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Our Gourmet: Amazing desserts are only the start at the Black Forest in Amherst

212 Route 101, Amherst NH

The Black Forest, which bills its fare as "comfort food with a creative twist" is, to steal another of their lines, "mmmmm ... fresh and delicious."

And then some.

While they know it best for its pastries, cakes, desserts and pies, locals in the neighborhood (anywhere within 10 miles in Goffstown, Bedford, Amherst and Milford qualifies) also enjoy the Forest's well-ordered and pleasing dining room for lunch and dinner, where a custom-crafted menu offers a delightful variety of not-so-standard fare.

The menu and the tastiness here go far above the ordinary, and kids get a full home-cooked meal for eight bucks, including grapes or Goldfish crackers and a beverage of their choice.

Adults can choose from a nicely rounded wine menu, and beer is available, along with premium coffees, espressos, teas and lemonade.

Dinners range from Lamb Shanks or Beef Brisket (both $17), chicken, pasta, seafood, quiche and a variety of sandwiches including Cuban Pork with ham and homemade pickles ($12), Blackened Tilapia with apple fennel slaw ($11.50), Tuscan Chicken with arugula and mozzarella and roasted garlic basil mayonaise ($11.50), and veggie and beef burgers.

Great choices for lunch or smaller dinner appetites include small plates of Duck Rilletes, Beef Brisket Sliders , Spinach Chipotle Dip with homemade crackers, or Cheese Fondue ($7-$10).

We had our eye on seafood, but started with a glass of wine and a small Caesar Salad, which at $6 was large enough to share and as fresh and crispy as could be. The hard-boiled egg was a nice extra, and the homemade Parmesan garlic croutons were outstanding, drizzled in a creamy lemon Parmesan dressing.

We shared our entrees, also, but not by original design. You know the moment ... server brings food, patrons glance to and fro, and an unspoken agreement is instantly reached that means "don't even think about touching mine unless you give me some of yours." We delighted being on the receiving end of our own generosity.

So, the Scallop Rice Bowl ($14), which was artfully arranged, took part of center stage and drew my immediate attention, even though I didn't order it. A generous serving of seared fennel-crusted sea scallops sat atop an aroma-dominating bowlful of saffron Arborio rice, mixed well with assorted vegetables and steaming under a glazing of red pepper saffron sauce. A terrific combination of hearty seafood and delectable, tasty sauce. We did not leave one morsel of rice or any swath of sauce.

But as good as that was, it took second place - but only by an angel hair - to my Pasta Riccolto, a rich and fulfilling meal with a multitude of tastes that blend well. A small ($9) or large ($11) serving of the basic ingredients can be enhanced by a nice slab of grilled salmon or four sea scallops for and extra $5.50, or grilled chicken for $3.50.

But those "basic" ingredients are anything but ordinary. Seasoned eggplant, portobello mushrooms, roasted red peppers and fresh spinach are sauteed and tossed with a very light marinara sauce and rigatoni pasta, and garnished with asiago cheese.

The tang of the eggplant is buffered by the down-to-earth taste of the portobellos, and the peppers and spinach go so nicely with the marinara and pasta it's almost best to separate the salmon and treat it as two parts of one meal. A truly delicious dinner, and my large order supplied a nice lunch snack the next day.

We enjoyed this outstanding meal, and were more than satisfied, but dessert at The Black Forest is a must-have. There is no question that patrons should have dessert. None. Even if a patron is not hungry, or it is 15 minutes before, or after, dinner, anyone near this establishment who has been there before is compelled to order some cake, or pie, or pastries for tomorrow morning... anything from the menu of award-winning, scrumptious baked goods.

Now, being quite full from dinner, we opted for just one dessert, but with strict rules for sharing, bite for bite, equal size bites, and a fair distribution of icing. There was no referee, but we watched each step of the process closely, despite rolling and closing our eyes in the throes of contentment.

Our choice this night (yes, we have been there before) was a simple slice of coconut cake. It was a large slice, but not excessively so. The frosting was smoothly and evenly distributed. The cake was moist, but not wet. It was thick, but not compressed. It had an internal layer of frosting, in perfect symmetry with the wedge-shaped slice and the outside boundary of frosting. The fresh-shaved coconut was balanced throughout.

It was, not to put too fine a point on it, the best piece of cake imaginable. It was heavenly. For those memorable moments, we became gluttons of gastronomy. We savored each second of each bite, from a full mouthful to the last morsel. One of us was actually heard to say that next time, dinner be dashed! Let's start (and end) with dessert.

If cake is not your thing, there are also Lemon Curd Tarts ($4.95); apple, Dutch apple, strawberry rhubarb and other pies, along with Cutie (small) Pies; pecan sticky buns, scones and Cinnamon Butter Puffs.

If cake is your thing, but coconut isn't, choose from Raspberry Chocolate Baby Cake, Lime Baby Cheesecake, coffee cakes, Strawberry Velvet Cake, Chocolate Moussecake and Carrot Cake.

We've never actually started and ended with dessert, and we don't know anyone who has. But there has to be a first time, and it's likely to be at The Black Forest.



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