Driving to the Woodbound Inn for the first time on a dark, moonless night, it occurred to us that the old hotel couldn't be more aptly named.
As we turned off Route 202, we weren't expecting the long drive down a dark, tree-lined road. We had decided to leave the GPS navigation turned off, so we didn't know how far we had to go. Only an occasional streetlight illuminated the darkness, and we started to wonder whether we'd taken a wrong turn. (The fact that we had turned onto Woodbound Road was a clue that we hadn't.) But at last we arrived at the inn, an oasis of brightly lit civilization in the deep, dark woods.
Had we been there in daylight, we'd have seen that the big, rambling Woodbound has a wonderful setting, on property hugging the shore of Contoocook Lake with views of Mount Monadnock in the distance. Nighttime may not be the best time to appreciate its scenic charms, but it's an excellent time to enjoy stylish, contemporary dining in its restaurant, a.k.a. The Grove at the Woodbound.
The dining room is a large, sparsely decorated space with white wood paneling in the craftsman style, sage green walls and simple, unclothed tables. The simplicity of the decor led us to think of a Shaker dining hall. The open kitchen is at one end of the room, a grand piano (silent the night we visited) at the other.
The menu is fairly simple as well, presented on a single sheet. There are a half-dozen appetizers, three salads, three soups and a dozen entrees. There's plenty of variety in those few choices, though, so everyone from beef lover to seafood fan to vegetarian will find something to enjoy.
The Dining Companion started with the Roasted Root Vegetable Salad ($7), a presentation of sliced, roasted beet, sweet potato, parsnip and turnip with mixed greens, served with a dijon vinaigrette on the side. TDC enjoyed the salad but she was slightly disappointed: "Roasted," she thought, implied "warm," but the veggies were served cold, which she thought held their flavor in check.
My appetizer, Steak Canape ($10), was a platter of hors d'oeuvres featuring crostini topped with a slice of chilled medium rare beef tenderloin and garnished with a garlic horseradish creme. The combination was rich and meaty with a satisfying zing from the horseradish sauce, which was akin to a soft cream cheese. The canapes were surprisingly filling; there were five on the plate, and I'd have been better off sharing with TDC.
TDC turned toward comfort food for her entree, Pecan Chicken ($18). This nut-crusted breast cutlet was pan seared with maple cream sauce, served atop a "sweet potato hash."
The menu description doesn't do justice to what TDC thought was a fantastic dish. The maple sauce was sweet, but it was limited to one end of the cutlet — as though the chicken had been dunked in the sauce after cooking — perfectly complementing the crust without being cloying. The hash consisted of chunks of roasted sweet potatoes mixed with ribbons of white potato and onions, a creative assembly that was a perfect complement, in flavor and style, for the chicken.
I picked the Seared Sea Scallops ($22), featuring five scallops atop sauteed mushrooms and scallions served on a bed of thyme risotto. The scallops, perfectly done, were browned and heavily seasoned only on one side — both sides would have been overkill. The risotto was very mildly flavored on its own, but it provided a creamy neutral base for the stronger flavors that lay atop it. The way to attack this dish was to ensure each bite included a bit of every ingredient; the flavors blended perfectly.
None of the dishes we chose amounted to huge platters of food, yet by the time we finished, there wasn't a lot of room left for dessert. In the interest of a full report, I ordered the lightest dessert offered — chocolate mousse ($5), served in an ice cream dish topped with a dab of whipped cream and a maraschino cherry. The mousse was fine, but we were both struck by the presentation — it looked more like a child's dessert, not up to the standard set by the stylish, creative presentation of the rest of our courses. Some shaved chocolate in place of the cherry might have done the trick.
TDC, who's just making her return to the dining scene after a few months away, has picked two winners in our most recent destinations —the Monadnock Inn in Jaffrey and now Woodbound. Apparently, she has a good sense for country inns in the Monadnock region. We may try a different region next time, but I'm hoping her restaurant-picking hot streak continues.