Oak and Grain (New London, NH)

In a recent celebration of the 20th anniversary of our first date, Carol and I decided it was a nice opportunity to check out a local restaurant that has been perennially near the top of our hit list: Oak and Grain. Oak and Grain is the in-house restaurant at The Inn at Pleasant Lake, a small lakefront hotel overlooking Pleasant Lake that specializes in weekend getaways and appears to have quite the nice barn rental for weddings as well.

For dinner service at Oak and Grain, most of the year they do a single seating for a 5 course dinner starting at 7pm (during some lighter periods, they’ll occasionally offer up a lighter 3-course meal with traditional flexible seating). This works quite well for the kitchen, but aside from mid-summer, that means that the dining room with a good view of nearby Pleasant Lake gets too dark to enjoy the view. However, this is nicely balanced out by their serving of cocktails starting at 6:15, so it provides a good chance to relax and enjoy the view as they set up for dinner. For the 5-course meal, the menu is fixed price at $65, although I highly recommend the wine pairing as well at an additional $30-$40 (depending on that night’s wine selections).

The Inn at Pleasant Lake has only a small bar, but it is pretty well-stocked, and for most dinners they try to keep a few specialty cocktails on menu as well. For our dinner, one of the specials was the Holiest of Basil Martini, and true to name, this cocktail had a very strong basil content: Cold River vodka, a Thai basil gastric, a light honey syrup, and a basil-flavored soda. The overall flavor note was “sweet basil”, and it actually worked nicely with the dryer Cold River vodka.

After a nice pork belly and white bean amuse bouche, the dinner started with a nice carrot fennel soup. The soup itself was a very rich and smooth base, predominantly carrot in flavor, but with some very nice notes of caramelized fennel coming through as well. The garnish really finished this soup off nicely, with toasted sunflower seeds (I’m usually not a fan of these, but they worked here), a bright basil puree, and some creme fraiche.

Next up was the salad course. I’m often not excited about salads at restaurants, until I get one that’s actually properly dressed and well composed. This was definitely one of those sorts of salads: a nice selection of mesclun greens and beets from Sweet Beet farm, a nice fig vinaigrette that wasn’t overly applied, and a bit of pistachio, goat cheese, tomato, and radish, making a perfectly dressed and nicely balanced salad.

Another of those nice little touches of a well-executed meal is a nice palate cleanser, and here they served up a pleasant lemon and verjus sorbet topped with blueberries. The verjus nicely softened the tart notes of the sorbet, and the blueberries were a nice variation in flavor and texture.

The main course was the real star here: short ribs from local Battle Farms, braised to tender perfection in a miso beef jus, served up with pea shoots and baby carrots with a light truffle aioli. The short ribs were everything I look for in braised ribs: meaty, tender, falling off the bone, and absorbing all the braising liquid so that every bite is juicy and flavorful. The miso jus gave a not-quite-soy-sauce kick to the jus, and the aioli and veggies brightened things up a bit. Overall, a very well executed dish.

Finally, the meal finished up with a very pleasant apple and pear gallette, with flaky pastry served over a very fragrant vanilla creme anglaise. A light dusting of almonds and a bit of raspberry coulis, and this showed that Oak and Grain can do as well with desserts as their main meal.

Really, I enjoyed our meal. The meal itself was outstanding, and each course was also very nicely paired with some well-matched, quality wines from their cellar. I’d love to go back and check out one of their brunches.

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