La Provence, Bedford Farms Ice Cream, Concord Prime, and Concord Provisions. It can be a fun and tasty way to spend an afternoon. There is also a new addition to this gourmet mecca, 80 Thoreau, a "New American cuisine" restaurant located on the second floor of the Concord Depot. Opened in April 2011, it will celebrate its first anniversary next month.
I recently attended a blogger dinner at 80 Thoreau, and got to meet both owners, Ian Calhoun and Vincent Vela, who met and became friends while they both were attending Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration. Both spent time being educated and trained in the restaurant industry. For example, Ian traveled to Paris for training at Le Cordon Bleu and even attended Harvard Business School, with a future goal of opening a restaurant. Vincent worked in New York City at both the famous Per Se as well as the lauded Craft. Together, they eventually united to create their own restaurant.
If you are at the bar, they also have a separate menu of Bar Bites (mostly $4-$6), small plates including items like, Marinated Olives, Brandade Fritters, Duck Liver Pâté and Caulflower Fritters. In addition, there is a small menu of Bar Plates ($14-$15), more full entrees such as Pan Roasted Ocean Perch, Crispy Duck Confit and the 80 Thoreau Burger & Fries.
Their wine list greatly appeals to the wine geek in me, except I am not crazy about their pricing, a common problem with many restaurants. The list has 7 wines ($8-$12) by the glass, from Cava to Spanish Monastrell, though I would like to see a few more choices. By the bottle, there are over 60 choices, including about 5 Sparkling wines, 19 Whites, 3 Rosés, and 35 Reds, as well about 20 half bottles available. This list is very diverse, with plenty of excellent choices, from Grower Champagne by Pierre Gimonnet to a killer Tavel Rosé by Prieure de Montezargues, from the amazing Chateau La Nerthe Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rouge to the tasty Terre Rare Riserva Carignano del Sulcis. It is obvious that great care and a discerning palate developed this intriguing wine list.
In many cases, the wine prices range from $28-$60, though there are exceptions. My only issue is with their pricing, which generally runs 2-3 times the usual retail. It is very difficult to pay $60 for a wine, like the above mentioned Tavel Rosé, which I know retails for around $20, no matter how good the wine may be. And it is those wines, which cost roughly three times the usual retail, which most bother me. I have heard the arguments for such a drastic mark-up, but still am not convinced.
In addition to the regular wine list, there is a Reserve Wine List with over 20 choices, all but four being red, and priced from $90-$1000. The choices are mostly French, but with a few Barolo, California Cabernet and others. There is also a small list of After Dinner Drinks, including Single Malt Scotch, Brandy, Port, Sherry, and Sauterne.
The Broiled Oysters ($15) with Saffron Champagne Sabayon were excellent, an intriguing blend of flavors, including the brininess of the oysters with buttery notes, hints of saffron and other savory notes. And after enjoying the oyster, I dripped the rest of the sauce in the shell upon a slice of bread (which they obtain from Iggy's Breads).
The Pork Rilettes & Lardo ($11), with pickles, house mustard, and toast were another good representation of their charcuterie skills, like the duck liver pâté. Creamy, spiced just right, with a bounty of savoriness, it was another winning dish. And who can resist the allure of slices of lardo?
I pondered a bit over which entree to order. The Roasted Sweet Potato Tart sounded intriguing, but wasn't sure it would be sufficient as an entree for me, though another of my dining companions ordered it. It looked impressive, and she was quite taken with its taste. The Grilled Quails were something else I considered but ultimately I decided on another option. Someone else did order the quail, and he all but ate the bones, reveling in the tasty meat, with a nice char on the skin. The Poached Haddock dish also looked quite good.
My decision was for the Tagliatelle with Lamb Ragu ($23), with fennel, juniper and black olives (though I had them leave out the olives for me). The pasta is made in house, and it was quite good, cooked to the just right firmness, and topped by what appeared to be a very little tomato broth. There was a large mound of shredded lamb atop the pasta, moist and flavorful meat, with that distinctive lamb taste which I relish. I was very pleased with my choice.
For dessert, there are five options on their menu, and we got to taste four of them, all except the Local Cheese Selection ($12). The four dishes we did taste included: Chocolate Parfait (mousse, cake, caramel pastry cream, $9), Seasonal Sorbet (Raspberry Sorbet with Limoncello, $5), Lemon Duet (icebox pie, angel food, $8) and Ricotta Cake (figs, pistachios, vanilla ice cream, $9). The Sorbet was very good, with a rich raspberry flavor and hints of lemon, and the Chocolate Parfait was good, though overall, I would have preferred the cheese plate, as I recently wrote about.
Service was excellent and overall I had a very good experience at 80 Thoreau. It is a nice addition to the culinary scene in Concord and worthy of a stop. My main concern is with their wine pricing, which partially mars what otherwise is an excellent and diverse wine list. Though I will note that I am currently discussing the issue of their wine prices with Vincent. Come visit Thoreau Street and check out 80 Thoreau.