Greenleaf (Milford, NH)

I’ve long been a fan of Top Chef on Bravo, being one of the cooking reality shows that generally has talented chefs and not too many irritating personalities. On the most recent season, we saw something on Top Chef that doesn’t happen that often for us: they featured a New Hampshire chef: Chris Viaud. Chris owns several places in southern NH, including Greenleaf in Milford. While we don’t get down to that part of the state often, we thought that a trip to Greenleaf would be a good way to celebrate our anniversary this year, so we went to check them out.

The first thing that strikes you as you enter Greenleaf is that it’s really a great restaurant space. Built inside a spacious converted old bank, one whole wall of the restaurant is large windows, so it makes for a very pleasant, bright, and open space. Menu-wise, they’ve got your basic American “seasonally-inspired farm to table” fare, mostly of traditional fine dining dishes done with some slight twists, and combining that with a good selection of wine, local beer, and cocktails.

It wasn’t all that long ago that having “cocktails” at a restaurant usually meant a selection of traditional drinks and maybe a specialty house cocktail that was usually a variety of flavored martini, but in the last few years, the cocktail scene has exploded and most any good restaurant is expected to have some decent custom-mixed craft cocktails. And Greenleaf certainly has embraced this, with a weekly-updated list of house cocktails that are all quite inventive and do a good job of showcasing regional products. In our case, we enjoyed two of their house specialties, the “Caliente”, with Barr Hill Gin, Passoa, pineapple, lemon, and honey, and the “Pam and Eric”, with Hornitos, Ancho Reyes, toasted pineapple syrup, and lemon.

Next up was our appetizers, starting with Parker House rolls. Yeah, Parker House rolls. Normally a fairly generic dinner roll (named for the Parker House hotel in Boston, which still serves them up alongside Boston Cream Pie, which they also pioneered), this was a great example of a simple classic done well. The rolls themselves were perfectly done, with a nice yeasty body and a perfectly browned crown, nicely complemented by the molasses-honey butter (and a nod to the chef there: this is a nice exception from the typical New England “sneak maple into everything” approach).

Next up was a plate of mixed Brussel Sprouts and baked beans. This was a new combo to me, and it worked well: a nice Boston-style baked bean with the beans not yet breaking down, combined with some perfectly crisped sprouts with some bits of bacon, the overall result here was much like a cassoulet. I’ll definitely want to experiment with this combination in my own cooking.

For entrees, Carol opted for the tagliatelle, which was served up as a Bolognese with ground venison, tomatoes, and plenty of Parmesan over a bed of house-made, hand-cut tagliatelle. The pasta had the perfect texture, and the Bolognese was the perfect balance of tomato tang, Parmesan nuttiness, and the richer meaty notes of venison.

Myself, I opted to go classic with the NY Strip, and here it was nicely presented as a playfully-plated, coarse-sliced, absolutely perfectly medium rare steak served over a bed of leek, potato, bok choy, and mushroom. This presentation is nice since you can’t hide any mistakes: it’s immediately obvious if the meat is over- or under-cooked, and it immediately dries out if sliced prematurely. This was a perfect steak, and the medley of veggies nicely balanced out the plate.

The style of playful plating extended to the desserts. House pastry chef Mackenzie Lindquist really goes for complex, artfully composed, complicated desserts, and our two desserts didn’t disappoint. Mine was a butterscotch crème brûlée with corn, orange, and brown butter, and it’s plating was almost “deconstructed” in nature: a smaller crème brûlée in a pastry shell, served on a bed of sauce with small piles of cake topped with cram and butterscotch popcorn. If there was a weakness here, it was the small surface area of the crème itself, not giving much opportunity for the star of the show: cracking the broiled sugar crust. But this was more than made up for by the rest of the dish.

The overall style of Carol’s desset, the Lime cheesecake, was almost identical to my dessert in layout, with the ingredients themselves changed up: a very competent and tasty smaller lime cheesecake with shortbread crust, surrounded with little piles of sauce (sesame-flavored) and coconut. Inventive, and flavorful.

Greenleaf ended up being an excellent choice for an anniversary dinner, and I’m very happy to see what Chef Chris is doing with the place. We’d definitely visit more frequently if we lived closer.

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