Our Gourmet: Fine food in a casual Squam Lake setting

July 31. 2018 8:54PM
Pork potstickers at Walter's Basin in Holderness. 
Walter’s Basin
859 US Route 3, Holderness; 968-4412; waltersbasin.com

Hours: Sunday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday until 10.

Cuisine: Eclectic American bistro.

Dinner pricing: Appetizers $7-$13; soups & salads $6-$16; sandwiches & burgers $10-$13; entrees $16-$26.

Scores for Walter’s Basin
Atmosphere: 19/20
Menu: 19/20
Food: 19/20
Service: 18/20
Value: 18/20
TOTAL: 93/100

Mrs. Gourmet and I had a week off recently, but we were only able to get away for three days. Even so, setting up camp in Center Harbor, we were able to pack plenty of lakeside R&R into that short time. In fact, it was really R&R&R — rest, relaxation, and restaurants.

One night, we revisited a spot we reviewed shortly after it opened — Hobbs Tavern & Brewery in West Ossipee. It’s changed a bit — the menu is a lot shorter than we remembered, but the food was just as good, and we got to sample several of the house-brewed beers (which wasn’t being produced yet when we first visited).

The next night, we drove over to Holderness to check out a restaurant we’ve eyeballed several times but never got around to trying: Walter’s Basin, snug along the channel between Squam and Little Squam lakes.

We had always been curious about Walter’s, since it sits on prime Lakes Region real estate, yet it’s not particularly striking from the outside. It’s named for the elusive fish that kept Henry Fonda’s “On Golden Pond” character taking his boat out on Squam far longer than he should have. Those details, plus the slightly suggestive name of its pub (you can look it up), led us to expect an uber-casual, burgers-and-beer-and-fried-seafood kind of joint.

Then we looked at the menu.

There are indeed burgers and fried seafood, but they make up just a tiny part of a very creative menu that shows variety of ingredients, from trout to duck sausage to elk, as well as bit of an Asian influence in several dishes.

The menu surprised us, and once we arrived, the atmosphere surprised us, as well (though, really, it shouldn’t have — it’s Squam Lake, after all). The hostess stand is in a large, bright lobby with plenty of seating, suggesting that diners may sometimes need to wait a bit for a table. The decor is contemporary, with pale gold walls and understated lake- and fishing-themed accents.

Arriving fairly early on a weeknight, we only had to wait a few minutes for a table. We were escorted down the hall between the pub and the restaurant into the main dining room, which overlooks Little Squam Lake. We weren’t expecting star treatment, but the hostess escorted us to a table for two right along the windows overlooking the lake. It was a perfect spot for enjoying the early-evening scenery, including boats, swimmers and loons, and for enjoying a wonderful meal.

The menu’s Asian accents caught our attention. Mrs. G. started with pan-fried pork potstickers ($10). The five gently fried, plump dumplings were served with a fairly thick Hoisin-style sauce that was slightly sweet and slightly salty, a perfect complement. On the side was a little slaw with red cabbage, lettuce and sliced jalapeno peppers, tossed with a light, bright vinegar-based dressing that had a bit of a kick.

I started with the Ahi Tuna Wontons ($13). The five pieces on the plate were colorful piles consisting of, from the bottom up, a strip of fried wonton rapper, bright green seaweed salad, a slice of avocado and a slice of raw (or barely seared) tuna. The whole plate was drizzled with a very mild wasabi aioli. The ginger/soy of the seaweed salad, the kick of the wasabi and the delicate flavor of the tuna blended with great presentation into an excellent light appetizer.

I continued with the Asian theme for my entree. The Duck and Shrimp Stir-fry ($20) was a delicious combination of sliced duck sausage and sautéed shrimp (tails removed, thank you) with mushrooms and a melange of sauteed fresh vegetables, served over rice with a delicious sweet and spicy Asian sauce. We thought we detected a bit of smoke in the sausage. It was a terrific combination, though if I were to quibble about anything, the sauce became a bit overwhelming as the meal went on, and the rice could have been cooked a bit longer.

Mrs G. chose the Zucchini Scallops ($24), forsaking Asia for something with an Italian accent. Five nicely seared scallops were served over a bed of zucchini spaghetti with mushrooms and roasted garlic and a light tomato-based sauce. This dish, which she loved (and couldn’t finish), hit home for us, as Mrs. G is a big fan of those gadgets that look like giant pencil sharpeners that allow you to make “spaghetti” from zucchini, eggplant, cucumbers, or basically any vegetable that fits into the opening (as long as your wrist holds out from all the twisting).

With a whole Lakes Region full of ice cream shops and candy stores just waiting for us, we decided to skip dessert, even though we hadn’t come close to tiring of the view from our windowside table.

We thought the food was excellent, the value factor very reasonable for the area and the level of sophistication, and our server, Stefani, was professional yet very friendly.

We’re glad we finally got around to visiting Walter’s, where fine dining is cleverly disguised in a classy but casual package.


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