Taking a Cotton to It

I feel like I’ve taken you on a bit of a raunchy journey with me lately, Big Hungries. From pictures of the Red Light District in Amsterdam, to describing sexy results with Adam Levine on TV, Big Hungry Shelby may have taken a left at Chaste & Taste Blvd and ended up on Debauchery Lane. But fear not, the more conservative of Hungries! Just a few weeks ago, I visited fair New England, where Puritans reign and gentlemen blush when you use the word, “tweet,” as a verb.

In Manchester, NH, there’s a great restaurant I’ve heard a lot about from colleagues and my blogger friend Pav alike. It’s called Cotton. My co-worker, Jeff, takes his wife there for fabulous martini flights and date nights. Pav told me it’s one of the only stand-out places around, although I found Firefly on our last visit to be more than adequate. Our hotel food is quite another story, but my dining out experiences in the Granite State have been satisfactory.

The interior at Cotton is industrial chic, and very, very dark. A little darker than I like, honestly, but I did admire the bare, rough-hewn granite wall and the farm-to-table concept working hard in the space. I also loved the rustic, super sour and super crunchy sourdough bread adorning the table. It was divine, as was our Heart Song Farms Baked Goat Cheese appetizer, which sang (get it?) with pungent, earthy, creamy goat cheese and punchy basil flavor. My colleague Ancia was spooning it off her plate as to not miss a morsel, and I had half a mind to lick the bowl, but decided against that lascivious behavior in light of my company.

Karen chose our second appetizer, the chicken satay. I’m usually not a fan, but for the second week in a row, I’m giving two thumbs up to this most ubiquitous of catered appetizer specialties. I mean, if I really want a sliver of rubbery, dried out chicken, sprinkled with a little turmeric and served alongside a cup of peanut butter with a few drops of soy sauce mixed in, I can suffer that at home, right? But this dish was the best I’ve ever had. The chicken was coated in a superfine, crunchy crust, and was thick, tender, and juicy. The spicy Indonesian peanut dip accompanying it was absolutely delicious, with nary a hint of cloyingly-sweet peanut butter taste, and the cilantro cucumber salad was mellow and cool. WTG, Karen, you hit a home run with this order.

I think Boss K ordered the pork chop, but I can’t remember for sure. I do remember that it was flavorful and juicy, and that the brining in New England-appropriate cider had left it wonderfully tender. The cranberry apple chutney up on top was redolent of fall: sweet, tart, chunky, and yummy.

Luscious chop, but I feel like that plate has seen better days

I knew what I was ordering before I even walked in the joint, because you just never see this on a menu: turkey schnitzel. Plus, it leaves me open to making all kinds of hilarious Tenacious D jokes about schnitzel that my co-workers might not get, but my boyfriend would love. One thing this dish had going for it was a fantastic interplay of textures. The brittle almond coating sheathed a turkey cutlet that was tender, and not even a little greasy, the mashed potatoes were creamy and chunky, just like the ones I make at home, and the green beans were crisp, sweet, and fresh, to break up all that comforting carbohydrate goodness.

Sloppy plate, sloppy plate, it’s not your fault

Ancia always orders fish. And on this night, she acted in accordance with the prophecy and chose the mahi-mahi from the specials menu. I love it when foods get two names. This soul-soothing plate was well-seasoned in a mildly exotic way, the fruited salsa topping complimenting the luscious protein and perfectly-cooked basmati rice really nicely. I was impressed, overall, by how well all the meats at Cotton were cooked. Everything was cooked-through and still juicy, which is an under-valued but important indication of a chef’s talent.

Jeff got the meatloaf, which I did not taste, but let me tell you this: Cotton’s meatloaf plate is all you can eat. Ha! Now, no one in their right mind is putting down two plates or more of this hearty meat-and-potatoes meal, but what a fun gimmick with which the restaurant toys!

We got dessert, of course. When my department is together, we are loathe to miss a caloric opportunity. Liz and I went for the bananas foster bread pudding. I’m not gonna toy with your emotions, it was pretty damn luscious. The bread was rich and moist, with a definite liquor flavor coming through, but not dominating, the bananas and brown sugar. The caramel sauce underneath had a browned-butter quality, nearly toasted without any bitterness, but also without too much sweetness.

Someone else – maybe Ancia? – had the pistachio gelato topped with more of that great caramel and chopped pistachios. The gelato was pristine – light and magnificently complimented by the deep, rich caramel sauce.

We awarded Cotton an eight on the BHS scale, and I would gladly dine there again, maybe to try the fried chicken, crab cakes or lamb steak, which is served (be still!) with tzatziki sauce. You know what a slave I am to a good tzatziki! I will say this: presentation was a little sloppy, with some of the plates not wiped around the edges, and the restrooms were pretty crappy, which are both peeves of mine. Look, a place charging $14 - $28 an entrée, and doing what appeared to be a bustling bar business, can afford nicer bathrooms. That’s a rule in my book. Speaking of the bar, I also had a Jailer’s Peach Marg to kick off my meal, and enjoyed the mix of whiskey, peach puree and sour mix very much indeed. So bring your big-girl panties with you when you visit Cotton, and get a proper cocktail, OK?

My heart is going out this week to those victimized by that bitch Hurricane Sandy. While we had not so much as a branch down in our yard, I have many friends with no power, or worse. If you can, please reach out to the Red Cross or your favorite disaster relief agency and try to help out, Big Hungries. Even as our bellies are full, we must empty our wallets to help our neighbors. My hunger is big; my personality is bigger!

Cotton on Urbanspoon

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