Josh and I recently spent our first weekend away from baby J, to attend a wedding in New Hampshire. While Josh has been away before for work, I’ve never spent a night apart from J and I was obviously a bit apprehensive about the situation. Nevertheless, I was looking forward to a responsibility-free weekend and spending some quality time with the hubby. We drove up on Friday and spent a few hours hiking Mount Cardigan in the afternoon, then got ready for what we hoped would be a nice, romantic dinner at Carpenter & Main in Norwich, Vermont.
Norwich is a picturesque, quaint-looking New England town. We didn’t have time to walk around but we drove past a lot of old colonial-style buildings along the way. The restaurant is located on Main St. and, as the name implies, the corner of Carpenter St. We had a reservation and were seated immediately, in a smaller room to the side of the entrance.
Our waitress seemed a little bit harried but stopped by our table to check in while we were looking over our menus, promising to return soon to take our drink order. Josh selected a bottle of Zinfandel that was wonderfully full-bodied and spicy once it opened up. We were served dinner rolls to start, which were warm, fluffy, and soft throughout.
The menu is divided up into three sections – morsels, small plates, and larger plates. We wanted to taste several items and so we decided to mix and match from the morsels and small plates to start, and then finish off with the larger entrees. We asked our waitress to bring the food out in whatever order she thought would be best.
The soup of the day and two morsels showed up first. Since the soup was chilled, it was set in between our plates while we tasted the morsels. I started with the braised short rib bruschetta. It was pulled short rib meat piled on three toasted rounds of bread and topped with horseradish gremolata. The short rib was a tad on the dry side but I really enjoyed the gremolata, which had a nice kick to it from the horseradish and really bumped up the flavor of the bruschetta – I just wished there was more of it.
Josh got the caramelized tofu triangles first, which were served with charred broccoli rabe. He was intrigued by this dish when he saw it on the menu but I was a little wary. Turns out that I was right, as the tofu was mushy and completely drowning in a soy marinade. It must have been sitting in the marinade for a while, as the inside of the tofu was completely brown and it was incredibly salty. It was a bit more balanced when eaten together with the broccoli rabe, but overall, we thought the dish tasted like bad Chinese takeout.
In between bites of the morsels, Josh and I both tasted the soup, which was made from three melons – cantaloupe, honeydew, and banana melon. The puree was refreshing and sweet, though not overly so. I thought it was a nice mix of flavors, including a citrus note in the background, but Josh thought it was a bit boring. He was looking for some more acid and perhaps a savory component, like olive oil, to break up the sweetness of the melons.
The next course was when the meal picked up a bit. I received the Moroccan lamb meatballs with spicy tomato glaze, which packed a punch of flavor. I was actually expecting something more Mediterranean, like kofte, but the spices actually skewed more Indian in flavor to me. The tomato sauce was creamy with lots of spices, reminiscent of tikka masala, and the lamb was coarsely ground and gamey, which I liked. The meatballs were definitely under-seasoned though, but it was an easy fix with the salt shaker on the table.
Josh got the vol-au-vent of escargots, which was snails piled in a puff pastry basket. The escargots were plump and tender, and the puff pastry was nicely browned and flaky. The garlic-herb cream sauce on the plate was fantastic. There were visible slices of garlic but it wasn’t overpowering. The garlic flavor was nicely balanced by the taste of fresh herbs, and the sauce was lighter than a traditional garlic butter. However, it also desperately needed more salt, but once I sprinkled some on, the dish really came together and popped.
For our entrees, we shared the crispy duck confit and trout ala meuniere from the larger plates section of the menu. The duck was a confit leg with tender meat and crispy skin. It was served with warm potato salad and mesclun greens. The meat was slightly under-seasoned, but when eaten with the whole grain mustard vinaigrette, the dish came together nicely. I enjoyed the lightness and brightness of the dish, and it was a good counterpoint to the heavier appetizers that we had been eating.
The trout dish was a huge portion of fish, definitely the biggest plate of food we had all night. The fish itself was nicely prepared – lightly dredged with a delicate crust. The sauce was classic – lemon, parsley, and brown butter – which paired nicely with the flaky fish. It was served with wild rice and the vegetable of the day, which happened to be green beans. It was a homey yet refined dish, but once again, I had to make liberal use of the salt shaker.
Overall I really enjoyed our dinner at Carpenter & Main, although I think I liked the food better than Josh did. While the under-seasoning was a problem for both of us, it was easily rectified by adding some salt to finish off the dishes. I thought the flavors were good otherwise, although I would pass on some of the morsel plates next time, like the caramelized tofu (which was surprisingly too salty), and the short rib bruschetta, which was a bit boring compared to some of the either items we tasted. I absolutely loved the escargot vol-au-vent, which was a refreshing take on a classic dish, and both of our entrees, the duck and the trout, were superb as well. Prices are on par with the food, with morsels ranging from $4-$6, small plates from $8-$14, and larger plates from $12-$29. Service was warm and friendly, and the ambiance was casual but subtly polished. The best part though was that Josh and I were able to have a delightfully romantic meal, just the two of us, which is something that we’ve been missing.
Carpenter & Main
326 Main St.