Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Republic Cafe, Manchester, NH

Almost 3 years ago, I wrote about a cafe I discovered in Manchester, NH, that proved me to me that New Hampshire does have some innovation in the dining scene.  My original review was of lunch with my parents, with a fun take on fish & chips.  I recommended the restaurant.

I followed by own advice, and returned two years later, for dinner with my mom and sister.  It was again quite good, and, for some reason, I never published that review, until now.

I continued to follow my own advice, and returned this summer, for lunch, with my mother and Ojan's family.  I enjoyed it again, although, at this point, I think I'd like to try somewhere new.

If you didn't read my original review, I suggest you start there.  Then check out the summer 2015 review, and finally, the latest.

Update Review #2, Summer 2016

My next visit to Republic Cafe was for lunch, with a rather interesting assortment of individuals: my mom, and Ojan's mom, dad, brother, and Ojan himself.  I was visiting his family down near Boston, and needed to then go visit my family in New Hampshire.  At the same time, his family was going on vacation in New Hampshire, but no where near my family.  Manchester was the half-way point, so we agreed to all meet there so I could transfer from their car to my mom's, and we'd continue on our way to Lebanon.

Since we weren't exactly sure what time we'd arrive, I didn't make a reservation, which proved to be problematic.  6 people, busy weekday lunch service, at a location that doesn't really have tables that can seat 6.  In fact, they had only one table that can seat 6, and it had just been filled.  We were quoted 1.5 hour wait for that table.  I suggested pushing together some of the smaller tables inside, but was told that those are reserved for walk-ins (which we were ...) and that we couldn't take them all over, that the owner likes to always have tables available for walk-ins.  I suggested waiting for a few of the smaller tables outside to finish (many had food or were paying), and then push those together.  They didn't think that would work.  The staff really wanted us to split up, but, that kinda defeated the purpose of getting the two families together.  Finally, Ojan pointed at a tall table for 4 in the front of the restaurant, and just said that 2 of us would be fine kinda standing on the side.  We'd be out of the way since the table was right in front along the wall, and we really didn't mind standing, as we'd be in cars all day.  They agreed to this, and it was fine, although, yes, a bit hard to fit everything on the table.

Anyway, as on my previous visits, I was impressed with the quality of the food.  I genuinely enjoyed several dishes.  We finally tried dessert, which, was the weakest part of the meal.

Service wasn't great however.  Ojan's mom ordered an entree, and it never came.  The server delivered dishes to everyone else at the table, and didn't notice that he didn't bring one to her.  She didn't say anything, assuming it was coming.  10 minutes later, literally, I finally flagged him down to investigate.  It took me that long to get his attention.  He then realized it never came, and that the kitchen never even started the order.  He said he'd get it going right away.  Her food came long, long after the rest of us finished, and no one really apologized for the error.  The meal was not comp'ed.  I also had to flag the server down to order dessert, again, after trying for quite a while before he paid attention to us.  The cafe was busy when we arrived, but by this point, it was not busy at all, and he just kept walking away, or was even just standing on the side drinking coffee.  I wasn't impressed with the service.

I'd still return, as they really do serve quality food, well prepared, but, the menu doesn't really seem to change except for the specials, so at this point, I'd like to try somewhere else.

Appetizers and Mains

Bread and Oil.
I'm not one to fill up on bread before a meal, but, I wanted to just try it again.

I ripped off a tiny chunk, and, then promptly devoured my whole slice.  And then Ojan's slice.

I really liked it.  The bread is just pizza dough, the same they use for the flatbreads, but it is fluffy, fresh, and served warm and toasty.  I like bread like this, it reminds me of the pizza bread rolls they had a pizza place in my town growing up.

And, the oil.  Super flavorful, high quality.

I enjoyed the bread and oil far more than any other bread in a restaurant in recent memory.  I'd gladly eat more of it, and would actually consider trying a flatbread next time to experience more of it.
Kellie Brook Panini, Side Salad. $11.
"Ham, baby swiss, onion jam on sourdough rye with poached egg."

Ok, this was delicious!

Let me rewind though, because, you might be wondering why I had this in the first place, as, well, I don't like sandwiches, simple salads, or poached eggs.

Ojan suggested getting a panini, and normally I wouldn't be interested in one, but, so many people raved about the Kellie Brook in reviews, and, I knew it wasn't a panini, but rather, an open faced sandwich.  Still, a sandwich, and still, poached eggs.  What was I thinking?  I guess I knew I was hedging my bets, as we were sharing a few things.  If I didn't like it, I had plenty of other food to eat.

But, wow, it was good.  The bread was soft, fluffy, fresh, and a decently thick slice.  It was smothered in creamy, melty, flavorful cheese and bits of ham.  The poached egg on top did add a luxuriousness, but, I could have done without it.

The best element was the onion jam on the side.  Oh man.  Sweet, but also intensely flavorful.  It went soooo well with the cheese and ham.

The salad on the side was just mixed greens, with cubes of cucumber and tomato.  I tried a few bites, but, meh, salad.

I only cut off a chunk of this to try originally, and after I devoured my portion, I found myself stealing the plate back, and then even going for the chunk Ojan had cut off for himself.  I really, really loved the fresh bread, cheesy goodness, and the onion jam together.

I'd get this again, actually.  Splitting with one other person is still probably the right move, as it would be a lot of richness for one person.
 Falafel Fried Fish. $19.
"With hand cut frites & two sauces."

Since I remembered liking the falafel fried fish the first time, we ordered it again to share.

This time, I was much less into it.

The fish was flaky haddock, two large chunks, coated in the falafel coating.  The coating was crunchy, but way too oily this time.  The fish was fine, not fishy, but, not particularly great.

I again didn't love either of the creamy dipping sauces.  I wanted to, since I love aioli, but, alas, neither one quite did it for me.

Under the fish was also another sauce, which I thought was a mix of red peppers and ground nuts perhaps, but others thought was tomato based.  I also didn't love that.

The fries also didn't impress, thin fries, a bit soggy, nothing special.  I did again love the little fried capers mixed in though.

So, overall, I actually didn't like the dish this time.  The fish was too oily, I didn't like the fries or sauces.  I wouldn't get it again at this point, but, others did seem like it.

Ojan's brother ordered a seared tuna special served with risotto that he seemed to enjoy, his father opted for a lentil stew that he didn't really like, and his mom, a burger that she felt was cooked exactly as she ordered.  Mostly, successful orders.

Dessert

I was always too full to order dessert at Republic Cafe before, but, I figured that with a large group, we could order one and split it.  I really wanted dessert, particularly as so many people rave about their signature dessert.
Iced Decaf Americano. $2.75.
To go alongside dessert, I ordered coffee, iced due to the hot weather.

My iced americano was very, very strong.  I liked it once I watered it down, but originally, it was a bit much.  Not really a problem, since we had a jug of water on our table and this way I basically got twice the iced coffee, but, worth noting.

The ice melted quickly, leaving me with just chilled cold coffee.  Luckily, Ojan had a glass of ice left over from his cream soda, so I added it in, but otherwise, I would have been disappointed.

Solid effort, and fixable, but, the form it was served in was not very good.
Loukomades. $6.50.
"Fondly known as Greek doughnuts. Tossed in honey and topped with hazelnuts."

We never ordered dessert at Republic Cafe before, but after reading so many rave reviews of the loukomades, I made the decision to order a batch for our group, even though we were all stuffed.  I knew the donuts would be little donut holes, and, with a group of 6, I figured we'd make a dent, even if everyone just wanted one bite.

The donuts came as an order of 7 irregular shaped balls, all freshly fried and hot.  They were a bit greasy, but not too bad.  Hot and fresh dough, but, somehow, they didn't have much flavor.  I love fried dough in all forms, but, this just didn't wow.

On the plate, under some of them, was a smear of yogurt.  It was tart, and, as everyone agreed, really strange to serve with doughnuts.  I get what they were going for, but, the thick, tart yogurt just didn't really work as a dipping sauce for the doughnuts.  The yogurt was good with the sweet sticky honey though, which also did kinda work with the doughnuts.

Finally, some chopped hazelnuts were sprinkled all around.  Again, didn't really work with the doughnuts, but did work with the yogurt.

This dish felt a bit confused.  The yogurt, honey, and nuts made sense together, although, not quite a dessert.  The donuts were fine but pretty plain and boring on their own.  But, I didn't want to put it all together.

We didn't finish this, and I wouldn't get it again.

Update Review #1, Summer 2015

My second visit to Republic Cafe was for dinner, rather than lunch, this time with my mom and sister.  The themes of the meal were pretty much the same as my first: very fresh, flavorful, well spiced, good food, served in a casual setting.

There were little things throughout the meal that made it obvious to me that we were dining in a place with lower standards than I am used to, like failing to bring share plates, no serving utensils, and refills that never came even when we asked.

But overall, it was good, and we had a nice meal.  I look forward to more of their seafood specials.

Patio Seating.
It was a beautiful evening, so we still sat outside in the front, even though there were booths and bar seats available inside.  The tables and chairs are all brightly colored and quite charming.
Complimentary Bread and Olive Oil.
Once we ordered, we were asked if we'd like some bread and oil to start.  I appreciated that they asked, since so often the bread goes untouched, or people prefer it to not be brought, so it was nice to have it explicit.

The bread was served slightly warm, I think fresh off a grill.  Clearly house made, and it had a nice char to it.  My sister said it reminded her a bit of naan, which I did sort of agree with.  I think it is the same as what they use as a crust for the flatbreads.  Anyway, for bread, it was quite good, and a nice change from standard table bread.

It was served with a small dish with olive oil, with sesame seeds and perhaps some other seasoning.  My sister and I were both disappointed that the other seasoning didn't really come through, and it was basically just olive oil.

Overall, though, still quite good.  We did note that no bread plates were provided, so we didn't really have anywhere to put down our pieces of bread.
Cold Antipasti: Red Quinoa, Beet & Moroccan Spices, Apples & Beets, Carrot Masala. $10.
One large section of the menu is antipasti, each available for $4 each, or you can get any trio for $10.  Last time , we tried the North African spiced pickled vegetables, this time, my sister picked three.

I wasn't really planning to have any of them, but, curiosity got the better of me, so I had to try them all.  Plus, didn't they look stunning?  We did a great job of selecting items with such vibrant colors!   Unlike the bread, the antipasti was served with small plates for us to share, but without any serving utensils.

Along with our three selections, the platter included a bunch more of the yummy bread.  Since none of the antipasti we selected were really spreads, this was a bit strange, but my sister was quite happy to have more of the bread.  It would have made more sense with the bean dip or hummus-like selections.  Anyway, same bread, still good, less char on it this time.

The quinoa was my least favorite, as I don't really like quinoa.  The texture is just strange to me, but, the spicing was good, with citrus notes.

Next was the apples and beets, both julienned.  They were clearly fresh, not crazy crisp, but also not mushy.  The apple was very tart, the beet was very ... beety.  Fine, but not really something I was into.

Last was carrots.  These were crazy crisp and fresh.  Clearly they hadn't been prepared long in advance.  I loved the crunch.  And, like everything else on the platter, well spiced.

I wouldn't have ever ordered any of these things, so I wasn't in love with any of them, but I could appreciate them for what they were.  Very fresh ingredients, nicely prepared, expertly spiced.  My mother and sister both loved them.  Very light and perfect for a hot summer night.  $10 price for the platter was quite reasonable.
White Sangria.  $8.
To go along with my meal, I decided to stick with the summer spirit, and get a glass of the white sangria.  It was pretty much what I expected, light, fruity (citrus), refreshing.  Not too sweet, not too boozy.  It fit the mood perfectly.

My sister had the housemade lemonade which she raved about, and my mother had ice tea.  She did ask for a refill before our mains came, which never came, until our server remembered it and noticed when she was clearing our dishes.  She brought it immediately then, so points for that, but, a slight mis-step.
Dinner Special: Skate Wing.  $24.
The main menu has only a single seafood choice, the falafel crusted fish, which I had before and enjoyed.  I love seafood though, so I was thrilled when the server told us that there was not one, but two seafood specials.

And the first ... skate wing.  OMG.  Now, let me rewind a bit.  On the west coast, I never see skate wing on a menu.  So this was a special treat for me.  The first time I had skate was at the 3 Michelin starred Le Bernadin in New York.  The last time I had it was at Home Hill Inn, when I declared it the best seafood dish I had in 2012.  So, my bar for skate may be a bit high, given that whenever I've had it, it has been insanely good.

The skate wing was pan roasted.  The bottom was nicely seared, and overall it was moist and well seasoned.  I really love the mild, sweet flavor of skate, and the almost stringy texture to it.  It somewhat reminds of scallops, if that makes any sense.  The skate wing was well prepared, but not at the calibre of the aforementioned skate dishes.  I still really liked it, and will certainly continue to order skate wing whenever I see it on a menu.  The portion was generous.

I was already pretty much sold when the server said the special was skate wing, but, I perked up even more when she described the rest of the dish.  Roasted brussels sprouts.  Sunchokes.  Sage brown butter.  Serious OMG.

Brussels sprouts and sunchokes went out of season a few months earlier in SF, so it was a treat to see them again.  The brussels were fine, roasted, but unremarkable.  I really love it when brussels get all crispy.  My sister gladly stole all of my brussels and devoured them.

Now, for the best part: sunchokes!  You can't see them in this photo, but they were sliced, served under the fish.  I absolutely adore sunchokes, but the most common preparation, at least on menus around SF, is always as a puree.  I get to enjoy the flavor of sunchokes that way obviously, but it is never quite as satisfying as biting into a slice of sunchoke.  I was delighted to get to really enjoy the sunchokes.  They had great flavor, and were prepared with a bit of onion and pepper too.

So, the fish was well prepared, although not the best skate I've ever had.  The veggies, good enough.  Where the dish fell down however was the brown butter.  Now, I like brown butter.  But this was just way, way too much.  It felt like the dish was just swimming in oil.  I wanted to squeeze and drain everything.  It didn't ruin the dish, but, it really wasn't successful.  The crispy bits of sage on top however were a delight.  

Overall, a decent dish, and I was glad I selected it, and that I got to enjoy skate wing.  And I applaud them for serving skate and sunchokes, both not common ingredients.  $24 price seemed a bit high for a casual place, but, for fresh seafood, well prepared, with quality vegetables on the side, it wasn't unreasonable at all.
Dinner Special: Dayboat Hake.  $25.
My mother ordered the second seafood special, dayboat hake.  I would have gladly ordered this, but the skate did call out to me more strongly.  I of course offered to exchange several bites with her.

The hake was well cooked, clearly fresh fish, mild flavor, moist, and flaked nicely.  It was crusted with herbed focaccia breadcrumbs, which gave a slice crunch, almost like a baked fish and chips, but much lighter.  Much better preparation than the hake I had a few weeks earlier at Restaurant Alcanada de Golf in Mallorca.

I liked the fish, but I really would have wanted a tartar sauce or something with it.  Instead, it was topped with a spring pea mash.  I absolutely loved the mash, it was just absolutely loaded with pea flavor.  Best bite of the night.  But, as a "sauce" for the fish?  Not really.  It was thick and not really what I was looking for with the fish.  But oh so good.

It was served atop a mushroom risotto cake.  The cake was moist and creamy, not seared and pancake-like as I expected.  Almost more like a risotto mound rather than cake.  It was slightly cheesy, and had great mushroom flavor.  A nice component, although a bit odd with the fish.

The rest of the plate consisted of rainbow carrots, beautiful assorted colors, but a bit overcooked.  Not horribly, but more mushy than I'd prefer, and they were cooked so much that the awesomeness of the fresh carrots was masked.

Overall, there were many good aspects to this dish, but they didn't come together all that well.  Republic changes out their specials daily, so it makes sense that every specially wouldn't be tightly conceived.  The risotto was good, the fish was well prepared, and the pea mash was stunning, I just didn't necessarily want them all on the same plate.  I'd still continue to try any other seafood specials they come up with though.

$25 is a little high for standard prices in the area, but for fresh fish and quality produce, it is entirely warranted.

[ Not Pictured ]
Chicken Panini: Chicken from P. Allen Farm, Heart Song Goat Cheese, Roasted Reds, Pesto. $8.50.

My sister ordered a chicken panini.  Now, I don't really care for sandwiches in general.  And I really dislike chicken.  And I hate goat cheese.  I had no intention of interacting with her panini, so I didn't bother take a photo.

But ... I asked her how it was, and her response was to hand me a big chunk.  The bread was really nicely toasted, good crust on it.  And like everything else, the pesto was really flavorful, well spiced.  The chicken and goat cheese were, well, chicken and goat cheese.  I didn't like them.

It was served with a small side salad that I also did not try.

I appreciated how well prepared the panini was, but, it was just a panini.  My sister didn't love it either, and commented that the chicken was dry.  $8.50 seemed like a fine price.

Original Review, Summer 2013

I grew up in a small town in New Hampshire, where my family still lives.  When I go visit these days, it  is quite a change, as I'm used to living right in the middle of San Francisco.  It isn't the hustle and bustle, and certainly isn't the weather, that I miss when I'm away however.  It is the good food.  San Francisco is very much a foodie city, and I have embraced that lifestyle wholeheartedly.

On my recent trip to the east coast, I flew in and out of the Boston airport, where my parents picked me up and dropped me off, before driving the 2.5 hours to their home in New Hampshire.  I used the flights as an excuse to check out some new restaurants, dragging my parents along with me.  Well, dragging my dad along with me.  My mom is a fairly adventurous eater, although she hasn't been exposed to all that varied of cuisine. But my father ... has a very limited set of things he eats.  I'd describe him as mostly eating only American-Italian food, and as a mostly vegetarian, who doesn't really like vegetables.  Which means, he eats pizza, spaghetti, and some simple sandwiches, and if given no other options, will eat a hamburger.  He will never, ever eat any seafood, chicken, etc.  I'm pretty sure the only animal proteins I have seen him eat are beef and bacon.  So, finding restaurants to satisfy us both is always a challenge.

I picked a charming place right in Boston for my arrival meal.  I was certain the menu would appeal to us all, no easy feat (and, it did for the most part!).  But I neglected to consider an important point: my father is not at all comfortable driving, much less parking, in a city.  So when it was time for me to fly out, I was a bit stumped.  Everywhere I wanted to go was in Boston.  When I looked in the suburbs around Boston, I could find plenty of Panera, Applebees, and other chains, or local places with bad reviews, but none of those are what I wanted.

So I looked closer to home, and discovered that Manchester, NH actually has a bit of a culinary scene.  Manchester, while not the capital of NH, is the largest city.  When I started reading reviews of restaurants there, one place was mentioned again and again on Chowhound: Republic Cafe.  I was delighted when I pulled up their website to see what they were about.  They focus on sourcing all ingredients locally when possible.  The animal proteins are all vegetarian fed.  Each dish on the menu has the producer's name listed before the ingredient.  It really could be like a menu from any of my favorite places in San Francisco.

Excited, I read on.  The restaurant is Mediterranean influenced, but not really Mediterranean.  Sure, they have hummus and falafel on the menu, but they also have a slew of interesting flatbreads, salads, and paninis.  The menu has a lot of variety in the type of food you can order.  There are cold antipasti or warm mezze to get started.  Entree salads, paninis, and flatbreads for lighter main dish options.  Main entrees feature a little bit of everything: pasta, seafood, chicken, steak.  In the morning, they serve breakfast (eggs, omelets, yogurts, granola), and have a full espresso bar.  They turn more wine bar-eque at night.  At lunch and dinner, the full menu is offered, and you can choose to just have a light cafe style meal, some small bites over wine, or a full entree and dessert.

I liked everything I was reading.  Great reviews, local sourcing, and the menu was really appealing, not just to me, but I hoped to my family as well.  I looked it up on Google Street View to get a sense of how "city" it was going to be, to make sure my dad would feel comfortable driving there.  While more urban than he is used to, it didn't look too bad.  Done!

I was even happier when we arrived and I saw the space.  Inside the restaurant was a narrow space, but it had an incredibly comfortable vibe to it.  Casual, but chic.  However, it was a beautiful sunny day, and they had tables available outside.  Since I was about to head back to the horrible cold San Francisco "summer", I eagerly took the opportunity to sit outside.

The overwhelming feeling I had while dining at Republic Cafe was that it was just so comfortable.  Everyone, diners and staff alike, seemed happy.  Almost everyone around us ordered classic lunch fare, paninis and salads, and they all looked fresh and light.  We of course somehow managed to order the least healthy dishes on the menu, which is impressive, since almost everything else was really really healthy!  Even the desserts use greek yogurt instead of ice cream.

Anyway, I was very impressed by the creativity and composition of the dishes, the execution of the cooking, the plating and presentation, and in particular, the very well thought out flavors.  Every dish was very refined.  Very unexpected for the region.  I'd certainly return.

So if you ever find yourself in Manchester, NH, and need a place to eat, you should try out Republic Cafe.
NH Maple Cream Soda.  $5.
Republic Cafe has a strong beverage program.  In the morning, they have a full espresso bar, and later in the day, they offer wine by the taste, glass, 1/2 carafe, or bottle.  But they are  known for their non-alcoholic drinks as well, including all sorts of house-made spritzers and sodas.  My mom and I were both drawn to the cream soda, a custom blend of cream and seltzer, but then, even more drawn by the next option: maple cream soda.  The maple syrup was from a NH producer (Just Maple's amber-grade maple syrup), the cream from a local dairy (Barlett's farm).

It was good, clearly a freshly made, with real cream in it, but neither of us tasted as much maple as we expected, or would have liked.  Fun to try, but not all that special.

Not pictured is my dad's lemonade, fresh squeezed with simple syrup, also $5.  I didn't try it, and asked him for a review, and his response was: "it is lemonade".

We were also provided with a jug on water on the table, which was most welcomed, as it was hot out, and we quickly depleted our water glasses several times.
North African Spiced Pickled Vegetables. $4.
The cold antipasti section contained a slew of interesting sounding dishes, but most were far too exotic in their spicing for my family, and as it was lunchtime, we weren't wanting a large number of starters anyway.  We settled on a single selection: the pickles.

The pickles came with cute little skewers for ease of stabbing and eating, a nice touch.  The mix of veggies was pretty interesting: standard cucumbers, but also carrots, onions, green peppers, red bell peppers, and very spicy red peppers.  They were all fresh and crisp, the carrots particularly enjoyable with a serious crunch.  The spicy red peppers were too much, even for my father, who can take some serious heat.  They made me really appreciate that water jug!

I'm not sure exactly what the "North African" spices were, but they were nicely spiced.  They seemed like a quick pickle, not much vinegar flavor.  Overall fine, and it was nice to have something to nibble on early in the meal, but I probably wouldn't order them again.

Cold antipasti are all $4 each, or you can get a trio for $10.  A fine price for our little bowl of pickles.
Field Mushroom Bolognese with grilled polenta and whipped ricotta. $9.50.
Next my mother and I moved on to a hot mezze.  So many of these choices sounded great to me, but the bolognese was the only one my mom was interested in, and my father didn't want to try any of them.   It was my first choice anyway, as I do love mushrooms, polenta, and whipped cheese.

The presentation was beautiful, far more sophisticated than I was expecting at a little cafe in New Hampshire!  And food mirrored the plating, surprisingly complex.

The bolognese was composed of mushrooms, carrots, tomatoes, and onions.  All were chopped to a fine dice.  The knife skills were particularly impressive, everything really was exactly the same size.  The veggies were all well cooked, but they weren't really popping with flavor themselves.

The flavor came from a few different components drizzled on the plate, including an herb based oil and a balsamic reduction.  Such a highly refined dish!

The polenta was very nicely grilled, with great grill marks, crispy exterior.  Definitely good, but it was just grilled polenta.

My favorite component was the herb whipped ricotta.  It had great seasoning, was super fluffy.

I really appreciated the combination of textures from the chunky bolognese to the crispy polenta to the creamy ricotta.  I also liked the contrast in temperature from the warm bolognese and polenta to the cool ricotta on top.  This was such a well thought out dish.

Overall, this dish wowed me in its plating, and in the clear skill of the chef in the level of cooking execution of each component, and in the level of sophistication in the dish as a whole, but somehow, I didn't love it.  I'm honestly not sure why.  I can't pinpoint anything at all to fault it.  I think perhaps I'd just had too much polenta lately, and I've been preferring it more creamy and cheesy style.

My mother really enjoyed the dish, and $9.50 seemed like an amazing price for such a polished dish.
Daily Special: Cheeseburger with hand-cut frites.
I selected Republic Cafe for several reasons, one was that it had amazing reviews, another is that it had dishes I was interested in, but the final reason is that I thought my dad would actually be happy eating there too.  While he isn't familiar with Mediterranean food exactly, and I knew the terms would be unfamiliar, I thought the flavors and ingredients were ones he would be comfortable with.  I also felt bad because I spent the week dragging him to places I wanted to eat, where the only things he'd consider eating were the burgers and flatbreads.  I wanted him to have a chance to actually get something different.

So while Republic Cafe did have flatbreads and salads that were Dad-friendly, I had my eye on a couple of the entrees I thought he'd really like, particularly the veggie tagine.  Sure, he didn't know what a tagine was, and didn't know cous cous, but he does like veggies over rice, and I tried to explain that he'd like it.  But, he wasn't willing to try something new, and went for a special of the day ... the cheeseburger.  Sigh.  I tried!

The beef was of course local New Hampshire beef, grass fed.  Served with fresh looking baby greens, tomato, onion, on a toasted thin bread.  I think the bread was the same as they use for their paninis, it certainly wasn't a standard hamburger bun, as it was square, and not fluffy.  The cheese was perfectly melted.

My dad ordered it medium-well.  When my mom asked him how his grass fed beef tasted, he said he couldn't tell, because it was "so raw" and "dripping blood".  What?  I took one look and almost laughed.  It was not raw.  It was not rare.  It was totally medium-well.  Perhaps slightly on the medium side of medium-well, but I'd certainly call it medium-well.  If I'd ordered medium and received it, I'd be slightly grumpy that it was overdone.  I'd also order it medium-rare anyway.

Anyway, I know my dad is used to well done burgers.  In fact, that is the only way I'd ever had them until I left home, so I can see how this was less cooked than he is used to, but he ordered medium-well, not well done, and I honestly think he got what he ordered. He managed to eat most of it, but clearly did not enjoy it at all.  I felt pretty bad, because I really had been trying to please him with this restaurant choice.  Sigh.
Falafel Fried Fish with hand cut frites & two sauces. $19.
But the number one reason we were at Republic Cafe was for this dish: falafel fried fish!  I've had a serious, serious craving for fish and chips since my previous visit to the east coast.  (Side note: if you know of anywhere at all in the San Francisco Bay Area that has good fish and chips, please let me know!  The problem is that they all seem to use Rock Cod, which I just can't stand.  I wish we had haddock!)  Anyway, I was determined to get fish & chips on this trip, yet I struck out every time I tried.  It was my absolute last chance to get fish & chips, and Republic Cafe had a version that sounded fascinating. I knew it wasn't going to be traditional fish & chips, but I was hoping it would satisfy my craving.

It mostly did.  Two large pieces of fish, I think haddock, served atop a serious mountain of frites.  My dad commented a couple times on the fact that his burger came with far, far fewer fries.  I'd say his came with a reasonable portion, whereas this was just insanity.  I don't think anyone could ever possibly finish all the fries.

Anyway, back to the fish.  It was tender, flaky, moist.  Not at all fishy.  Exactly what I was looking for.  The falafel coating was obviously different from the normal beer battering, but was very successful.  I'm not certain I would have identified it as falafel exactly, but it was seriously crispy.  I absolutely loved how crunchy it was, far more crisp than any other coating I've ever had on fried fish.  Everything should be done this way!

One of the best parts about fish & chips for me is always the tartar sauce.  I'm such a sauce girl in general, and mayo based dips have a special place in my heart.  While I obviously wanted the fish, I think there was a part of me that was in it for the dipping sauces :)  I'm notorious for always using far more tartar sauce than anyone else, and for using it in all sorts of creative ways ... I'll dip anything in it!

So, I was curious what we'd have instead of standard tartar sauce, as the menu just said it was served with "two sauces".  It actually came with three sauces!  Two were dipping sauces in little containers, one was a lemon aioli, the other a lemon caper remoulade.  The aioli did indeed have a strong lemon flavor, but was a bit thin for my liking, and somehow just wasn't that great.  I dipped fish in it, I dipped fries in it, I kept going back for it, but it was just missing some tang or something to it.  The remoulade was better.  It had chunks of caper in it, and I wanted to love it since I do love remoulade, but again, it was just missing a little something.  The three sauce was a red pepper romesco, actually spread on the fish.  Now this was a serious surprise!  The romesco paired absolutely perfectly with the crispy falafel crust.  Such a great idea.  My favorite bites were the fish, coated in romesco, then dunked in the remoulade.  Together the remoulade and romesco worked together quite well.

The frites were thin, served piping hot, visibly seasoned.  They also had fried capers mixed in.  I don't tend to care for thin style fries, and these were fairly oily, but I did end up consuming far more of the mound than I ever expected to, so they must have not actually been too bad :)

We also asked for some ketchup, which I'm guessing was house-made, or at least a local product.  It was unlike any ketchup I've had before, such intense tomato flavor, not loaded up with sugar.  Ketchup that actually tastes like tomato?  Who knew?  I commented on the ketchup to my dad, who had the same ketchup for his fries, and he said he couldn't taste any difference from standard Heinz.  Sigh.

Anyway, this was a really unique version of fish and chips, as I expected.  Well prepared, and like the mezze, clearly well thought out.  I was impressed, although the sauces did leave me a bit disappointed.  I'd certainly consider getting it again.
Republic Cafe and Bistro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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