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.