Our Gourmet: A fond look back at some 2016 favorites

January 03. 2017 9:02PM

With nearly a score of restaurant reviews under our belts in the year just ended (remember, we’re just one of three teams that reviews for this column), it’s safe to say our belt lines are a bit more snug, and we’re happy to report we’ve put no one out of business (that we know of).

This time of year it is also appropriate to mark the passage of 12 months of reviews with a review of our reviews, and pay special notice to the restaurateurs who humbly created and served some remarkably fine meals at our table in 2016.

In no particular order of importance or achievement, here are a few of the highlights of a most enjoyable string of dining experiences.

Best Dinner Restaurant

Black Trumpet, Portsmouth (www.blacktrumpetbistro.com; 431-0887)

We happened upon the Black Trumpet by chance one day, walking down Ceres Street near the tugboats. The restaurant was not open, but a wide-eyed neighbor told us it was the best restaurant she’d ever been to.

Of course we went back, and our review of the dining experience described “those rare moments when it is exquisite.” And so it was, from the candlelight-filled dining room to the copper-topped tables and the warm, gracious service to the food and the wine.

We enjoyed rabbit paella, a fresh spinach salad with grapefruit slices and black trumpet mushrooms, crispy duck, some fine wine and an orange cheesecake dessert. The setting was romantic. The service was outstanding. The food was superb.

Best Soup

La Cabana Mexican Restaurant, New Boston (384-1748)

It’s winter folks, and baby it’s cold outside. What better way to defeat the sting of a bitter January day than a hot, over-the-top delicious bowl of soup?

None is better than La Cabana’s Tortilla Soup.

A brimming bowlful of steaming broth with strips of flour tortillas, sliced chicken, rice and a bounty of vegetables (onions, tomatoes, peas, carrots, green beans), enhanced nicely with cilantro and Mexican spices — and topped off by several thick slices of fresh avocado floating on top. We don’t know if La Cabana’s soup has won any awards yet, but it deserves some.

Best Breakfast

Parker’s Maple Barn, Mason (parkersmaplebarn.com; 878-2308)

The sap isn’t running at this time of year, and the restaurant is closed until Feb. 8. But once it reopens, devotees of this New Hampshire gem will start lining up for breakfast. We’ll be among them.

We’ll be there early this year, unlike last year, when we showed up when only two buckets of sap remained. When the sap is running, it’s a special treat to watch the sugaring in full boil, and breakfast (served all day) inside the 19th-century barn turned restaurant is a culinary spectacular.

Besides French toast, maple flavored bacon and sausages, egg dishes and sinfully delicious deep-fried cinnamon rolls, there are maple influences in non-breakfast dishes including barbecued ribs, chicken tenders and burgers, too, making Parker’s the maple king of southern New Hampshire.

Best Brunch

Wentworth By The Sea, New Castle (www.wentworth.com; 422-7322)

Built nearly 150 years ago, the Wentworth is a historic hotel in the grand style of yesteryear, surrounded by marinas, ocean views, thickets of Scotch pines, and the spectacular manicured landscape of a five-star resort.

As if the surroundings weren’t enough, inside is a Sunday brunch open to the public that will knock your socks right off. There is live, soft jazz; complimentary mimosas; fresh seafood (cold and cooked); egg dishes, breakfast meats, luncheon meats and specialty dishes; seriously special salads with seafood and vegetable and fruit accompaniments; roast beef with au jus and potatoes and sautéed asparagus; breads and bagels and pastries; and tender sliced rabbit meat in a special sauce served on tiny, warm pretzel rolls with garnish. ... The list does not end until you come to almost a dozen gourmet dessert choices.

It is a grand buffet mid-day meal in a grand hotel in a glamorous Seacoast setting, well worth indulging at $40 per person.

Best Ethnic Restaurant — Asian

Lilac Blossom, Nashua (lilacblossom.us; 886-8420)

With our preference for Asian food over many, many other ethnic choices, Lilac Blossom on Amherst Street (with a sister location on East Dunstable Road at Skymeadow) has become our restaurant of choice for genuine, carefully-prepared, flavorful Chinese cuisine.

From appetizers and wines to seafood, meat, poultry and special vegetable dishes — every Chinese item you have ever seen on a menu — Lilac Blossom delivers uncommonly good food in an uncommonly comfortable, clean and spacious atmosphere.

Best Wine List and Cellars

Tuscan Kitchen, Salem (www.tuscanbrands.com; 952-4875)

The Tuscan Kitchen restaurant and market has become like a small city inside the confines of Salem, and how better to show off class and Italian culture than a restaurant with a wine list, cellars and dining venues that are among the best in the state?

The selection is truly vast, and the attention paid to the wines’ comfort and value is exceedingly high.

For the connoisseur, we cannot begin to describe it justly. For anyone else, believe it when we tell you the choice of wine is a worthy complement to Tuscan’s food, service and ambience.

Best of the Rest

Outstanding Dinner Restaurant: Giorgio’s Restaurant and Bar (Manchester)

Outstanding Asian Food (non-Chinese): Shira Kiku (Nashua)

Outstanding Casual Italian Restaurant: Ralphie’s (Salem)

Our Gourmet

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