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May 28. 2013 6:11PM

Our Gourmet

Manchester's Mint Bistro is packed with people, packed with flavor

Mint Bistro

1105 Elm St., Manchester; 625-6468; mintbistronh.com
Open: Monday –Sunday, 4 to 10 p.m. (until midnight on Friday and Saturday for sushi)
Cuisine: Fusion with full sushi bar
Pricing: Appetizers (tapas) and salads, $6 to $20; entrees, $10 to $31.
Handicapped-accessible

Scores for Mint Bistro
Menu:
19/20
Atmosphere: 18/20
Appetizers: 19/20
Entrees: 19/20
Desserts: 15/20
TOTAL: 90/100

Restaurant Location:

1105 Elm St., Manchester, NH

Mint Bistro, located on Elm Street near to Bridge Street, could be easily missed were it not for its iconic glowing green sign. A few years ago, this end of Elm Street saw a lot more hustle and bustle, but with the closing of Blu over the winter, and the trend of restaurants opening up closer to the Verizon Wireless Arena, it is quieter than it used to be in this part of the downtown.

Because of this we were surprised that Mint Bistro was crowded; we could see that every table was taken. We were immediately greeted by the manager who, upon finding we didn't have a reservation, offered us seats at the bar. The very large bar that runs the length of the restaurant was crowded, but we found two seats at the end.

Usually when you sit at the bar, the service is hit or miss depending on how busy the bartenders happen to be. I was happy and surprised that we had a server, who despite being very busy, was very attentive and right on top of things. Also, sometimes when you sit at a bar, especially for us shorter folks, it can be a little awkward. I was surprised at how comfortable the seating was in this contemporary, modern place.

After several minutes of looking at the rather sizeable bistro menu, which includes gluten-free offerings, seafood, beef, chicken, pork and vegetarian options, The Dining Companion chose the Tempura Chicken ($8). TDC couldn't recall the last time he saw tempura chicken other than at an Asian restaurant, so it piqued his interest. The chicken came out with a dark, almost to the point of beyond golden, coating and had two dipping sauces sitting off to each side. The tempura was surprisingly light and crisp for the thick coating, which surrounded a juicy chunk of chicken. One of the dipping sauces was a thin, soy-based barbecue sauce and the other had a sour cream base and was mixed with chili and garlic.

TDC was gracious enough to let me try one and I agreed these are not your everyday bar-type chicken tenders. This is enough to make plain old battered chicken a little more than jealous. Big thumbs up from both of us.

Resisting the urge to choose more than one item from the tapas menu, I finally decided on the Mini Fish Tacos ($8) — three crisp taco shells filled with key lime blackened cod, cilantro sour cream, lettuce, avocado and plum tomato. Each bite of each taco was perfect in texture and taste. I thought the addition of the avocado was a great creamy element, and the fish — local cod — was incredibly fresh. It is a good thing they only gave me three tacos or I wouldn't have had room for dinner.

For an entrée, the TDC chose the Braised Kalbi-Style Beef Short Rib ($23). This beef was so tender that when he cut into the short rib it slid off the bone faster than he could slice it. He described the taste as similar to a fine pot roast that had been cooked for hours in its own juices, but a little bit better than that. The short rib was glazed with a Korean barbecue sauce and served with vegetable fried rice, green beans, baby carrots, sesame and prickly pear. The mixture was then saturated with natural pan juices. He said if you want to taste a short rib made right, Mint Bistro is the place to order it.

For dinner, I chose a classic, the Steak Frites ($21) — a bistro sirloin, served with shoestring fries, haricot verts, a demi glace and maitre d' hotel butter. I ordered my steak medium rare, and it arrived perfectly cooked, one of the best pieces of sirloin I've ever had. The crispy but not-greasy "frites" sprinkled with a smattering of herbs, and a bit of truffle, were a nice foil for the juicy steak. Even the haricot verts were a treat, cooked al dente and unbelievably fresh. The demi glace and butter added the right touch of seasoning to the dish.

Dessert was the only course that didn't meet my expectations. I chose the homemade coconut ice cream, as it seemed the most original of the bunch. It was served in a large bowl with whipped cream and dark chocolate sauce, which elevated the taste to that of an elegant Mounds bar. While I was sold on the taste, the texture of the ice cream was a bit off. Half of the spoonfuls I took were more icy than creamy.

For dessert, TDC had the chocolate cake. This large slice of heaven was layered with thick then creamy chocolate and moist cake. It was drizzled in chocolate syrup just in case all the other chocolate wasn't enough. For him it was plenty to make his sweet tooth sing in delight.

We should note that Mint Bistro also has a large sushi menu. Neither I nor TDC are sushi connoisseurs beyond a California roll, but where we were seated next to the sushi chefs we could tell that the sushi was indeed popular and it was fun to watch them put it together.

We would definitely venture to Mint Bistro again but next time we are going to make a reservation. With food this good, we wouldn't be surprised to see it packed with people again.


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