A couple of weeks ago, I made my first business trip up to Merrimack, NH, for meetings with my department. I was meeting my new boss, K, for the first time, and as a team we were saying goodbye to another K, who just was promoted up into another department. Plus, lovely A, from the UK, was in town to play as well. The site of our team dinner was The Common Man, part of a unique chain of historic house-based restaurants all over New Hampshire. It was rustic, homey, and welcoming, especially after a long day sitting around a conference table and hammering out roles and responsibilities. This was exactly the respite we needed that night, and starting upstairs in the warm, dim, lounge for cocktails was lovely.
My margarita was handmade, well-salted and puckery sour – just what the doctor ordered. When we left the lounge to assemble ‘round the table reserved for us, it was with speed and cheer that the manager heard our cries of overheating and propped the door open. I just knew it was going to be a delicious evening. Our waitress, too, was cheerful and playful, recommending appetizers and keeping up well with our own exuberance. With her help, we chose the lobster potato cakes, uncommon bacon and baked escargot to share. You might be surprised that’s I’m going to tell you the escargot was my favorite of these three. But come on! I’m the girl who orders bone marrow and chicken liver pate. Snails are just another exotic edible that turns out not to be so scary: these babies were bathed in garlic and sheathed in puff pastry: a joy to pop into your mouth and savor. I know you probably think snails: ew. But trust – escargot are pretty benign, a mere delivery system for garlic and butter. YUM.
|Not all that uncommon pork belly|
I was actually a little disappointed in the uncommon bacon AKA pork belly kabobs, although the green apple slaw it was served over was good. The pork belly was treated differently than other versions I’ve had, possibly braised or boiled rather than roasted before being grilled? It was on the blander side, more porky and than bacony, and very, very chewy. This was less successful for me than the escargot.
The lobster piled over thin potato cakes was somewhere in between – yummy, but didn’t knock my socks off. This was pleasing, hearty, fresh, but very samey in texture with no predominant flavor. In New England, I want the lobster to really bowl me over and this, simply, didn’t. The potato cake, similarly, was fine, but not especially crispy or ethereally light or spiked with onion or garlic. It was, you know, potato-y.
|Pronounce it right: lobstah|
If you know me by now, you know I’m a sucker for braised meat. It was with this predilection that I chose the pot roast as my entrée. It was close between that and the duck, but I went ahead and made K order the duck, while my new boss, the other K, got the lobster mac and cheese, upon which I also had my eye. I wasn’t disappointed, although I wasn’t flipping out over this dish, either. The portion was hearty, the meat was tender and moist, and the potatoes and root veg were solid. It was all very New England: solid, warm and comforting with nothing to really push the envelope. That said, does every meal need to be avant garde, exciting, truffle-infused and wasabi-tinged? No, it does not. I liked my pot roast, and I would eat it again. ‘Nuff said.
|They don’t call it yankee pot roast for nothin’|
K’s duck, on the other hand, made the richness of my dish pale in comparison. The duck confit with caramelized onions and mushrooms over creamy pasta was decadent and filling. No one could have eaten all of the size portion he was served. I mean, not since Andre the Giant passed. The earthy richness of the duck hung in league with the sweetness of the onions and that unmistakable umami flavor of the mushrooms. This was a good dish, and I kind of wish I would have ordered it myself.
We again ordered a bunch of options for dessert and shared around the table: Uncommon baked apple, Toll House cookie pie, mud pie and white chocolate crème brulee. Not a fan of white chocolate, I skipped that one and focused on the rest. Like childhood mud pies formed in the back yard, Common Man’s was sloppy and brown, wading in a pool of thick, rich fudge; but unlike those pies of yore, it was delicious, resplendent with deep, dark chocolate. The cookie pie is one of my favorites, and it didn’t disappoint. It was packed with chocolate chips, and the cookie dough content was just right – another rich, decadent choice. The baked apple was fall in a bite: cinnamon and brown sugar complimented by just a touch of maple syrup. Very New England.
|Wanna make mud pies?|
I award The Common Man a solid seven on the BHS scale. It was above average without being truly extraordinary. The take-away from our fun, “family” meal there was a sense of warmth and comfort – a great place to eat on a cold winter’s night, or if you’re just getting over a cold or still feeling under the weather and not wanting to cook for yourself. It is a place of good cheer, gravy, fireplaces, down home dishes and cobbled-together charm. That makes for a fine combination, indeed, and a suitable place for the sacrament of bread braking with family or friends.
|Toll House pie at the Common Man|
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|A baked apple for your thoughts|
PS: I almost forgot to mention my hotel for this trip, in case you should ever find need to visit the greater Nashua, NH area. It was quite lovely and supplied my regular demand for Marriot points: Courtyard Nashua.