When I went to college at Dartmouth in the late 70's and early 80's, the dining options suited my limited palate well enough. My palate has changed since then, however, and when my son was accepted last year, I was elated but had some mixed feelings about the food options. The College is a fabulous place in so many ways, affording tremendous opportunities to the lucky students who get to matriculate there. My one negative thought was the lack of any "destination" restaurants in the upper Connecticut River Valley. I wasn't even sure that they had any worthwhile restaurants or food producers. On a relatively recent visit, one of my old standbys was no longer so satisfying, yet it still drew long lines. That did not bode well.
Things started looking up, however, this fall, when I "discovered
" The King Arthur Flour baking store in nearby Norwich, Vt. and additional faith was restored this winter when we had a dinner at another old favorite from my college days, Jesse's
. The food, though basic and nothing spectacular, was solid and well prepared. It actually lived up to my memories from my college days. while no longer a restaurant I would go out of my way to dine at, I could still rely on a respectable meal there.
This past weekend was Freshman Parents' Weekend at Dartmouth, so I figured that we would need to plan in advance. My son made a reservation for Friday night at what his become his favorite local restaurant, The Jewel of India, a small, family run restaurant in Hanover specializing in the cuisine of northern India. Though the evening didn't start out so well when they failed to acknowledge his reservation, they quickly set it straight and put together a table for us. As we have a tendency to do, we ordered too much food. Fortunately it was all quite good. Every thing was fresh and well prepared, though if there was a flaw, it was that they were a tad too light on the hot spices despite our replying "spicy" when asked "how spicy." Dishes included samosas, vegetable and chicken pakoras, a vegetable soup, chicken biryani, lamb vindaloo, chicken tikka masala, chicken tikka, various breads and my personal favorite, a fragrant and tasty saag with shrimp. Washed down with Unibroue Fin du Monde, the meal was quite satisfying and one of the best Indian restaurant meals that I have had since I returned from India over a year ago, certainly not something I would have predicted. I will happily return as would everyone else in my family.
Additional enthusiasm for the area was built the next day with a visit to the New Hampshire State Liquor Store in West Lebanon and its neighboring Food Co-op store. The State liquor Store offered a nice selection of spirits at reasonable prices, while the Food Co-op is one of the better food stores I have shopped at in a while. They have a great selection and knowledgeable staff, especially in the cheese department, where I picked up a selection of Vermont cheeses.
For Saturday night, I made a reservation at Carpenter & Main
, restaurant with a good reputation for local and seasonal ingredients in Norwich, Vt. Though not groundbreaking, the restaurant was a treat. The main dining room was lovely and comfortable. The menu was limited, but with enough variety to offer true choice. My wife and I started with a cocktail, a competently made Sazerac for me and a Hendricks Cup for her. Both were delightful. The amuse featured house cured salmon with dill and creme fraiche on a cucumber slice. I had a duet of oysters (3 roasted with creamed leeks and black pepper and 3 raw with a mignonette) followed by butter braised Maine lobster with glazed parsnips and crab leek napoleon, all competently prepared and satisfying, especially the perfectly cooked lobster. For dessert, I availed myself of a trio of Vermont cheeses. The rest of the family enjoyed their meals as well.
The service at Carpenter & Main was very good, something unfortunately not typical for the area. Our waiter offered a suggestion for Sunday brunch, The Bunten Farm
, a small farm in nearby Orford. N.H. that primarily serves their food directly from their farm. I made a reservation for 11AM, so we dragged our sons out of bed to head north for brunch. We arrived at a small, quaint restaurant literally set amidst the farm with views outside the windows of the chickens that laid the eggs that we would eat and the cows who provided the milk for the cheeses, ice creams and drinks. An amuse of pan-baked cakes and raw Devon milk got us off to a good start. The eggs in my eggs benedict were the real deal, with bright, bright orange yolks. The Hollandaise could have been a bit more brightly flavored and the English muffin was perhaps a little dense for my preference, but the food was wholesome and satisfying. A walk around the farm after our meal, spying on some breeding heritage Devon cattle, provided additional entertainment and country air.
Despite the great produce from Vermont and New Hampshire, the Dartmouth area will not likely ever be a great culinary destination on the order of some other college towns like New O
rleans, where my second oldest son will be attending Tulane University. Fortunately, it doesn't have to be. It remains a great college town, with enough good and satisfying food to keep me happy when we visit my son and my alma mater.