Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Millstone at 74 Main, New Hampshire

On my recent trip to rural New Hampshire, I did something I have previously sworn off.  I attempted higher end dining.

I know better.

My time in New Hampshire did have some culinary highlights, including some of the best muffins I've ever had, and lots of amazing soft serve ice cream, but the other food I ate during my trip just really wasn't ever good.  Long ago, I gave up on eating at nicer places (although I did have a couple fabulous meals at Home Hill Inn a few years ago, before they closed), but on my last night in town last year, I wanted to have some nice time with my family, my little sister included.  She lives 45 minutes away from my parent's house, on a farm with horses, and a house full of cats that I'm horribly allergic to.  She can't came elsewhere for dinner due to her evening farm chores, and I can't have dinner at her house due to the cats.  If I wanted to spend any time with her, we had to go out, and it had to be near her house.

Last time I was there, we went to her favorite place, Flying Goose.  I hated it.  There was nothing on the menu I wanted, and the food wasn't good.  This time, I did some research, and picked a place myself: Millstone at 74 Main.  There aren't tons of options in the area, but they had good reviews, and the menu actually appealed to me.

Of course, given the limited options in the area, my entire family had been there several times before.  My sister said I wouldn't like it, and that she had never been impressed.  My mom said it was "nice".  Given lack of other options, I still voted for it.

The short version?  Poor service.  Overpriced.  Some dishes highly mediocre and others quite bad.  They tried with the presentation, but are living in a past decade.  I won't be returning.  My family was right.

The Setting

Dining Room.
I never quite figured the place out.  It seemed like they were trying to be higher end dining, except there were way too many rough edges.

The decor certainly wasn't fine dining, no tablecloths, but they did have cloth napkins.  Lots of wood elements and a slightly rustic setting, except with ugly table tops.  The space was light filled with skylights up above, and plants hung about to bring some nature in.  The restaurant filled several distinct rooms, and there was also a bar area.

Service was really poor.  I spent much of the night with an empty water glass.  I couldn't get my server's attention to fill it.  Even once I asked for more water, it took forever to come.  When my mom ordered a second glass of wine, I think it took 20 minutes to arrive?  We all assumed it had been forgotten, and so much time had elapsed that my mom said she wished it had been.  My sister was delivered fries with no offer of ketchup, and it took two tries, and probably 10 minutes, before we were ever able to get some.  Some dishes were cleared when we were done, others weren't.  The table piled up with a random assortment of dishes and cutlery from previous courses.  They did make sure everyone was served at once, often using several waitstaff to serve a single table.

The average customer age was shockingly high.  I honestly thought I was dining in a retirement home.  I have no idea if this is normal?

The menu, although fairly classic, did peak my interest, due to some good sounding seafood options.  I was really missing seafood.  And the kitchen was trying, you could see it in the plating and excessive garnishing.  Not successful, but, they tried.

The wine list was large, with a rather insane number of wine available by the glass.  I don't really understand why, as it is clear they don't do that high volume, and clearly don't have argon tanks around.  Not realizing quite the level of restaurant I was at, I did ask for advice on selecting my wine, outlining a few parameters, until it became obvious that my server had no idea, and probably didn't even know the difference between a dry or sweet white wine.  I thought that given the way the rest of the menu read, the price point, and the extensive list that they'd have a decent wine program.  Um, no.  The wine I wound up with was awful, horribly acidic, and even my mom, who would readily tell you that she has no real opinions on wine, didn't want anything to do with it.

Appetizers

The menu starts with a selection of appetizers, soups, and salads.  Appetizers were a mix of seafood classics like crab cakes, oysters, and shrimp cocktail and crowd pleasers like meatballs, bruschetta, and chicken wings.  The daily specials menu included a soup of the day (tomato), a flatbread (buffalo chicken), and four small plates, including a rather out-of-place ramen.  The soups and salads were pretty standard.
Rolls and butter.
Once we ordered, bread and butter was brought out.

The rolls were served warm, each split in half into triangles.  They were soft and doughy, and reminded me a bit of the pizza dough rolls at my favorite Italian place in my hometown.  Not amazing, but not bad, and I of course appreciated them being served warm.

The butter that came alongside was in foil wrapped packets, fairly tacky.  I guess this eliminates waste, but I haven't really ever seen foil wrapped butter at a restaurant that is trying to be fairly fancy.
Pickle fries with horseradish mayo. $8.
Even though we were all ordering individual appetizers, my sister insisted we order the pickle fries for the table as well.

When the fries arrived, I actually thought there was a mistake, that these were regular fries.  I expected pickle chips I guess, not thin spears?

My mom took the first one.  "Interesting", she said.

My sister eagerly dove in, as she was the one who really wanted them.  "They taste better than the Hooter's ones!" she proclaimed.  I had all sorts of questions at this point, but, I didn't press.

I tried one myself.  They were piping hot and fresh.  The coating was really crispy.  Nice execution here, but ... a thin pickle strip, battered and fried, just didn't do it for me.  I like fried stuff, I like pickles, but, this wasn't my thing.  The horseradish mayo was super flavorful, and I love having a creamy dipping sauce, although I think something more like a McDonald's style "special sauce" would go better with the pickles.

My dad however was the surprise.  Not a man to try new things, and not one to comment on his food, he tried one.  And then another.  And another.  He went back for more and more.  "I quite like these!" he declared.  Woah.

So, overall, not my thing, but definitely an interesting dish to try, and I can't fault the fry job.  Probably my third favorite bite of the night.  $8 price seemed fine.
 Tomato and mozzarella Salad. $10.
"Crispy basil, balsamic reduction, olive oil."

My father opted for the tomato and mozzarella salad, with slices of two colors of tomatoes and mozzarella, interleaved.  It also had ... lettuce?  A large slice on one end of the plate, and torn bits on top.  Interesting.  My mom really liked the tomato she snagged from him.

I didn't attempt to steal bites of this, since I know my dad doesn't really like sharing and I wasn't that excited by it, except there was one component I was puzzled by: the little pearls on top.  Yes, at a first glance perhaps some kind of roe, but, obviously not.  Now, a more culinarily advanced restaurant would love to play with spherification, and the idea of balsamic pearls sounded awesome to me, but, I doubted that this little restaurant in middle-of-nowhere, NH was experimenting with molecular gastronomy.  My dad didn't want to go near them, fearing some kind of roe.  My sister tried them, I tried them, and we couldn't figure out what they were.  No, not balsamic sphere, they were actually solid and hard, some kind of vegetable or fruit?  They had no flavor we could distinguish.  Really strange.

The plating was a good indicator of what was to come.  They tried to make things look nice, but everything was a bit dated, and the extraneous garnishes (lettuce here, herbs later) got old fast.

$10 seemed a bit high for a salad in New Hampshire.
Red and Yellow Beets. $10. (half)
"Young arugula, goat cheese, pumpkin seeds, quail egg, and a buttermilk dressing."

My mother and sister opted for a beet salad from the specials menu, as they had both previously tried the beet salad on the regular menu (still there, with blue cheese), and really enjoyed it.

Since it had goat cheese, and I really dislike goat cheese, I didn't try it, but they both raved about it, commenting on how fresh it was and had a good tang.  They thought the hard boiled quail egg on top was very cute, "a nice touch".  My mom said the beets were "yummy and crispy".

So, successful starter for both of them.  The kitchen split it for them, so the picture above is just one portion.  A full portion must have been really quite sizable, else they did a generous split, so the $10 price isn't too crazy, although I'm not sure what premium ingredient went into it.
 Lobster Bisque $10.
For my appetizer, I broke the mold of ordering salads, and went for a soup.

Yes, I ordered soup.  When do I ever, ever order soup?  I don't.

The thing is, I menu stalked Millstone before our arrival.  The online menu said they had a "daily chowder".  I was seriously, seriously craving a good chowder.  I never made it to any seafood restaurants during my visit to the east coast, and missed out on getting clam or fish chowder.  While I don't really like soups, a good chowder I can get behind.  Rich, creamy, usually loaded with goodies like bacon ... hard to resist, particularly on a rainy night, right?

Sadly, the online menu was outdated, and the chowder was replaced by bisque.  Meh.  Even if it is lobster bisque, I'm actually not nearly as crazy about lobster as the rest of the world.  It never seems worth the premium, and generally, I actually just prefer crab.  I'm spoiled living in California with fresh, local, deliciously sweet Dungeness!

But anyway.  The menu had a number of lobster dishes, including a lobster ravioli special, and a lobster roll that the entire table next to us ordered, so I thought perhaps the lobster would be something special, we were only an hour or so drive from Maine after all.

But really what sold me was the menu description.  It didn't say anything about the bisque itself.  It said one and only one thing: "biscuit".

I love biscuits!  I figured I could order this, just to quasi-satisfy my chowder desires, get some local lobster, and, most importantly, have my biscuit.

My soup arrived as you see above.  I saw no biscuit.  I grew concerned.  Uh-oh, it didn't actually say it came WITH a biscuit.  It just said simple, "biscuit", I'm the one who assumed that meant on the side, perhaps it was incorporated into the bisque itself?

I lifted the lid.  Hmm, no chunks of biscuit visible.  I stirred it.  Nothing.  Was it ... blended biscuit?  No way, this restaurant wasn't edgy enough for that.

So I asked, "um, it said the bisque comes with a biscuit?"  My server nodded, and said yes, it should have.  Doh.

Anyway, the presentation was ... trying.  Arriving under a dome I guess is cute, although the server didn't remove it tableside, that was left for me to do.  And, it had spilled out under the dome while being carried to the table, so it really just looked like a mess.  At least it stayed warm?
Bisque ... and a biscuit.
A few minutes later, my server returned with my biscuit on a little plate.  Unlike the soup, it was not warm.  Uh-oh.  Who serves a cold biscuit?!  Maybe it was warm when my dish was plated, but so much time had elapsed that it cooled?  I don't think so though, as it was really stone cold.

The biscuit was good though.  No, not an amazing biscuit, not very flaky, but it had a nice tang to it.  There was cracked pepper on top, a bit too strong and overwhelming, but that pepper did compliment the soup.

The soup ... was not.  It was thin, watery, and I really didn't care for the flavor.  Far too salty as well, although that wasn't the dominant problem.  There were a few bites of stringy lobster throughout, unremarkable.

While not amazing, the little biscuit turned out to be the best thing I ate all night, and it wasn't even warm ...

$10 price for a soup with only a couple spoonfuls of lobster and a mini biscuit seemed a bit high.
 Small Caesar Salad $7 + Crab Cake $12.
"Egg, crouton, white anchovy."

A few days prior, we had a caesar salad elsewhere that was supposed to be amazing, and, I really didn't like it (wilted brown lettuce, no anchovy flavor, meh, meh, meh).  I was craving a good caesar salad ever since.

The salad section of the menu had the tomato and mozzarella salad my dad ordered, a simple house salad, a blue cheese and beet salad, the goat cheese and beet salad special my sister and mom opted for, and ... yes, a caesar salad!  I'm still not really one to ever order a salad in a restaurant given other options, but, my eyes were drawn to the small line under the salad section, listing out additions including grilled chicken, shrimp, steak tips, or ... crab cake!  I love crab, and really wanted the crab cake appetizer, but no one else in my family eats crab (my dad and sister don't eat seafood, my mom reacts to crab), so I had to pass it by.

I decided to go for the caesar and top it with a crab cake, making it into an entree.  The waitress didn't seem to have a problem with this.  I'm including it here in the "Appetizer" section of my review since it was technically an appetizer, but, it was delivered with the other mains as my main.

The salad was available in two sizes, one for $7 and one for $9.  I opted for the small one, knowing I'd be sharing things with the others too.  It still seemed like a very large salad, so I'm curious how much bigger the $9 version was.  Or, perhaps they made me a large one anyway, since I had it as a main dish?

Anyway, the salad was better than my previous caesar, but not remarkable.  Fresh enough romaine formed the base.  It had large shreds of parmesan.  Lots of croutons, made of assorted breads, really crispy and very generic, like any croutons from a bag.  There was randomly some bits of hard boiled egg.  The dressing was good enough, but it was really inconsistently mixed.  Some bits were way overdressed, others had no dressing.

When I ordered, I was asked if I wanted real anchovy, and of course I said yes.  Under my crab cake I found my anchovy, a single white anchovy, split in half.  It was the best part of the salad, just an anchovy, but I do love the flavor of them!

As for the crab cake.  It was awful.  Truly awful.  Not crispy on the outside at all, even though it was browned.  Just a big pile of mush.  Fishy tasting mush.  No lump crap meat, lots of filler.  The texture was awful.  I tried a few bites, really trying to reset my expectations and not waste crab, but, wow, this was definitely the worst crab cake I've ever had.  My mom took a bite, I think assuming I was just being a snob, and immediately agreed that it was just mush.  Horrible.

I did make one other modification to my salad.  The aforementioned crab cake appetizer that I had wanted to order came with a "popcorn sauce".  I really wanted to try that, so I asked for it to come with the crab cake on my salad too, which they accommodated.

The popcorn sauce was as fascinating as I thought it would be, creamy, and flavorful, although, I'm not really sure it went with crab.  I appreciated trying it though.

So, overall, a highly mediocre caesar salad and the worst crab cake of my life.  $12 for just that single pile of fishy mush is way too high, but $7 for a salad was ok.

Mains

The main dish section is broken up into entrees and casual sandwiches.

The entree selection included a bit of everything: baby back ribs, steak tips, filet mignon, lamb chops, and meatloaf for the meat eaters, salmon and red snapper for the seafood lovers, and a chicken dish for the poultry fans.  A token vegetarian pasta rounded out the entree list.  An additional 5 entree specials were lobster ravioli, veal cutlet, halibut, pork tenderloin, and a NY strip.  Clearly, this is not the place to come if you are vegetarian.

Almost all the entrees came with mashed potatoes.  Additional sides were available including frites, "vegetable", and "mushrooms".

The sandwich lineup included a reuben, chicken, and lamb option, plus a token burger and lobster roll.
 Lamb Gyro. $12.
"Tzatziki sauce, house made pickles, lettuce, roasted tomato, naan bread."

My sister picked the lamb gyro from the sandwich menu.  When the server came to take our drink order, my sister asked the server what cut of lamb it was.  The server didn't know, and said she'd come back to let her know.  When she returned to take our dinner order, she hadn't found out.  She didn't offer to check then either, and when my sister pressed, she said she'd return with the information ... after she ordered.  She was trying to find out so she could order!

Anyway, it was ground lamb.  My sister liked this more than anything else she'd had previously at Millstone, and in particular, said the tzatziki was good.  Since I really don't like lamb, I didn't even try a bite.

She had her choice of pomme frites, napa cabbage slaw, or fresh fruit as an included side, but choose to upgrade to the sweet pomme frites for $2, pretty much at my insistence.  I had been eying them on the sides menu the moment we sat down, and wanted someone to order them, or to get an order for the table as an appetizer perhaps.

She hated them.  I thought they were ok, but I understand the disappointment.  First, they were mixed with regular frites.  Only about half sweet potato.  This isn't mentioned on the menu, or in person when you order the sweet ones, kinda lame.  Second, well, they were frites, so they were super thin and crispy, and she wanted thick wedges.  That said, they were nicely salted and decent for a thin, crispy style fry.

No offer of ketchup was made to go along.  I flagged the waitress down to ask for it on my sister's behalf.  Many minutes went by.  She keep waiting, the fries getting cold.  More time went by.  The waitress returned with my mom's wine (ordered long before, my mom had already decided she didn't even want it at this point), and I questioned about the ketchup.  She didn't even seem to remember that she'd promised it earlier.  Sigh, the service.

$12 price was fine for fancy sandwich.
Meatloaf. $16.
"Bacon, ketchup onions, mashed potato, bordaliase."

My father doesn't eat many things, so the fact that he found an entree that he was willing to order that wasn't just a pizza, a burger, or simple pasta dish was pretty shocking.  Because ... they had meatloaf!

It also turned out, he picked the best dish, no question.  He isn't really one to share, but, it was my last night there, and how could he deny me?

The meatloaf was moist and flavorful, infused with plenty of bacon flavor.  On top was tons of caramelized onions that added additional flavor.  Really quite good, but, why, oh why did they garnish it with dill?  Random.

It was served over a couple asparagus spears, which seemed to be the side of the day, as his plate came with two, and my mom's had three.  He doesn't eat asparagus, so he offloaded it to my mother, who proclaimed that it was "perfect, not overcooked, not too crispy".

There was also some piped mashed potatoes, again, trying so hard with the presentation!  They were creamy and good enough I guess.

$16 for a large portion seemed fine, and, as I said, best dish of the night, and my second favorite bite of the night was a chunk of his meatloaf with plentiful onions.
Salmon. $24. 
"Miso glaze with sesame and ginger, jasmine rice, butter sauce."

My mom opted for the salmon from the regular menu as her main.  I secretly hoped she'd go for the halibut special, since I intended to snag a few bites, and I like halibut more than (cooked) salmon, but, she loves her salmon, and rarely gets to eat seafood since no one else in my family does, so her mind was made up immediately.

I of course still took some, as even though I don't love cooked salmon, who can resist miso glaze?  I love miso!

The salmon was decently prepared, a nice sear on top, served skin on.  Cooked fully through though, and the only way I really like my cooked salmon is mid-rare.  That said, it was fairly moist.  The miso flavor wasn't that strong, but it was well seasoned.  It was a bit fishy.

It was served over a few spears of the same asparagus that came with my father's dish, and rice that I didn't try.  And garnished with the same parsley and dill.  The plating looked nice I guess, albeit dated.

Overall, a decent enough dish, and if I liked fully cooked salmon, I likely would have been satisfied.  My mom did really like it.

$24 is a high price for a restaurant in that area though.

Dessert 

After a disappointing meal, I still had a glimmer of hope when I saw the dessert menu.  Lots of tasty sounding choices, plus, you know me and desserts.  And my family is full of sweets lovers, so I figured that the four of us would at least 3 to try.

And then, my mom declared that she was full and wanted nothing.  As did my dad.  Hmmph.  And my sister wanted one and only one thing, and she seemed to want her own.  Ooph.

The dessert special of the day was an unceremonious lemon pound cake with berries and whipped cream.  Other options included chocolate mousse pie, chocolate lava cake, and tiramisu, all of which sounded great, but I had to avoid due to caffeine.  There was also a daily sorbet, and assorted ice cream from Walpole Creamery.  I obviously love ice cream, don't get me wrong, but this is never what I order in a restaurant.  Maybe I should have.

We settled on the other two selections, with the thought that I could take some home if everyone else was really unwilling to help out.  We did have plenty left, but, I didn't want to take any home, as they desserts matched the rest of the meal: overpriced, and not very good.
Decaf Coffee.
I started with a decaf coffee, as I always like a bitter pairing with my sweets.  It was served with a little pitcher of creamer.  Sugars were already on the table.

It was fine.  Not remarkable, served in a slightly small cup, but, fine.
Creme Brûlée. $6.
As I mentioned, my sister wanted one and only one thing: the creme brûlée.  Now, you know how much I love puddings, and creme brûlée specifically, so I wanted it too.  She said she'd share a few bites, and even stepped back to let me perform my standard creme brûlée eating procedure.

I started with the "tap test".  The caramelized layer on top was thin, but it did have a good flavor, slightly burnt in a good way, and seemed to have been freshly torched to order, as the custard was cold, and top a bit warm.  So not as thick as I wanted, but decent enough.

The custard itself had a nice creamy consistency, but tasted like ... nothing.  It just had no flavor whatsoever.  Sadness.  After a few more bites, I gladly let my sister have it, even though it ended up being the better of the desserts.

The garnishes on the side included a "vanilla bean shortbread cookie", that somehow wound up in my dad's hand within moments of it arriving on our table.  I don't like cookies really, so it isn't like I wanted it, but I did want a taste!  Oh, an a totally unripe sliced strawberry.  Meh.

The $6 price tag however was quite reasonable for a dessert at a restaurant with this pricing.
 Peanut Butter Banana Cheesecake. $8.
The other option I went for was the cheesecake.  Now, I'm not necessarily a huge cheesecake lover, but, I do like cheesecake from time to time, and it tends to be something that most restaurants can do well (or, they purchase it from somewhere frozen, and that works too).  Plus, peanut butter?  Yes!

Sadly, it was just as lackluster as everything else.  The cheesecake wasn't creamy.  It didn't have any cream cheese flavor to it.  I did like the peanut butter, but it was overwhelmed by banana.  The top was burnt.

The crust was a "chocolate cookie crust" and was actually tasty, but it was very thick, and it was hard to cut a chunk of cheesecake off that would have both the filling and the crust.  After a few bites of the cheesecake, trying so hard to like it, I gave up, and ended up just eating cookie crust, chocolate and all, because I wanted something to satisfy.  Sigh.

It was garnished with another unripe strawberry, and a pudding of some tasteless sauce.

This was worse than the creme brûlée, and the $8 price was high compared to other desserts on their menu.
The Millstone at 74 Main Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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