Wednesday, March 27, 2013

80 Thoreau, Concord MA


When you live in a city like Boston, you don't often find need to leave it.  With beaches, hiking trails, museums, music venues and restaurants all a stones throw away, one can easily occupy months of time without leaving the city limits.  Of course, that doesn't mean that one shouldn't.  Last week I jumped aboard the commuter rail (thank you MBTA) and took a quick and painless 40 minute jaunt out to one of my all time favorite 'burbs-Concord, MA.

I had the great fortune of growing up near this gorgeous town, and I took every opportunity to steep myself in its beauty and it's culture.  Nearly every corner you turn within the town leads to historic site after historic site, and the feats of our forefathers are on display for all to revere.  For history buffs-Concord is the motherland.  What you might not anticipate finding among these preserved landmarks is a stellar restaurant with a Food & Wine 2013 Fan Favorite Chef nominee at the helm.

80 Thoreau sits atop the old train depot  (read: literally on the commuter rail

tracks-hello convenience!) and is bringing cuisine normally reserved for urban locales to the people of Concord.  Chef Carolyn Johnson has teamed up with young entrepreneurs Ian Calhoun and Vincent Vela to create a menu featuring fresh, inventive new American dishes in a clean, airy, beautiful establishment.  Opened just about two years ago, it has been earning a name for itself as one of the places to hit outside the city since, but isn't resting on its laurels just yet.  They have recently installed a brand new chefs table to their seating, giving four lucky souls the chance to dine on a specially designed menu with a birds eye view of the kitchen.  I had the opportunity to dine at this special spot last week and was blow away by the experience -start to finish.

Imagine for a moment, stepping off the train and being greeted at the front door of the restaurant by a handsome fellow bearing a glass of sparkling wine on a silver tray to kick off your evening.  This is the stuff of luxury service legends.  Once inside they will lead you up to the restaurant and seat you in one of four seats over looking the small but incredibly efficient kitchen.  From these seats you will have the best view as the chefs whip together your meal, and the meals for the rest of the restaurant.

Our evening started with a tuna crudo, softly resting on a crisp slice of spicy radish.  The tuna had been mixed lightly with a little mayonnaise based dressing brightened with fresh herbs and topped with a little fried shallot.  This was a perfect first bite fully of flavor to awaken the palate and the different textures.

The first course was presented as a house made venison terrine served with pickled carrots, parsnip
and onions, sliced juniper berries and a house made mustard.  I loved the use of venison here.  Often these types of dishes are made with cuts that are incredibly fatty, but venison is a lean protein -thereby making a heavy dish much lighter.  The terrine was still full of the anticipated rich flavors one would normally associate with the decadent dish, but when paired with the pickled vegetables, this richness of the dish was perfectly cut and a gentle harmony was found.

Second course was presented as a work of art, a decadent shucked lobster claw piled out of a small mountain of salsify drizzled with a cream sauce.  The beauty here was in the light herbs that permeated the sauce bringing a delicate feel to what would normally have been a heavy dish.  The lobster was well cooked, tender and full of natural sweetness. Combining a taste of the lobster, with the rich cream sauce, a hint of tarragon and an earthy root vegetable salsify was a luscious bite.

Our next course featured Pork shank ravioli enhanced with touches of cabbage,
beer and mustard.  I was dining there just before St Patricks day and I loved the play on sophisticated Irish flavors.  The ravioli were lovely, a nice combination of stuffing and pasta.  The flavors were tight, perhaps a little safe, but nice for what was being portrayed.

Our final savory course included rabbit stuffed with
fennel fronds and pan roasted, sliced into beautiful medallions and served with a delicate frisee salad and a tart cherry compote served atop a purée of celeriac.   As lovely as the rabbit was, and it was moist and perfectly flavored, the star here were the cherries whose deep contrast between sweet and tart beautifully offset the robust flavors of the meat.  The frisée, which could so easily have been disregarded, had been topped with chopped macadamia nuts, finished the dish with a tinge of bitter flavor, and a contrasting punch of texture.  I truly appreciated the attention to detail here and the roundness that it lent.


As we settled back into our chairs, digesting the beauty of the food presented, I was presented with a neat glass of Johnnie Walker.  A chilled shot that made me immediately wonder what was to come.  First, of course, was the pallet cleanser.  A simple spoon of honey enhanced ice cream, paired with a single section of a blood orange was placed jauntily in front of me.  A small helping of
a beautifully sweet starter with just enough punch of citrus to banish any savory remnants and make way for the dessert.  The honey in the ice cream was just subtle enough to be intriguing but strong enough to be comforting.  This was a little piece of heaven.

Of course, the palate cleanser was simply paving the way for our dessert to be served.  A decadent chocolate stout cake, topped with a malt ice cream, a cookie crumble and candied kumquat.  This was an incredibly well balanced dessert.  The cake was lightly flavored, which allowed for all of the other components to shine forth.

80 Thoreau isn't great food if you happen to be out of the city, it is quite simply-great food worthy of a trip from wherever you happen to be.  Their attention to detail, though obviously paramount in the kitchen, is felt to every corner of the restaurant, from the owners to the servers, and if you happen to snag a seat at the kitchen, you'll find a truly happy group of chefs who somehow don't even appear too busy to crack a quick joke or explain a method as they prep your dinner.  The team at 80 Thoreau is going above and beyond to usher their patrons into a truly decadent and pampered evening, start to finish.

3 comments:

Megan Ginsberg said...

These courses all look so interesting and delicious! I loved 80 Thoreau when I went.

Bianca @ Confessions of a Chocoholic said...

What a meal! Id' love to check them out soon!

Much Ado About Somethin said...

I went to 80 Thoreau a few months ago and loved it! Fantastic!

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