Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Another Meal at Home Hill Inn

My family lives in New Hampshire, and I never expected to find a restaurant there that I liked, given that I'm now from the big city of San Francisco.  But I did.  Several visits back, I discovered Home Hill Inn.  I had a truly phenomenal skate wing on my first visit for dinner.  I had a stellar brunch on my next.  I even arranged a formal tasting dinner in the private room for myself, my mother, and some of her friends, where we had really, really good halibut.   On the same trip, I dragged my parents back for a casual meal in the Tavern side, but it turned out to be awful.  After that last visit, I said I'd never visit on a Tuesday night again (the casual pub night, with a reduced menu, and usually not the executive chef), but I was hopeful that it might have just been a blip in an otherwise good track record.

So on my next visit to New Hampshire,  I quickly booked brunch with my family at Home Hill.  The day before my brunch reservation however, I got a call saying they were no longer serving brunch.  I was a bit devastated, since I was in town only for a few days, and the only dinner slot I was free was Tuesday.  But, I knew that the executive chef would actually be there that night since they were hosting a special event.  So I took my chances and went, even though I was very, very wary of Tuesday night dining.

Like the other time we visited on a Tuesday, the main dining room was closed.  Seating was available in the tavern room, or in a side dining room with just four small tables.  Since there was live music in the tavern, and we were with my grandmother who is harder of hearing, we went for the side room thinking it would be quieter.  I'm not sure if it was or not, but the room was pretty loud due to the other diners being quite boisterous, in a very small space.  It was not the ambiance we were hoping for, although besides the noise, still homey and comfortable.

The service wasn't really up to par.  No servingware was brought for shared appetizers.  Some dirty utensils were cleared between courses, others left behind.  The ones that were cleared were not replaced.  Once our main dishes were brought out, our server never glanced our way again.  No new drinks were offered, even though my glass was empty when she brought out my main, so I didn't have a drink to go with my main course.

But the real disappointment was the food.  While it wasn't nearly as bad as our previous tavern dining experience, it wasn't good.  Even though I've had some incredible meals at Home Hill, after this one, I'm tempted to not return.
Chips. Complimentary.
Like on our other Tuesday night visit, instead of bread, we were served chips to start.  And just like last time, I really didn't like them.  I like chips, I eat all sorts of packaged chips all the time.  But these just offered nothing, they weren't hot, they weren't well seasoned, and they just seemed greasy and almost even burnt.  All I tasted was oil.

I'm a serious nibbler and snacker, and I wasn't even tempted by these.  My mother and grandmother were however, just like my mom and dad were last time.  I guess they just aren't my style.
Crab Cakes: Pickled Shallots/Tender Greens /Aioli. $15.
To start, we shared the crab cakes.

Now, to be fair, I'm spoiled in California with amazing Dungeness crab.  I think it is far tastier than lobster.  I adore crab.

I knew their crab cakes wouldn't be made with my precious dungeness, but more likely with Maine Jonah crab.  But I still thought they would be tasty, as I love crab cakes in general, and I'm a sucker for anything I can slather with aioli.

But these were not good.  The cakes were crispy on the outside, which was great, but just pure mush on the inside.  They fell apart the moment you cut into them.  No lump crab meat, all shredded.  And very, very, very fishy tasting.  They tasted like they'd gone bad, honestly.  I took a second bite for research purposes and then quickly moved on to other things.  My mother and grandmother didn't object to the fishyness, but both kept saying that they were far too salty, and they did not enjoy them either.

On the side was a little salad of greens with heirloom tomato, pickled shallots, and aioli acting as dressing.  This was actually quite tasty.  The greens (baby sprouts?) were crisp and flavorful.  The tomatoes were shockingly good, particularly for November. They came in assorted chunks of different colors, were really juicy, quite fresh.  The aioli was also good, but there wasn't nearly enough of it, particularly if you wanted any for the crab cakes as well.

If I'd been somewhere else, I think I would have considered sending the crab cakes back, they just tasted that off.  Poor execution (mushy interior, oily exterior, and lack of lump meat) are one thing, but I questioned if they was actually safe to be eating.

$15 for two cakes and the side salad was a fine price, but I obviously won't get again.

My mom also ordered a soup for a second starter which she liked.  I didn't try it, but she said it was served hot, and was nice mellow fall soup, no overpowering flavors.
Cast Iron Seared NEO Halibut: Cauliflower Puree /Roasted Romesco /Watermelon Radish Slaw. $27.
When we visited over the summer for the tasting menu, the halibut was above and beyond the star.  I was thus delighted to see a halibut offering on the menu again.  I picked the halibut this time over the fish and chips that also finally showed up on the menu, which I'd wanted so very badly last time.

The halibut was a huge portion.  I'm not sure I've ever received a piece of fish this large before!  It had a good sear on the outside, crispy, but the inside was overcooked and dry.  Not moist and not very seasoned.  It didn't have any sort of sauce to go with it, to help balance out the dryness and overall lack of flavor.

Served atop a cauliflower puree, with roasted romesco on the side, and watermelon radish slaw on top.  The roasted romesco and cauliflower puree were both fine, unremarkable, basically, exactly what you'd expect, basic roasted vegetables and a creamy puree.  I give them credit for serving romesco, which neither my grandmother nor mother had never encountered before, and for the cauliflower puree, which is a well known trendy substitution for mashed potatoes elsewhere, but I'm not sure that fad has reached NH yet.  The watermelon radish slaw was light, crisp, and the best part of the dish.  I loved how peppery and zingy it was.

Overall, this wasn't bad, but it wasn't good.  It just didn't come together flavorwise and was overcooked.  Although it was a generous size, $27 for an entree in such a rural area is a bit high.
Decaf Coffee.  $2.
After we finished our mains, no dessert menu was provided, instead we were simply asked if we wanted dessert.  Since I'm obviously a dessert girl, I said yes, and asked what they had.  Our server stumbled over some descriptions, not really sure what they had.  Two of the desserts mentioned were from the special menu being offered that night (cider donuts and ice cream), and the other two were classic offerings (crème brûlée and cheesecake).

I really wanted the cider donuts, since those are a classic New England offering.  My mom really wanted ice cream, and my grandmother crème brûlée, so ... we ordered all three.

Of course, I also needed a coffee to pair with my dessert.  I loved the decaf there in the past, but this time it was only ok.  Not bad, far better than most decaf, but not as good as I remembered.  Still served in an individual french press.

Unfortunately, it was brought long before the desserts, so it was long gone by the time the sweet desserts that I wanted to pair with it arrived.  I could have slowed down drinking it, but it was getting cold too fast, and I wouldn't have wanted it cold either.

$2 is a wonderful price for coffee at a restaurant, and I'd get again, but perhaps I'd have to specifically suggest that they please bring it with my dessert, or closer to it.
Apple Cider Donuts with Cranberry Jam. $5.
Well, hmm.  I was a bit shocked when these arrived.  Apple cider donuts are a New England thing.  I grew up with them.  I was expecting donuts, not donut holes.  But ok, donut holes are cuter.  It was a bit strange how they were all totally different sizes and shapes however.

But I still eagerly dug in, because who doesn't love coffee and donuts?

They were cold.  Clearly not freshly fried.  I was devastated.  I never expected that.  What restaurant serves donuts and doesn't serve them hot and fresh out of the fryer?  Even donut shop donuts are better than this.

My grandmother and mother didn't even try a bite of these, I think they could tell from just looking at them that they were not good.  I tried a few bites out of each one, hoping that the high variance in shape would result in a different tasting donut, but they were all the same.  I didn't taste apple cider at all.  Just oil.  No flavor.  All stone cold.

The cranberry jam served alongside was tasty, loaded with cranberries, a bit tart.  But really just jam.  It couldn't save the donuts.

I would never get this again, and I encourage them to remove such an item from the menu if they aren't going to be freshly prepared.  No one goes to a restaurant for cold donuts.
Creme Brûlée. $8.
My grandmother went for a dessert I'm a serious snob about: crème brûlée.  As you know, I get it everywhere, and I have strong opinions on what it should be.

The top marginally passed the "tap test".  I would have preferred a slightly thicker layer on top, but it did have a bit of give to it.  Nice caramelized flavor.

The pudding itself was a bit loose, not set quite enough, not really custardy.  Like the donuts, I don't think it had been freshly prepared to order, as it did not have the hot top and cool pudding contrast that I love.

Not awful, but not worth getting again.  Price was on par with that at a city restaurant, which surprised me given the location.
Cranberry Chocolate Ice Cream with Salted Caramel. $5.
My mom orders ice cream everywhere.   I really have no idea why.  I love ice cream, I eat it all the time obviously, but restaurant desserts usually have so much more to offer.  Unless they really specialize in ice cream, it isn't usually better than what you can get a grocery store, and turn into an awesome sundae at home.

My mother was using the restroom when the dessert arrived, so I snuck a bite.  I was shocked when my spoon hit the surface and didn't go in very easily.  The top was drowned in caramel.  Soooo much sticky caramel.  The caramel was really quite tasty, but very overwhelming and hard to eat around.  You had to eat many spoonfuls of just caramel before reaching the ice cream, and then it was hard to combine them both into a delightful bite.  The ice cream was just standard chocolate ice cream, and it arrived a bit too softy and melty, which just got worse before my mom arrived to eat it, so she just had a cup of soupy melted ice cream.  Given how melted it was, I did consider that perhaps the donuts and crème brûlée had actually been prepared fresh and were left sitting for a long time before bring brought to us, which would make more sense.  Maybe the desserts were fresh, and should have arrived with my coffee.  Who knows.  Meh.
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