As I’ve mentioned a few times on here, I generally prefer not to review a place if the reason I went there was a special event. However, some places (like the Cabane a Sucre a few months ago) are special event only, and in other cases (like the The Corner House Inn), the nature of the special event isn’t directly food related, and I’ve got a reasonable expectation of being able to have a similar menu item on a regular visit. In the case of PINE, we went there for a special Friends of Laphroaig Scotch Dinner, and ended being very impressed with the food as well.
First of all, a bit about PINE. PINE is located in the Hanover Inn at Dartmouth College, which recently completed a substantial renovation. One of the major components of the renovation was a near-complete gutting of the first floor and lobby, replacing two other restaurants: the Daniel Webster Room (a somewhat stodgy dinner restaurant) and Zins Winebistro (a wine bar firmly ensconced in the early 1990s).
The result was PINE (not really sure why they upper-case it, but, hey, I’ll roll with it), a fairly pleasant, larger combined restaurant that serves as a public dining room, and the dining for guests (this often introduces a few challenges since you always have to have some fairly mellow and cheap menu items to cover your guest’s wishes in addition to your primary menu), and the dining for Dartmouth special events. But most importantly, they hired a new staff, with a new chef (Justin Dain), and the result is a fairly vibrant addition to the local dining scene. Enough the Friends of Laphroaig held one of their regional Scotch Dinners there.
The idea was quite simple to start with: after a few initial tastings of various Laphroaig Whiskys to get us warmed up, like their QA Cask (generally only available via Duty Free), we sat down, and started on a multi-course dinner, with each course paired not only with one of Laphroaig’s Whiskys, but also a cocktail made from the same Whisky. So we started out with a Laphroaig 10 yr and a cocktail of Laphroaig, Fino Sherry, House-made Kummel, and Orange. Let’s start with the Laphroaig 10 yr. It’s a polarizing whisky if there ever was one: very few Scotch Whiskys have anywhere near the amount of peat flavor that Laphraoig has, and the 10 year is pretty much a classic of peat, although many find it “medicinal” or “too smoky”. Myself, I rather enjoy it, but here, the cocktail was quite pleasant: the sherry added a nice sweeter note to it, the orange a bitter note, and the kummel a nice herbal note (as an aside, I’m looking forward to Warren Bobrow’s upcoming Whiskey Cocktail book, expected in October, so I can work on my own cocktails).
But just as enjoyable as the 10 yr and cocktail was the first course served with it: a flash-smoked salmon served with farro, onions, and wild mushrooms. The salmon itself was perfectly cooked with just a hint of smoke, for some tender pink flakes of flavorful salmon with just a bit of char on the end. The farro was a nice bed of soft grains, nicely combined with some caramelized onions and some mushrooms to make a nice accompaniment. The salmon ended up being a perfect pairing with both the Whisky itself and the cocktail.
The second course was Laphroaig Quarter Cask, served up with a cocktail of Quarter Cask, ginger cordial, lemon, and spiced cherry. The Quarter Cask is aged for five years before being finished in a quarter cask for seven months, and the result is a slightly sweeter and softer Whisky (although not much, this is still the peaty Laphroaig!). Combined with the lemon, ginger, and cherry notes from the cocktail, and this was a pleasantly sweet and slightly smokey cocktail. However, the star here was the accompanying course: black-pepper rubbed duck breast served over polenta with kale and tasso ham. This was, in short, a near perfect duck breast: nice, rich, moist dark meat, crispy skin, and just enough boldness from the black pepper to make it spicy. Add in a perfect polenta with just a bit of kale and tasso ham, and this was some of the best duck I’ve ever had.
Moving on to the next course, the Whisky was Laphroag 18 year. The 18 year is everything that you think of with Laphroaig, in spades. This a bold, peaty, and strong Whisky (weighing in at 48% ABV). It’s equally strong in peat to the 10 year, but has a much smoother and more refined finish. The matching cocktail was a Manhattan-like cocktail of 18 year, Carpono Antica, Punt e Mes, and Fernet Branca (which is appearing to be the hot “new” cocktail mixer of 2014, since I’m running into it everywhere!). In this case, the combination worked well, giving the combination of sweet, dark fruit, and smoke notes that makes a good cocktail. Served up with it was an herb-roasted sirloin with fingerlings and sprouts. This was your basic sirloin, but was quite nicely executed: a very good, juicy and pink-bordering-on-red interior, a nice crispy crust, and a nice demiglace tying it together.
For the dessert couse, the Whisky was Laphroaig Triplewood, and the cocktail was Triplewood, Lucano Amaro, Amaretto, salt, and grapefruit oil. The Whisky is called “Triplewood” since it gets aged three times: once in Bourbon barrels, once in quarter casks, and one in sherry barrel. The result is basically the “dessert” version of Laphroaig, with a very pleasing, smooth vanilla and molasses feel from the bourbon barrels, which still maintaining the smoke and peat of Laphroaig. The accompanying cocktail with Lucano Amaro, Amaretto, and grapefruit oil was a pleasant combination of nut and bitter notes, making for a surprisingly pleasing dessert cocktail that paired well with the sweeter notes of chocolate. The paired course was molten chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream and caramel. This was good, but not stunning. If I had to pick a weak course in the meal, this was it, but it was quite good (just not on par with the rest of the meal).
So, overall, we were pleased, and very pleasantly surprised, at the quality of the dinner we had at PINE. This would have been a very successful event with just the Scotch Whisky and cocktails served up. Adding in not just good food, but great food prepared with care, made for a most excellent dinner, and it’s also obvious that their bartender is a talented mixologist. As a result, PINE is definitely overdue for a revisit, and I’m looking forward to trying their regular dinner menu.