet and have a thing for wine. A decent number of wines by the glass, but if you are two people who will each drink at least two glasses, there are financial reasons to explore the bottles. The wine list is disproportionately expensive, but the food is expensive, so it sort of matches.

So, the food.

I'm reminded of that episode of the Simpson's, where Marge is trying to talk with Bart and Lisa, they are all in the car, and Bart and Lisa reply, "meh" to everything she asks or suggests, until by the end of the scene Lisa sort of yells, "We said 'meh'!"

The food is ok. And it should be way better than ok if you have to splurge for it. (Believe me, I do not mind at all paying good money for good food, and am not a stranger to this. It's just if I spend the meal sighing in dissapointment, and then get that check . . .)

I started with oysters and then got the fois gras appetizer as my meal. The oysters were good, how can they not be? Very northern atlantic tasting. For $8 I had expected maybe 5, I got 3.

Yep, it's that type of place. My friend had assumed it was going to be. But there are plenty of fancy restaurants that give you more than enough food. Lindbergh's Crossing, for one. We spent part of the meal discussing where we'd go after for burritos, Dos Amigos (owned by the same people as the very restaurant we were sitting in and complaining about - hah!) or Los Cocos Tacos. Never a good sign to be plotting an after dinner meal.

I can certainly be blamed for my choice of two appetizers for a meal when it comes to quantity, but my companions did not make these same poor decisions and were very hungry. Anyway.

The fois gras was ok. It's accompanying salad had an amazing dressing that I meant to ask about then didn't.

B had the chicken with sweet potato risotto. This risotto was also amazing. There, we have covered the highlights of the meal. At least for me. The chicken, I thought, was ok. B said the skin was good, but he didn't share any skin.

Friend A started with a 'taste' of rabbit wrapped in bacon. I asked him how it was and he made a dinner plate size circle with his hands, "I wish it had been this big." He had the bevette of beef with mushrooms and carrots and sauce bordelais. He liked the mushrooms and carrots very much, also the beef but he surprised himself with how much he liked the mushrooms and carrots.

Friend B, a vegetarian, had one option and took it. The Wild Mushroom & Ricotta Canneloni. It was good, but small.

Since we were still hungry we all got dessert. Friends A & B got the warm chocolate cake, which was so bitterly dissapointing. It was nothing special at all. B got the cider doughnuts and warm mulled cider. The doughnuts were actually two munchkins. The warm mulled cider was tasty. I got the almond butter cake with poached pears and brandy fig sauce. It was a pretty poor example of something I have fairly low standards for.

Our service was great, after dinner we hung out there so long we missed our burrito eating opportunity, and they didn't rush us or make us feel like we should move along, so that was nice. Atmosphere is wonderful.

But the food? Meh.

Normally, I would give any restaurant a second chance. Wait a few months and see. But for the price, I'm gonna have to hear someone tell me personally of some serious changes in quality, flavor, and interestingness. Going out to a nice restaurant is just too big of a treat to knowingly go into a place that is just ok again.

14 comments:

Brian W said...

Thanks for reviewing this place. I don't get to Portsmouth very often (live in Concord) so I'd hate to make a trip for a great meal and then be disappointed.

YouWho said...

Nice review, thanks. I love 43 North and had a hankering to see what the combo of Strawberry Banke + 43's chef + Jay would come up with. Now I don't feel the need to get there anytime soon. Maybe they'll work out some kinks over time.

Out of curiosity, what do you think about 43's portion sizes? I think they are on the small side compared to other places in town, but I actually appreciate that. I feel like I can get an app and entree and not gorge myself.

So what are the other 2 favorite fancy-pants places?

plentyo'moxie said...

I think the portion sizes at 43 are on the smallish side, but are much more ample than this place. I agree with you, the sizes at 43 are agreeable to multiple course dining, which I enjoy very much. Though for many it would create a much too expensive evening. But the quality of the food makes it all right with me.

My other favorite fancy-pants place is Lindbergh's (so 43 and Lindberghs are the two), where I am going tonight for my birthday! mmm chestnut gnocchi . . .escargot . . .chicken liver pate . . .the menu is killing me with deliciousness already.

YouWho said...

Interesting... only been to Lindbergh's once, this summer, and I felt a little let down. I'd heard so much hype for many years and while it was good, I did not feel the food justified the prices. I'll have to try it again.

plentyo'moxie said...

What places do you like in Portsmouth (and the surrounding area)? I'm always on the lookout and would love to hear your opinions . . .

YouWho said...

Well... nothing you haven't been to I bet. 43 is my current favorite (love eating at the bar), because they always stretch my palette -- Isis also, for the same reason (I've had some very original salads at Isis) and both change their menu frequently (Isis every week). Third on my list is probably The Green Monkey (#1 on my wife's list though). I think their food is also very creative, but the menu is not that big and does not seem to change often, so I get bored with it. Oh, and their martini menu is not very good.

I'm also a fan of Radici and Bella Luna. I've had good meals at Jay's and Pesce Blue (my review: http://www.someblogs.com/youwho/archives/000101.html ) but I'm not a seafood fan so we don't frequent them. I have not been to the Oarhouse or the Library in a very long time. My assumption is that these are very good food, expensive, but won't have the kind of creativity in the menu that 43 and Isis have.

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to input some factual information about the Dunnaway Cafe: it is not the same chef as was at 43 North, he is actually the Sous Chef. The chef is a Hampton native by way of San Francisco and Napa Valley, her family owns the Purple Urchin restaurant on Hampton Beach. While I can appreciate someone's comments and/or criticisms on just about anything, it drives me nuts when people won't try a new place if they've heard someone mention that it wasn't good. Try it for yourself. If YOU are not happy, then don't go back. Not everyone has the same tastes... decide for yourself what you like and don't like. I am not an employee of the restaurant, but I did work in Portsmouth for many years at one of the restaurants mentioned several times. My summation: some people loved us and some people didn't think we were worth the money. The restaurant is still operating successfully after 5 years. To each his/her own.

Anonymous said...

All the reviews are great, BUT get the facts straight or don't post at all. Every restaurant comes with a slew of people who have created and keep it going everyday. People who have made a life of it and are proud of what they do. I'm sure a few restaurant people would love to come into the original poster's cubicle and blast their overflowing garbage can and coffee stains and general lack of interest in their job or lack of research aptitude, but no they haven't. Just like all of the people who have taken time to post here every restaurant deserves a chance. 43 Degrees, Lindbergh's, Pesce Blue and Dunaway are all great restaurants and a positive addition to Portsmouth. If you live in Portsmouth you should want Portsmouth to succeed and be worth traveling to instead of bashing local business. Restaurants want all kinds of customers from all walks of life, but clearly some people were lacking a bit upstairs before they walked in the door and wanted it like the Burger King slogan, "have it your way"! Maybe McDonalds should be be the way of future cuisine...Supersize IT! Restaurants don't charge people for dishes for any random reason. You have to pay for the food and the quality. Are you getting school cafeteria food or has someone taken the time to make sure it's top notch and cares what they do and what you eat? Do you order at a window or does someone make sure your water is filled and there are no crumbs on your table, are you warm, is your server knowledgable, are you eating off of nice plates or paper plates? And then you pay for all the unseen time that goes into making it all happen. It's not random. Foie gras costs money and if you want it the size of a steak you better lay your plastic down because you'll need it!
You pay for the whole package deal and hopefully you are happy when you leave. If you're not, politely tell the management about it. You are not entitled to anything in this life and everyone deserves respect including restaurants and the people who work in them. Every restaurant is happy to make changes and get better, but not if you treat them badly. Paying for something does not equal or warrent abuse. You should be happy that all these restaurants are run by professionals and not some hash slingers that WILL spit in your food!

Anonymous said...

All the reviews are great, BUT get the facts straight or don't post at all. Every restaurant comes with a slew of people who have created and keep it going everyday. People who have made a life of it and are proud of what they do. I'm sure a few restaurant people would love to come into the original poster's cubicle and blast their overflowing garbage can and coffee stains and general lack of interest in their job or lack of research aptitude, but no they haven't. Just like all of the people who have taken time to post here every restaurant deserves a chance. 43 Degrees, Lindbergh's, Pesce Blue and Dunaway are all great restaurants and a positive addition to Portsmouth. If you live in Portsmouth you should want Portsmouth to succeed and be worth traveling to instead of bashing local business. Restaurants want all kinds of customers from all walks of life, but clearly some people were lacking a bit upstairs before they walked in the door and wanted it like the Burger King slogan, "have it your way"! Maybe McDonalds should be be the way of future cuisine...Supersize IT! Restaurants don't charge people for dishes for any random reason. You have to pay for the food and the quality. Are you getting school cafeteria food or has someone taken the time to make sure it's top notch and cares what they do and what you eat? Do you order at a window or does someone make sure your water is filled and there are no crumbs on your table, are you warm, is your server knowledgable, are you eating off of nice plates or paper plates? And then you pay for all the unseen time that goes into making it all happen. It's not random. Foie gras costs money and if you want it the size of a steak you better lay your plastic down because you'll need it!
You pay for the whole package deal and hopefully you are happy when you leave. If you're not, politely tell the management about it. You are not entitled to anything in this life and everyone deserves respect including restaurants and the people who work in them. Every restaurant is happy to make changes and get better, but not if you treat them badly. Paying for something does not equal or warrent abuse. You should be happy that all these restaurants are run by professionals and not some hash slingers that WILL spit in your food!

plentyo'moxie said...

Anonymous -

I recommend therapy. You have a lot of anger issues and this ranting on a food blog isn't going to help them. It's a food blog, for goodness sake, give it a rest.

Anonymous said...

I'll rest when I die. It's all true!
By the way, Lindbergh's had their 10th year anniversary dinner a few weeks ago and it was incredible. Cudos to the staff and owners!

plentyo'moxie said...

I had really wanted to attend one of those events - but money is tight right now - good to hear they were successful. Anonymous, you've got to at least understand that there are people in the world that enjoy fine food but can't afford a steady diet of it. No, I don't want food like Burger King. But since I have to save up my pennies for every fancy night out, I want it to be worth it. That's the point I was getting at. I really don't mind if, since this blog apparently offends you so much, you stop reading it. It's ok.

Still, your over-reaction makes me fear for your health.

ps - its really lame that you post anonymously and we can't have this conversation privately on email or something.

Anonymous said...

Good morning, Moxie,
Alas, this will be the last time I'll post and I want to make myself clear. Creating a blog to speak negatively about restaurants is lame. Clearly you have no idea how long it takes a negative word to go away. You obviously are a fight the good fight kinda person with your Buy Blue link and all that good stuff. As far as my anger...I'm ok with a little fire every once in awhile. I am probably in the same yoga class with you or you've seen me around town as one of the "regulars" out and about. I don't need to reveal myself because I don't want to get that close to you. It's about your too quick to judge comments that are really hurtful to people who work hard in restaurants. Choose wisely, Moxie, everyone deserves a chance before they're slammed in public.

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