Mint Bistro (Manchester, NH)

For those that have been following along with my travels in May/June, it was a rather hectic time, especially when I found myself having just gotten back from Austin and having to turn around again and leave for Washington, DC. Since the pace was so hectic, I decided it would be a good idea to take an evening off (albeit an evening on my way to the airport) and have a nice dinner with Carol. We ended up picking Mint Bistro in Manchester, which has been on my hit list for a while.

Located on Elm street, just a little around the corner from Red Arrow Diner, Mint Bistro is basically a “contemporary fusion bistro”. It’s a rather nicely decorated space, centered around a prominent bar, with a reasonably good amount of seating. Menu-wise, Mint Bistro is one of those fusion places that seems to take a bit of the “shotgun” approach to fusion cuisine, in that they’ve got both “Tapas” and “Sushi” on the same menu with upscale pot roast. This approach always makes me a bit skeptical, but I’ve read several good reviews of the place, so we figured it was worth a try.

We started off with cocktails. Predictably, a place called “Mint” has several mint cocktails prominently placed on the menu, including juleps, mojitos, and the like. And being a fusion place, they also have a few Asian-inspired cocktails. When these meet up, the result was the Japanese Sake Mojito, with vodka, mint, sake, and Domaine de Canton. The result was actually quite a pleasant variation on the mojito: nice sake notes, a good solid mint note, some good ginger notes from the Canton, and some good mild citrus notes from the garnish. Refreshing but solid, I actually didn’t mind this variation on a classic.

Next up was my appetizer. As sharp-eyed readers may have noted, I have a weakness for gnocchi (indeed, this is the second article in a row where I have pined for gnocchi…), that goes back a few years to the most wonderful gnocchi I had at Gracie’s in Providence… so when I saw gnocchi on the menu, I felt compelled to order some.

I was a bit surprised when the dish arrived, since the gnocchi were served up in deep layer of broth, almost as a soup. I was originally skeptical (since one of the hallmarks of a good gnocchi is a crisp exterior), but this actually worked. The broth was rich and flavorful, and really complemented the shrimp, peas, and gnocchi. The last of these were obviously seared right before serving, since they still retained the crispiness despite their serving approach. The resulting dish was quite pleasant and enjoyable, so I’ll chalk this one up as a good success by the kitchen.

Our seconds appetizer as “Asian short rib nachos”. Using wonton wrappers for chip, this dish was braised short ribs, cheddar, corn, peppers, mushrooms, and some cilantro sour cream. Again, this is exactly the sort of novelty fusion dish that usually gives me pause, but the result here, while a bit of a fat bomb, was really good. The short ribs braised to the point of falling apart, and were nicely complemented by the array of “nacho” toppings (although the Vermont cheddar cheese seemed gratuitous). In the end however, this was a novelty dish that actually worked. I wouldn’t mind getting this again.

My main course was the nightly special: Jamaican jerk-rubbed boar haunch. This was a really well-conceived and well-executed dish. The boar itself was braised, which converted it’s fairly tough texture into a nice, moist, and tender cut of meat. The Jamaican rub, while a little more on the “sweet” end of the jerk sauce continuum, really combined well with the boar to cut back on some of the gaminess. While I probably would have preferred a little more heat and spice to the jerk rub, this was a flavorful dish that I ended up enjoying a lot.

Finally, we come to dessert, where we decided to share the crème brûlée. They have a fairly unique take on this dish, since instead of being served in the standard ramekin, Mint Bistro serves theirs in an almond brittle bowl. This has some pluses and minuses. On the plus side, it was actually a really nicely done almond brittle bowl, which combined well with the custard of the main dish. And the almond notes of the bowl combined nicely with the vanilla of the custard and the tang of the fruit. The one downside of this is that the custard can’t really be properly set and torched in the bowl; it was obviously spooned in and then torched afterward. This worked decently well, but it made for a slightly lackluster top shell on the crème brûlée… and that’s the very essence of that dish (do I need to find that excerpt from Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain to post again?). Don’t get me wrong, it was a good custard, and a good dish, but I feel that a few tradeoffs were made here, and not necessarily the best ones.

However, my overall impression of Mint Bistro is that I was pleasantly pleased. While much of the menu was definitely on the wild end of “contemporary fusion”, and often a little confused, the dishes we ended up getting were playful, creative, and most importantly, well-executed. I’ll certainly make it a point to come here another time to try out some more of the menu.

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