Savory Morsels

The Culinary Adventures of a California Girl

Friday, July 28, 2006

***July 28, 2006: Lauren***

Lauren Inn Restaurant
3 Church St.
Woodstock, VT 05091
I rarely happen upon great restaurants. Usually, before I go anywhere I’ve spent hours reading about it on, checking newspaper reviews, and studying the menu. That wasn’t quite the situation with Lauren. I’d made dinner reservations at a casual place in White River Junction, but my dinner companions decided that they’d rather eat somewhere closer to their hotel in Woodstock. I desperately didn’t want to eat the hotel’s overly stuffy restaurant, but since it was a busy Saturday night every place I called was booked. After adding my name to a couple of waiting lists, we temporarily gave up searching to attend a cocktail party. One of the other guests at this party mentioned that hot new restaurant in Woodstock had just opened this week and it was supposed to have delicious food. I knew immediately that he was talking about Lauren (there aren’t too many restaurant openings in Woodstock). I had originally turned down Lauren because their website didn’t offer either a picture of the dining room or a sample menu. However, upon finding out that Lauren could take us at 8:30 I decided it was worth the risk.
Going to Lauren was by far the best decision that we ever could have made! I’ve tried many of the favorites in the near by NH and VT areas (Carpenter & Main, Simon Pierce, Prince & The Pauper, Home Hill Inn, etc.), and Lauren tops them all. I was excited as soon as I walked in the restaurant and saw the décor. It was modern and classic all at once with chandeliers, minimalist white dining chairs, and leopard print furniture in the entry way. We found out from the host that this was only their fifth night of service, so we were ready to pardon sloppy service or kinks in the food that hadn’t been worked out yet. However, starting with the cute bottle of olive oil that came with the bread and a dish of assorted olives, we could happily tell that Lauren was getting it right from the very beginning.
The menu, like the décor, was a fresh twist on classic favorites. I would probably call it contemporary Californian, but seeing as how we were in Vermont… I’m not too sure how accurate that would be! All of the appetizers were elegantly displayed and it was obvious that the chef cares a lot about food presentation. I started with a mango, serrano ham, and pine nut salad fanned out in a simple circle. The flavors were straight forward, and while the mango wasn’t fully ripe the salad was the perfect light starter given the horrible heat we’ve been living through recently.
One of my dinner companions started with the beets with goat cheese. The beets were arranged on a long rectangular dish in a single file line. I’m partial to this sort of minimalist presentation because it clearly displays the ingredients without unnecessary busyness. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to sample this dish – but I’ll take it as a good sign that this plate was cleaned so quickly! My other dinner companion ordered the gnocchi appetizer. While the gnocchi was cooked well (neither mushy nor chewy), it was also fairly bland and not all together too exciting. Still, it’s always good to round out a menu with options for the less adventurous eaters!
For my main course I had the lamb chops toped with shoe string potatoes and a side order of jicama. I’m not too sure why I ordered the jicama (since it obviously doesn’t pare well with lamb). It would have been a good side with a fish main course, but instead I just wished I’d ordered the amazing kale that my neighbor chose. The lamb chops were cooked medium rare as ordered, but I was disappointed to find that mine were a bit gritty. However, someone else at the table also had that lamb and their portion was smooth and buttery – guess I just got a bad cut!
My companion with the kale side did the most successful ordering. In addition to the amazing kale, he also ordered my favorite dish of the night: scallops classically prepared with light greens. The scallops were sweet and my knife easily slid right through them. Sadly they were only offered as an appetizer so the portion was small. I wish there had been more! My other dinner guest absolutely loved her rare tuna and cold soba noodle side. I definitely agreed that the soba noodles complimented the simply peppered tuna perfectly and the fish was well cooked; if I was a fan of tuna I’m sure I would have loved this dish!
After such a good dinner, I looked forward to finding out what Lauren would offer for dessert. I was slightly disappointed to see molten chocolate cake on the menu (which I think is a very unoriginal and overplayed option), and even more disappointed when one of my companions ordered it! The chocolate cake ended up being mundane as expected and wasn’t even a very well prepared rendition. Overall the desserts did not live up to the main courses, but the chocolate cake was definitely the low point! I ordered the strawberry shortcake which was served with a balsamic sauce and strawberry ice cream. The shortcake part was more of an unsweetened shortbread cookie than the more biscuit like pastry that I prefer and the balsamic was a little on the strong side, but the strawberry ice cream was so amazing that I was willing to forgive both of those flaws. Next time I’d just order a bowl of ice cream! The most unusual dessert was the honey lavender panna cotta prepared in a shallow dish and toped with raspberries. While I appreciated the Chef’s renewed focus on presentation, the best part of this dish was the perfectly subtle flavoring of the custard. I’ll admit honey lavender is one of my favorite combinations so I am biased, but I was pleased to find that the balsamic sauce was the only time the chef came on too strongly!
In the end I absolutely loved Lauren and I know it will become one of my regular stops. I’m already desperately trying to think of a reason to go back! I can only hope that it will get better and better as time goes on, although it’s already so good that I’m aware I can’t expect it too much. I’m also sure that as soon as the word gets out – this place is going to be packed! I guess in the future I’ll have to make a reservation more than a couple hours in advance!

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

***July 03, 2006: Paramount Restaurant***

Paramount Restaurant
44 Charles St.
Boston, MA
On the way back from a weekend in NYC a friend and I stopped in Boston for a little shopping and some food. To our disappointment, most of the restaurants were closed in preparation for the July 4th holiday. Luckily we found Paramount on Charles Street just down from our hotel which offered take-out that we could eat on our hotel’s patio. One of the specials of the day was a lobster roll and since I've never had one before and it seemed like Boston was the perfect place to try it out.
I officially love lobster rolls. Or this version at least! Big chunks of lobster that had been mixed with a light, zesty, lemony sauce were stuffed into a toasted brioche bun with a little bit of shredded cabbage. Because of the lack of vegetables, I decided to substitute the fries that normally come with the roll for grilled asparagus. In the summer heat grilled vegetables and the fresh lobster roll really hit the spot. I hope this special is on their menu a lot!