MANCHESTER, NH – Sometimes my impulsive decisions pay off. For instance, I was compelled to attend the Symphony NH fundraiser at Cabonnay on May 25 for two main reasons: I’ve been dying to check out Cabonnay, and I am a true fan of classical music. In a former life, I covered the city of Nashua and found Symphony NH to be a real treasure. So when I noticed they were holding a wine-tasting fundraiser in Manchester, I didn’t hesitate to kick in $70 for a golden ticket.
By the time I arrived, however, I started second-guessing myself. People were arriving in pairs, and my usual date is now working second-shift. I felt a little socially insecure, but decided it was best to tough out the evening of fine wine and food tasting. I bellied-up to The Bliss Bar and was kindly greeted by bartender Alan Williams, who seemed to sense my need for a companion. He poured me a tall strawberry-infused water and made me feel welcome. Then he gave me some space while I looked over the wine list.
I settled on a Mionetto Prosecco, and he poured it into a lovely flat coupe glass, which seems to make the bubbles a little more bubbly. Alan and I chatted about the city – he’s moved up just recently from Boston for the job at Cabonnay, and so far so good. He’s a new dad and is looking forward to finding just the right place to settle in. He asked me how I like raising my family here. I told him it’s been overall a positive experience, and we agreed that every city has it’s ups and downs, but happy kids begin and end with focused parenting.
I finished my drink and headed up to the second-floor event room, suddenly a straggler after my elongated conversation with Alan. The wine tasting was well underway, and the food samples were circulating. I quickly got the hang of sampling, with the goal of voting for my favorite pour at each table. My strategy included trying the most and least expensive wines, and then for a third taste, I went with the most interesting-looking bottle.
I had the good fortune at table 3 to meet Carissa Foster, who directed me to the Touraine Sauvignon. “You’re gonna love this,” she said. “Do you like oysters? You have to go to Row 34 in Portsmouth and get the oysters with this wine. It will be a life-changing experience. Trust me.”
I set down my glass and jotted it all down because if there’s one thing I don’t want to miss out on, it’s life-changing experiences.
After finishing at table 3 I had a chance to meet NH Symphony Board President Dr. Robert Oot. We talked about the importance of art, and the symphony’s mission here in New Hampshire – simply to spread the joy of fine music. And in that way, pairing with Cabonnay, our city’s newest restaurant, couldn’t have been more perfect, I thought to myself.
Dr. Oot introduced me to Joseph Olefirowic, aka the renowned Dancing Conductor. I didn’t realize until I got home and googled “Dancing Conductor” just what that meant. Wow! Talk about loving what you do! Turns out, to Symphony NH’s delight, that the Dancing Conductor has recently returned to his New England roots to be closer to family, which means he’s become an integral part of the local music community.
As I circulated, I was delighted to run into my pal Mike Morin and his lovely companion, Barbara Baker, who were having a few words with Chef Chris Viaud, no doubt congratulating him on the evening’s menu, a culinary success from where my tastebuds stood. I actually missed a few of the bites because I was preoccupied with my job testing wine, and chatting, but dessert did not escape me. I had the presence of mind to snap a photo of only one – the Berries and Beetroot, which was from another world. I’m a beet lover, but this was like no beet I’ve ever tasted. The sample dish was pink and had an array of berries with a dusting of pink powder, pistachios and miniature edible pansies – I think my mother used to call them “Johnny Jump-Ups.”
I will be dreaming of this dish tonight.
I went on to devour two more dessert samplings – a lemon and hazelnut parfait, and “Variations of Chocolate and Hay,” which is beyond my ability to describe properly. Let’s just say that each dessert bite was a sweet party in my mouth.
To top off what was already a perfect soirée, I actually won the raffle, which included two tickets to the Symphony NH Holiday Pops in December, some wine, some decadent candies, along with some other cool swag.
I headed back through the Bliss Bar where Alan the bartender stopped what he was doing to tell me it was nice meeting me. I told him I’d be back soon, to celebrate my wedding anniversary.
At this point I reflected on an earlier conversation I’d had with Cabonnay owners Cor de Jong and David Thompson. Hosting the Symphony NH fundraiser gave them a chance to test out their function room for the first time, and roll out small bites from their menu. Although they’re still feeling their way after only a few weeks in business, de Jong says there’s nothing like seeing the restaurant in action, fulfilling the vision of creating a venue for elevated dining in a relaxed and elegant atmosphere.
I totally get it now.
Having only seen the place under construction, I was struck by how everything not only came together so quickly, but how comfortable and established Cabonnay felt. It’s chic and modern, yet inviting. Open concept, but just compartmentalized enough to allow for several things to be happening all at once.
I stepped out onto the rooftop dining area for a peek, just in time to see the sun setting over Manchester.
It’s a bird’s eye view that I plan to enjoy many more times before the snow returns. Seeing our city from that perspective reminded me that for all the challenges we face right now, and for all the corners of the city still in need of some refreshing, it’s our good fortune that Cabonnay chose Manchester as a launching place, bringing us a restaurant that provides an escape hatch from the grind, with the power to elevate not only one’s mood but also one’s perspective.
As I headed down the stairs and exited with my swag basket in hand, the strains of Symphony NH strings still reverberated in my head. I stepped out onto Bridge Street feeling a little lighter than when I entered, and loving my city just a little bit more.