Our Gourmet: Contemporary cool? In a castle, of course
Hotel restaurants. Depending on the hotel, the location and the clientele, they're either uninspired places that cater to hotel guests too tired or too late to go out and find someplace better, or they're destinations that draw not only hotel guests, but residents who have plenty of other dining options.
At the Radisson in Nashua, the new Shade Bar & Grill is positioning itself to be the latter, with an emphasis on "sports bar" as well as full-service restaurant. A heavy advertising campaign is getting the word out, and after we saw it pop up on our Internet service provider's home page for the 35th time, we decided to give it a try on a recent Sunday evening.
You might remember the Nashua Radisson as the Sheraton Tara — an imposing brick building that looks like a Renaissance castle (or monastery, depending on your perspective). The Tara's knights-in-armor decor has been toned down since the change of corporate affiliation, but the place is still reminiscent of a castle, which makes Shade's cool, hip decor seem a little out of place.
The space is bright and welcoming, and indeed contemporary. An interesting forest of pendant lamps with un-shaded clear glass bulbs hangs down from the ceiling near the entrance. Booths line the walls, and two rows of tables run up the middle of the room, with the bar centered on the right side. We were headed for a booth when our Teenage Bottomless Pit, joining us with his girlfriend for the first time, noticed the padded, upholstered chairs around the tables and decided they looked so comfortable we needed to sit in them instead. Whether they were more comfy than the booths remains to be seen, but sitting at a table definitely made it easier to be distracted by the TVs — at least 20 — lining the walls above just about every booth.
Shade's menu emphasizes dishes everyone knows, split about equally between meats and seafoods. The Small Plates & Bites menu (could be appetizers, could be lunch) includes smaller versions of a pair of seafood entrees — Black and Blue Scallops and Seared Ahi Tuna, plus an assortment of pub-style appetizers, ranging from wings or sweet-potato fries to flatbread pizza or quesadillas.
For openers, The Dining Companion chose the Bruschetta ($9.99), crispy and light, featuring a delicious chopped mixture of tomatoes, garlic, onions and shallots, topped with a light grating of cheese and an excellent balsamic reduction.
The Bottomless Pit, talked out of ordering the appetizer sampler (which he would not have shared), ordered the Cheeseburger Sliders ($9.99) and found them plain, slightly overdone (he ordered medium) and blandly presented — three mini burgers on an otherwise empty white plate and not even a splash of ketchup.
His girlfriend chose the Spinach and Artichoke Dip ($9.99), which was a relatively thin version of the popular appetizer. The consistency was closer to a thick sauce than a hearty dip. The flavor ran more toward spinach than artichoke, without as much of the parmesan tang as we expected. The pita chips that came with the dip (along with multi-colored tortilla chips), however, were fantastic.
While perusing the entrees, I ordered onion rings ($5.99) to share with the table, and found them sweet and tender, fried to a light golden brown.
There is a half-page of salads on the menu, but among the entrees, only one item is meatless. That's not usually an issue for us, but TBP's girlfriend is vegetarian, so we were a bit concerned how it would work out for her. She assured us that she faces such menu challenges regularly and has no problem ordering a regular dish without the meat.
Thus, for her entree, she chose Chicken Broccolini Alfredo ($13.99), without the chicken. She loved the wide pappardelle pasta, tossed with the broccolini and a rich sauce based on parmesan and pecorino cheese.
TDC ordered Pan Seared Salmon ($17.99), which she found unremarkable in its presentation and its flavor. Entrees are served with a choice of side dish, and TDC ordered rice. The small fillet of salmon was seasoned well but slightly dry, accompanied by a small bowl of rice. Both were made to look even smaller by being served on a large white plate, ungarnished except for a wedge of lemon.
TBP's New York Strip Sirloin ($19.99) suffered from a similar blandness. On the vast white plate was the beef and a half-cup of chili. And while the steak tasted beefy, there was virtually no seasoning to enhance it.
Comfort food and seafood are both big themes on Shade's menu, and my Seafood Pot Pie combined the two. Easily the best entree of the evening, my generous individual-size pie overflowed with scallops, fish, shrimp and lobster, with a mirepoix of veggies in a light sherry/cream/butter sauce. Presentation wasn't an issue here, because there was no room left for decoration. I loved it, and thought it was a bargain at $16.99.
The dessert chef made up for the entrees' plain presentation with drizzles of chocolate, honey and other accoutrements adorning our tiramisu (moist and rich), flourless chocolate torte (dense but relatively mild on the chocolate intensity) and carrot cake (three layers, studded with raisins and nuts). One dessert, a mint chocolate chip ice-cream sandwich, was less decoratively presented, but that was just as well since it would've been much harder to handle if it were dripping with sauce. All desserts were $4.99.
We left Shade with mixed opinions. The menu is wide-ranging, but possibly a bit ambitious. Some of our dishes were excellent, others only average. Pricing was very reasonable, especially for a hotel restaurant. Presentation was inconsistent, and not up to our expectations based on the overall atmosphere. The service was friendly and efficient.
I thoroughly enjoyed my entree and would go back to see if the chicken pot pie, pot roast and shepherd's pie are as good as the seafood. But the consensus of my dining companions is that I'd probably be going back as a party of one. Though it clearly wants to be a destination restaurant and has the bones to be one, Shade isn't quite there yet.