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May 15. 2013 8:51PM

NH Restaurant Week spotlights Granite State restauranteurs, cuisine

MANCHESTER — New Hampshire has its lakes, mountains and beaches. It has its quaint villages and coveted presidential primary spot. But does it has its own cuisine? And if so, what is it?

Surely, we lack a location-specific dish such as Louisiana jambalaya. Nor do we have a single branded food such as Texas longhorn beef or Idaho russet potato.

And our local foods — lobster and maple syrup — have taken a backseat to their counterparts in Maine and Vermont, thanks to our neighbors' better marketing campaigns.

But New Hampshire restaurateurs are seeking to change all that. The second-ever New Hampshire Restaurant Week starts Friday and runs for eight days. Timed to lead up to Memorial Day, it offers low-cost, three-course meals at some of the best restaurants in the state.

It makes celebrity chefs available to local media. And it involves an advertising campaign in New Hampshire and neighboring states to lure food lovers to the Granite State.

"There's a lot of interest in food. We all like to eat," said Mike Somers, president and chief-executive of the New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association, which instituted the effort in 2012.

Part of the effort involves cultivation of a New Hampshire cuisine.

"I think it's very diverse, very well-rounded," said Bud Selmi, chef at Margarita Grill in Glen. He has developed his own line of hot sauces — Sizzlin' Sauces — that deliver a southwestern flare to the restaurant's line up, which emphasizes seafood dishes and locally made products.

His offerings include crab cakes with his Creepin' Quog sauce, a cranberry-plum, prickly pear cactus hot sauce; locally smoked turkey and bacon with a honey habernero sauce; and shrimp with local bears-head mushrooms and organic kale.

"People are searching out there for establishments that are using more local products," said Selmi, who grows his own haberneros peppers and makes his sauces locally.

And thanks to the promotional efforts of New Hampshire Restaurant Week, the search for Granite State cuisine won't be expensive. A three-course dinner meal — appetizer, entree, dessert — at Selmi's restaurant is only $25 a person.

The 150 participating restaurants have priced themselves at different levels. The most expensive restaurants are only $35 per person, the lowest price is $15. Lunch prices in all three categories are even lower.

The website restaurantweeknh.com offers a list of participating restaurants, their meal offerings and the price.

"In this day and age, with bargain-hunters being what they are, they're looking for the best deal they can find," said Jack Carnevale, owner of Bedford Village Inn, which will offer meals for $35. "People get to trade up that week."

He sees signs of New Hampshire becoming a dining destination, a destination where people traveling to find a good meal. And his inn even hosts foodie getaways for couples. He's seen a man attend a business conference at the the Bedford Village Inn during the week, then a couple of weeks later the businessman brings his wife for a weekend of sightseeing, outlet shopping and a night of good eating.

Somers said Food Network and cooking shows such as Cake Boss and Master Chef have heightened interests in good food. Retired, semi-retired and young professionals are all taking foodie getaways.

"For younger professionals, it's a romantic getaway, but it's as much a place to stay and what to eat as it is a romantic getaway," he said.

mhayward@unionleader.com


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