Dining Out: CR's The Restaurant

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CR's fits the spot: New Hampton eatery serves comforting food with a touch of elegance

By Rachel Forrest

Hampton Union, October 31, 2014

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

 This is more of an “early word” on CR’s since I did not wait for three weeks to dine here, as I normally would. They had things well in hand, however, and I went back to try more dishes and it was a pleasant experience in this new restaurant where Bonta used to be.

I know I recently said I’m not about nostalgia, and while I liked the food at Bonta - through just about all the chefs who headed the kitchens - I think CR's is a better fit for the space and location. The menu here isn’t “cutting edge” cuisine, with the innovation we see in Portsmouth and larger city restaurants, but the food has some elegance and comfort at the same time.

CR's opened a few weeks ago in a nicely remodeled space. Bonta had so many regulars over the years (myself included back in the day) it’s hard to avoid the design comparisons.

They changed the bar and lounge area dramatically, with a new bar that takes center stage in the area to the right of the entrance. It’s large, with three sides so we can all see each other and chat around it.

The lounge area has plenty of tables and the dining room is bright and open, less formal than before. And there are familiar staffpeople behind the bar and on the floor. Among them is Zack Gage, who has been in local restaurants for all of his adult life and is assistant manager.

Those who know them will feel a sense of continuity and comfort in a restaurants owned by Chuck Rolecek of Manchester/Bedford’s CR Sparks and the Hanover Street Chophouse fame. The executive chef and partner is Chris Veatch, who opened CR Sparks in 1994.

CR's has a great cocktail list with creative drinks that don’t have bitters that we need a translation app to understand.

Don’t get me wrong - I love the new craft cocktail culture - but I don’t need the complexity all the time.

The wine list is very good, with reasonably priced quality bottles with local nods to Andrew Bevan Wines, and this extends to the beer list with all local brews.

The menu is divided into Starters, Salads, Entrees, Pizza, and Sides, and while this might not seem notable, it is. No “Plates to Share," no “Small Bites” - these are straight-up traditional courses, which did leave me wanting a bar snack menu. Pizzas are fine for sharing at the bar or table, but a more casual snack menu would be good, too.

Some starters are certainly sharable. We started with a special of arancini - six small crispy spheres with creamy rice on a truffle aioli - a good start for sharing ($7). A plate of Wagyu meatballs had just three large spheres in a mellow marinara. I wanted more of the marinara to dip the excellent bread in, but they were only lightly coated ($9).

The charcuterie plate had a rich duck liver mousse, a country pate, and chorizo with mild pickles ($12), and a starter of duck confit with “smashed” potatoes was a mini meal ($14).

On to the entrees, where steaks rule.

It’s a fairly “safe” menu, even a bit dated by today’s menu standards, but I began to think that there was a comfort in that, too.

There’s a place for unfussy, familiar well-prepared food like a New York strip steak with simple, tasty, creamy, buttermilk mashed potatoes (that had a bit of a coating that made me think they were sitting too long) and a few spears of broccoli rabe.

There was a 12-ounce steak for $28, but I got mine with a small disc of foie gras, which melted, hotel-butter-like, over the meat ($31). It was cooked perfectly and had a great flavor.

Our server, Katelyn, recommended the lamb shank ($25), with polenta, roasted beets, and grilled leeks, but Friend Vicky opted for the Bacon Wrapped Statler Chicken Breast, stuffed with a Roquefort mixture ($24), which came with the same mashed potatoes and broccoli rabe.

There was a minor hiccup in getting it, but as I said, this is the early word version and Katelyn was so great overall, it was all fine. The chicken was juicy, flavorful, and nicely crisp outside, the bacon also crisping up to create more texture, and the rich blue cheese center added a depth of flavor.

There were other sides, such as grilled asparagus and truffle fries, which could mix it up a bit. I do have to say once again, due to the evolution of the way we dine with less expensive “gastropub” fare or small plates that are high quality but lower priced, the look back at a more traditional entree is interesting. These were tasty and crafted, and we took some home.

So, yes, the early word. There’s a familiarity here that is the hallmark of restaurants in smaller towns, where guests are greeted with warm welcomes by staff they’ve known for years, and here, there’s also a comfort and familiarity in the food. It’s upscale, but comforting in its traditional attitude with sparks of pizzazz.

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