Sunday, July 13, 2014

Peter Havens (Brattleboro, VT)

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For my birthday, my mom and step-father took me out to dinner up in Brattleboro at Peter Havens, a fine dining establishment that has been around for twenty years, but I somehow had never been to.  They went to a special dinner there the week before, and were quite impressed, so when our first choice, L.A. Burdick's The Restaurant at Burdick was unavailable to us (they only serve brunch on Sundays, not dinner), we ended up in Brattleboro.  While I definitely still want to go up to L.A. Burdick, I could not have been more pleased with the dinner we had.

The restaurant itself is small, with over half of it devoted to the bar area, which consists of a large wooden bar in a rather open area and a few tables, and a second area that is separated by a partial wall that has another half dozen tables.  It is lit just right, not so much that it seems bright but not so little it feels dark (an unfortunate trend in higher end restaurants these days), and it does not seem to be overly loud even with several groups together.  Our waitress was nice, but I like to have wait-staff that are very confident and have strong opinions on the menu; if asked "which do you recommend," there should be an answer, and "well, that depends on whether you're in the mood for X or Y" does not count.  That said, when she finally made a decision it turned out to be the right one.

I started off with the Escargot ("Brandy & vermouth marinated escargots sautéed with garlic, butter
and parsley, served in a puff pastry shell and finished with a touch of cream") at the recommendation of the waitress, who I tasked with choosing amongst that, the house Caesar salad ("Romaine lettuce. tossed in our classic house-made caesar dressing, topped with warm duck confit and  croutons"), and the special soup for the day, a gazpacho that sounded completely delicious.  In the end, while I am sure the soup and salad would have been very good, the escargot was spectacular.  The snails themselves were just the right mix of chewy and tender, the sauce was tangy and creamy, and the puff pastry was a great vehicle for both.  I just had raw escargot in Valras Plage, and while this restaurant lacked the ambiance of being located fifteen feet from a Mediterranean beach, eating them here was pretty delightful as well.  

We also split the Duck Liver Pate ("House made duck liver pate prepared with a hint of brandy, served with whole grain mustard, red onion jam, cornichons and toast points"), and I have one big complaint:  I can't have it every day.  Oh my God, that was good.  Creamy, smooth, decadent pate beautifully served in a small jar alongside some pieces of toast, a little pile of cornichons, which I love, really great rustic mustard that was distinctly German tasting, and the red onion jam, which stacks up really well to the pickled onions on the Pulled BBQ Duck Nachos at The Dirty Truth, which are legitimately crave-worthy.  I just wanted more and more and more of this; probably one of the three or four best appetizers I have ever had.

My entree was switched up at the last minute, as I had intended to go with the Roasted Statler Chicken Breast ("finished with two-mustard sauce and served with truffle mashed potatoes") since my step-dad was going with the Pan Roasted Duck Breast ("with French green lentils, caramelized apple, and sauce bigerade"), but when he switched to a swordfish special, I went with the duck.  Thank God I did.  The duck was gorgeous, a thinly (app 1/4 inch) sliced breast laid out and smothered in a dark, rich sauce that was incredibly savory, though I did not really taste any of the citrus I would expect from a Sauce Bigerade.  The duck itself was maybe the tiniest bit overcooked, but because of the sauce it was not a problem, and it was reasonably moist still.  I am not a huge fan of lentils typically, though when prepared properly they are really awesome, and the French green lentils were not only tasty on their own, but great eaten with the sauce.  The caramelized apple was really delicious, but kind of lame, in that it was just a single small piece about an inch wide and two inches long; it would have been greatly appreciated if there were a couple more pieces.  I am nitpicking here; the entree was awesome, and the meal all in all was one of the best I have ever had.  This is definitely a new favorite.

I had a McNeill's Brewery Dead Horse IPA with dinner, which is definitely a top ten in the category for me.  One of the smoothest IPAs I have had, it was just hoppy enough to make you aware of what it is, but not nearly like many of the other great (and terrible) IPAs that are on the market now, which seem to emphasize the hops to the max.  A great beer, it will get its own review soon enough I am sure.

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