I’ve been told several times over that New Hampshire really isn’t a foodie mecca, but either I must be easier to please than people think, or I’m incredibly lucky, because all of the restaurants I’ve steered my team to during our trips there have been great, and I have a couple more in my back pocket for upcoming conferences. This most recent visit was no exception, when I ignored some negative Urbanspoon comments and booked us at XO on Elm in Manchester for our team dinner.
This modern, poshly decorated café has a lovely little sidewalk patio for those who fancy al fresco dining this time of year, but the sunny front room and trendy bar are just as welcoming climes for an internationally tinged feast. The complimentary tray of chewy, toothsome rolls and sweet orange butter doesn’t hurt, either.
I had read online that the bacon wrapped dates were a must-order, and Bosslady Liz likes them too, so those happened. This iteration of this increasingly common starter was graced with chorizo, which gave them a kick, and the bacon was nice and crisp. Thumbs up for a sweet and salty pop of flavor.
Our other appetizer was a special that night: lamb loin with a lobster fontina crepe. How unique and yummy does that sound? It was gorgeous, the crepe light as air with just the barest crunch of a crispy edge to it, the lobster fontina filling mellow and subtle, and the lamb rich and tender. I very much enjoyed this inventive dish. Also, the weirdness of the ingredients kind of made our newest teammate Paul a little squirmy, which you know I enjoyed. I’m pretty sure Paul will get used to me ordering the weirdest thing on every menu.
Karen had visited XO before and beseeched one more scrumptious appetizer choice: the maple BBQ short rib. I’ve had short ribs done asian style, with red wine sauce, and in a more traditional brown gravy, but never BBQ sauce. These were sweet and tangy, perfectly pull-apart tender, and grounded by insanely heavenly, creamy, Yukon gold mashed potatoes that were most certainly “mashed” through a ricer or food mill.
I am not going to beat around the bush about who won the entrée game. Liz, my new boss, who is ridiculously fun to eat out with, knocked it out of the park with her braised beef ravioli. Again, we’re talking short ribs here, though these were wrapped in a luxurious, rich, deep demi. The plate was studded with root vegetables and gorgeous wild mushrooms, and topped with shaved parm, and yet there was no heaviness or over-saltiness to the dish. The pasta was tender even though it was thick, and the arugula was a great, peppery, fresh accent to the darkness of the other flavors.
I think Paul was our first runner-up in the entrée competition. He wins a $500 scholarship for his butche’rs steak, which had the most home-grilled flavor of any restaurant steak I’ve ever tried. I didn’t snag a bite of his wicked-looking truffled parmesan gratin, but the demi on his plate was just as soothing and rich as Liz’s. That steak was real-deal cook-out quality, smoky and tender, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find out they had a grill out back that they cooked it on. I’m thinking about snagging us a hangar steak and making one of these babies soon.
Karen’s main course was gorgeous, though I’m not a huge fan of cooked fish: lemon butter poached cod over sundried tomato orzo risotto. It was topped with arugula, like Liz’s ravioli, but this salad was dressed with roasted red pepper vinaigrette. She loved it.
I was persuaded away from the fired chicken in favor of the lobster mac and cheese, but I wished in the end I’d gone for the chicken or the lamb shank. In any event, the dish lacked a bit of seasoning, and the lobster was a touch overcooked and chewy. I liked the creaminess of the smoked gouda alfredo sauce, and I loved the chives in there. The pasta was cooked al dente, but I just needed a little more flavor and rarer seafood to ring my bell.
Luckily, some fabulous desserts were on their way to sooth the savage beast that is Big Hungry when she loses the entrée game! We shared churros, fried bananas foster, and bread pudding, and everything was rich, ooey, gooey, and delicious. I have to give a special shout out to the toasted coconut vanilla ice cream that came with my bananas foster. That nutty, roasted coconut flavor cut through the super sweet fried bananas and rocked. I love creative ice cream!
Although I didn’t adore my main course, and all of our food wasn’t timed to come out at the same time, there was not another complaint around the table during the meal, and the atmosphere was sunlit and sleek. We voted and awarded XO on Elm a nine on the BHS Scale. I would happily return to XO, and recommend you give it a try – just don’t let yourself be talked into an entrée that doesn’t sound like the most delicious thing you see! Come visit my Facebook group to see photos of the other desserts we enjoyed, and the menu boards!
I have some really tasty posts in store in the next few weeks for you, Big Hungries. From a diamond in Binghamton’s roughest rough, to a brand new Ithaca patio paradise, I hope you’ll stop back and enjoy a taste! My hunger is big; my personality is bigger!