The Birch on Elm (Manchester, NH)

Due to a decrease in various airlines’ service to Manchester, more of my travel these days has been out of Boston, but our recent combined trip to Arizona and Arkansas actually had us scheduled through Manchester (as luck had it, weather resulted in us getting rerouted through Boston, but that’s another story…), so we decided to do one of those Park/Sleep/Fly deals, driving down the night before our trip. That gave us a good opportunity to check out Manchester’s dining scene, and we decided to try out a place that had been on our hit list for a bit: The Birch on Elm.

The Birch on Elm opened back in 2016, but not at their current location. They were across the street at 931 Elm, and due to the relatively small space there, the original The Birch on Elm was more of a “cocktail bar with a decent tapas menu”. That made for a bit of a rough economic situation in 2020 when the Pandemic hit; they weren’t able to effectively operate with the “social distancing” requirements for indoor seating, and ended up essentially closing for a year in 2020. This turned out for the best in the long run, since when their lease on 931 Elm elapsed in 2022, they moved across the street into the space formerly occupied by Noodz. It was for the best; the new space has both a substantially larger dining room and a larger kitchen. They did a really good job turning the decor into a really nice bar (with canoe suspended above) on one half, and a bunch of nice widely spaced tables on the other, giving them substantially more seating for both bar and dinner service. It really is a nice, inviting, and open space (vs the “cozy” nature of the previous location.

The Birch on Elm’s cocktails have always been central to the restaurant concept, and they remain on of the high points. Manchester has a lot of places that have reasonably good cocktails, but few places that really shine for custom cocktails; at The Birch custom, inventive cocktails remain one of their concentrations, with a good half-dozen carefully curated cocktails on their house cocktail list. I went for their Street Corn cocktail. With mezcal, Ancho Reyes, corn liqueur, spicy agave syrup, lime, and habanero, this was a neat cocktail. You don’t often get cocktails focusing on “corn” (although one of the best cocktails I ever had, from Dandelyan in London, was a surprisingly similar concept), but this worked: nice corn notes from the underlying liqueur, some smoke from the mezcal, and the lime and habanero rounding it out. Overall, a very pleasing concept, although I thought the crusted garnish (not sure what this was, but I suspect Cheetos) was a bit weird.

Carol opted for a very different cocktail, the “Borscht Again”. With fat-washed Singani 63 (this one sent us searching on the internet, it is a Bolivian brandy), mirepoix gin, beet shrub, and Amaro Vecchio. A very, very herbal cocktail, but it actually worked out really well, with nice earthy beet notes combined with the brandy and gin to make a well-balanced cocktail.

The food menu at The Birch on Elm is served up tapas-style, broken into a serious of smaller and larger tapas plates, each brought out as it is finished in the kitchen. I always find this can take a visit or two to a spot before you really get calibrated on pacing and ordering the correct amount of food here, but our overall selection of three smaller plates and two larger ones seemed ideal for the “light-ish dinner” we were looking for. First up was their “Birch Naan”, house-made flat bread served up with bread-and-butter pickles and some honey butter. While I’m not sure I would have characterized this as “naan” (I like a really good char from a proper tandoor), I didn’t let that distract me from the fact that this was a very good flatbread: a nice overall texture and crumb, crisped with oil around the edges. The sweetness of the pickles and the butter rounded this out nicely.

Next up was an order of fried pickle. Cornmeal-crusted pickles (the same as served with the Naan), served up with a nice aioli, these were quite tasty as well. I don’t generally go for sweet pickles in my fried pickles, but these worked really well, and turned out to be some of the very best deep-fried pickles that I’ve had in a while. I’d definitely get these again.

Moving into our main courses, we started with a beef tartare. This was a really great dish overall. The tartare itself was a tenderloin tartare, with a higher fat content than most tartares, but it was minced properly so the overall texture was right, the beef flavor nice and strong, and the seasoning nicely balanced. The hasselback potato was perfectly textured, smooth and creamy inside, and the exact amount of light crispiness to add a good texture to the dish. Tying it together was a nice chive crema, some trout roe, and some white truffle oil. Overall, an excellent tartare.

Our largest course was their short rib stroganoff. This was a really-well conceived Stroganoff: the short rib cooked just to a perfect tenderness, served over hand-cut pappardelle, a rich mushroom espagnole with really good herbal notes, and a bit of an unexpected but pleasant sweet note from some Vincotto (an Italian grape syrup similar to, but less acidic than, Balsamic vinegar). This dish had a particularly nice texture, and I was happy to have a good pappardelle as well (in my experience, pappardelle has a very thin window between being too firm and too soft). Overall, a very good dish.

Finally, having seen several of their berry tarts emerge from the kitchen while we were dining, we decided we had to share one, and I’m glad we did, this was a really stellar tart. Good crust, nice custard filling, and a good berry selection.

Really, we were very pleased with The Birch on Elm. The cocktails are all top-notch (best overall cocktail bar in Manchester, by my experience). The food isn’t just there to complement the cocktails, but a good, solid selection of both large and small plates that stand on their own. We’ll definitely try to come back a few more times.

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