3612 Lafayette Road, Portsmouth, N.H.Our last dining adventure featured a casual vibe, so The Dining Companion and I decided to try something a little more upscale this time around. And nothing says upscale more than a steakhouse.
We discovered another gem in Portmouth, again located on Route 1 away from the downtown area. In an area that features seafood take-out restaurants and ice cream stops, we were surprised to find a fine-dining spot.
When you walk into Demeters, you are immediately struck by all the windows. No matter where you sit you have a view, courtesy of the wall-to-ceiling windows. You're also struck by the stunningly attractive atmosphere, with a modern, contemporary feel, complete with crisp white linens.
At first, we were thrown off by the presence of the very large square bar in the middle of Demeters, complete with hi-def televisions; it seemed a little out of place for such an upscale place. But it works. If you are seated in the dining area, as we were, you can't hear conversation or noise coming from the bar. The bar seamlessly blends in with the overall dining area.
Speaking of the bar, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the cocktails menu at Demeters, which features homemade syrups and bitters. I have a true weakness for a Manhattan that is made just right and they are hard to find. I ordered the Demeters Manhattan ($13), made with Bulleit 95 Rye, Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth and house-made orange bitters, and it did not disappoint. In fact, I'm convinced that my search for the perfect Manhattan ends at Demeters, not that I won't keep looking just in case.
A few years ago at the now-defunct 36Delux in Manchester, I had steak tartare for the first time. I thought there was no better time than now to revisit it. I ordered the Classic Steak Tartare ($14) served with a crispy potato ring, caper berries, toasted garlic, baby frisee and Worcestershire saba. To my surprise, it was also served with a raw egg on top, which was not in the description. But if you are already eating raw steak, well, eating a raw egg does not seem like that big a deal. The steak was well-seasoned and incredibly tender, but the star of the show was definitely the toasted garlic, understated enough to avoid overpowering the flavor of the beef but key to the dish nonetheless. And the egg ended up being a nice addition. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed this dish, and won't wait so long to have it again, especially if it is as expertly prepared.
TDC started with the Crispy Pork Belly ($11), featuring pork belly strips, smoked gouda polenta fries and collard greens with a bourbon-peach barbecue sauce. The polenta fries looked like French-toast sticks and had a similar crunchy outer coating with a soft inner texture. The pork belly was the opposite in texture, covered in an outer coating of fat with solid but tender meat inside. The collard greens had a satisfying sweetness, while the sauce served for dipping had a real biting spice to it as the bourbon made itself known. TDC said it was a well-rounded and portioned appetizer that offers some uniquely bold flavors.
TDC followed up his pork belly with the 18-ounce Cowboy Rib Eye ($44). This big steak is served all by its lonesome — sides are ordered separately, so keep that in mind. It does, however, come with a complementary dipping sauce, of which there is a wide variety, with the option to add additional sauces for $4 each. TDC chose the Chipotle Aioli, which he used to add a little kick to this juicy and delectable cut of beef. He ordered the steak medium and it came out with a nice full pink center just on the cusp of medium rare, which is just how he likes it. He said this particular cut was a little light on the marbling, but still had enough to satisfy.
I opted for a half-order of Pappardelle ($12), long flat pasta served with braised beef short rib, roasted potatoes, wild mushrooms, spinach, red wine jus and topped with a cauliflower horseradish cream. I ordered a smaller-sized dish because I was saving room for dessert, but the dish was anything but small. It was a generous portion, especially of the short rib. The fresh pasta was cooked perfectly and the red wine jus added a good bit of acid to cut through the fat of the beef.
For dessert, TDC had the Toasted Coconut Fudge Sundae ($10), which he termed "dangerously good." For presentation and added flavor the ice cream is adorned with sliced strawberries and mint leaves. The fudge is served layered on the inside of the bowl with chunks of crispy coconut mixed in. The ice cream itself features toasted coconut, which also adds crunchiness to each bite. The combination of the texture and sweetness of this dessert put it in a class by itself.
I had the anything-but-pedestrian chocolate molten cake ($10) served with raspberry coulis and vanilla anglaise. It was a decadent, sweet end to a delicious meal. I only wish I could have eaten the whole thing.
Demeters is perfect for dinner or drinks if you are trying to impress someone. But be aware that if you are going to have a few drinks, dinner and either an appetizer or dessert, it is going to be expensive. We spent, with tip, close to $200 for this night out. (We should mention the bar menu, which features a few different items like Bacon Meatloaf and a Crispy Pork Belly BLT for a few dollars less.)
Regardless of price, Demeters is top-notch. If you are in or near the Port City, it deserves a place on your dining bucket list.