If you want a New Year’s resolution you can really sink your teeth into, start on New Year’s Eve. Yes! Commit – or recommit – to embrace Manchester’s multiculturalism through her abundance of extraordinarily flavorful ethnic restaurants.
The Barking Tomato recently traveled from Nashua to the Queen City – passport in hand – to eat what all the fuss was about vis a vis Yelp and Trip Advisor food critics and I gotta confess: you are the Queen of global yummy.
Those of the meat and potato persuasion? It’s your night to take the plunge! You know, the one where someone puts a blindfold on you and says, “jump!” Only to find that it’s a standard 6-inches from the curb to the street. But, oh-what-a-rush-in-that-leap-of-faith. Come on. Who couldn’t use a little spice in their life? A little flavor? Some appreciation that the stars aligned just so; bringing a special cast of characters from across this grand orb together, here on the banks of the Merrimack, with marvelous gifts to contribute to the banquet of life?
Café MoMo, 1065 Hanover Street, 603-623-3733
Nepali menu features traditional dumplings — momo — and a wide selection of savory vegetarian and meat/seafood dishes seasoned with complex spices both mild or hot but always unique with chilies, mustard, cilantro, or other exotic, pungent combinations.
As comfortable as a pair of loafers, this tiny restaurant staple has been around since 2002 but new owner of 2-years, Rajan Thapa of Nepal, acts like he’s been there forever as the gracious host/waiter, and his customers adore him. Actually, they come for the food. It’s a winning combination.
Of the three groups of diners I talked to on a rainy Saturday evening, two came from considerable distances to lap up the sumptuous soup, gundruk, for starters. A Nepali specialty that’s served every day for its fortifying benefits in a harsh environment with limited harvest season, the spicy soup, according to the menu, is based on a 500-year-old tradition and infused with homeopathic cured mustard leaf and topped with roasted soy nuts. All I can say is, wow! That dark, rich, broth hit the spot on a cold, damp December night! Like a Jacuzzi for the senses, my whole body warmed to a glow. Having prepared my share of homemade soups, the depth and layers of flavor were incomparable; far above my pay grade. I knew the second my tongue enveloped the spoon that gundruk takes a long time to reach that ah-ha! of perfection under a learned, patient chef.
The Donahue family of Hampstead, NH – Tim, Amy, and their adult son, Sullivan, former vegetarians, couldn’t resist Café Momo’s online reviews 8-years-ago and wanted to judge for themselves. Need I say more? Now cautious carnivores, there isn’t much they haven’t tried and nothing they haven’t enjoyed on the menu these many years hence.
“Yes, it’s small,” acknowledges Tim, “but it’s comfortable. And the flavors are so interesting and fantastic. The tilapia has this incredible mustard rub that’s just phenomenal. The lamb tass is a big favorite and cooked to perfection. And all the ingredients are fresh. We just really like it here; it’s worth the 30-minute drive.”
“And the wine list is good, too!” adds Amy.
They generously offered up samples of their second course for my response: minced goat meat momos punctuated with garlic followed by spinach and cheese momos both with a decidedly piquant dipping sauce. I could have easily devoured both plates. First, the dumpling skins are so thin and delicate they practically liquify in your mouth and then there’s a burst of flavor from the magic inside. The goat – which I’d never had before – was tender and without the gamey taste I imagined it would have. Of course, spinach and cheese are practically a universal foodie love match so it was interesting to forego the more familiar iterations – Greek’s spanakopita and Italy’s ravioli – for this rendition from 7,261 miles away.
Friends Shawn and Troy from Litchfield and Manchester respectively came in for take-out: wild boar chili and spicy stir fry. Hmmm, I think, that does sound wild! They tell me both are spicy but unlike any spicy they’ve ever had and they always come back for more.
Ditto, a couple who wished to be anonymous but want readers to know that Café Momo’s flavor profiles are “. . . so unique with spices that are robust, salty, rich combinations . . .” that more people need to try.
After an hour at Café Momo, I had to agree. I can’t wait to introduce family and friends to this cozy food nook whose Tibetan, Indian, Chinese, and Thai influences make the world a little smaller on Hanover Street.
Note: if going to Café Momo for New Year’s Eve or ordering take-out, be patient and plan in advance.
XO Bistro, 827 Elm Street, 603-560-7998
Multicultural, seasonal fine dining of Peruvian & Venezuelan influence with an extensive, sophisticated gluten-free & vegan menu.
Another long-time Manchester dining establishment, XO Bistro recently announced both a major change in management and a major menu change. Those who appreciated the personable style of the former management and have welcomed the new kids on the block already know they’re naturals in hospitality. Including restaurant manager, Melissa Brungot, whose charm and calm evoke a Latin vibe that belies her attention to detail.
The surprise for customers old and new is the restaurant’s interest – not merely to meet the ever-increasing demand for gluten-free (G-F) and vegan options – but that the new XO is exceeding all expectations. Big time!
They boast 37-gluten-free items! Drool-worthy G-F options on every section of the menu. In fact, the entire starters section is dedicated wholly to gluten-free offerings.
I had the pleasure of trying Venezuelan Yuka (U-kah) Sticks for the first time and it’s no wonder they’re a favorite street food in South America. Comparable to French fries, the potato-like starch is cut just like a French fry, coated in a gluten-free crumb coating, and deep fried until crispy, then served with fresh guacamole for dipping. Dang! A party in your mouth anyone would love. Even gluten worshipers.
Speaking of parties, I was invited to one the minute I walked into the spacious, well-appointed bar area by a group of fabulous femme fatales wrapping up a pop-up makeup shop. They were quick to tell me how great the service was from bartender/waitress, Nicole Robie, and that the food was fantastic; the obvious pride XO Bistro takes in serving flamboyant gluten-free, vegan, and Latin-infused fare.
Nadia Doty of Hooksett raved about G-F fried calamari with “. . . the most amazing garlic aioli.” She pointed out that the restaurant uses separate fryolators to avoid gluten contamination which is pretty rare but very appreciated from those with gluten sensitivity.
Victoria Essman from Weare said amor to the best meatballs ever: topped with candied almonds and a Cognac demi cream sauce. That sounds really good.
Meat and seafood devotees have every reason to fall in love with XO Bistro, too. Chef Juan made yours truly the restaurant’s take on chicken cordon bleu. Envoltini chicken is two beautifully butterflied, moist breasts filled with prosciutto, provolone cheese, and a sage veloute sauce served with the creamiest mashed potatoes, and vegetables of the day. It takes a talented cook to keep a boneless bird from drying out. Gracias, Juan!
Note: XO Bistro will serve from their regular menu on New Year’s Eve plus some really special specials from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Reservations highly suggested through Open Table https://www.opentable.com Appetizers available until 11 p.m. at the bar. Enjoy bringing in the New Year at XO Bistro.
PS – Ladies from the makeup pop-up shop, I’ll take a bottle of the Retinatural Wrinkle Reducer and the Classic Eye-Shadow Set. (I’m not getting older next year, I’m getting better.)
Matbah Mediterranean Cuisine, 866 Elm Street,603-232-4066
A prolific menu of Turkish, Greek, and Middle Eastern-inspired cuisine including regional favorites like tabbouleh, falafel, and kebab as well as full-course classic plates from lamb shank to seafood.
Mouth watering as I peruse the food porn on Matbah’s website, owner Omer Yasan, isn’t kidding when he tells me why he named the place after the greatest kitchen of the Ottoman Empire. Yup! Matbah really did make every single gorgeous plate featured on the site and had it professionally photographed. And when he sees I brought a camera for the Barking Tomato? He laughs a good-natured laugh. (But a laugh nonetheless.)
In the 3-years since Yasan opened the restaurant, Matbah has enjoyed unbridled success. This gregarious handsome young man from Turkey – the Middle East – has brought the treasure of his culture with him. To share. If only the world’s proclivity for war could find peace at humankind’s collective table, nurtured by the priceless spoils of Mother Nature. And a great chef.
Until then, food adventurers like Tim and Jessica from Goffstown, admit that those photos on the website gallery first drew them in and, thankfully, the food tasted as good as the photos looked. Tonight, they’re sharing the cold Mediterranean Meze Plate complete with eggplant salad, tabbouleh, hummus, yaprak dolmasi, lebni, Kalamata olives, and roasted peppers. I can’t help but stare. It really is a work of art. I swear, I feel healthier just looking at it.
Matthew Matern, Republican candidate for President from California, found Matbah about 2-weeks ago while canvassing Elm Street. The words, Mediterranean Cuisine, really caught his attention and he’s come back a number of times for lunch and dinner enjoying the cucumber salad, hummus, and babaganoush by day and Matbah’s outstanding fish in the evenings.
“Omer is a warm and welcoming host,” said Matern, “he is really an example of all that is valuable about immigration; bringing great food and cultural traditions to our nation.”
And Matern has learned a lot about the democratic process from Granite Staters saying that even if they don’t always agree, they are always “ . . . up for a healthy exchange.”
“People in New Hampshire have such a rich political tradition of engagement at all levels. Truly, it’s the best we can hope for anywhere.”
Yasan, ever the self-promoter, is busy at his computer flipping through a dizzying array of Middle Eastern dishes in Matbah’s photo gallery, and asks which ones I’d like for the article. Truth be told, I want to eat everything I see. Geez! This is a lot harder than I thought it would be. Like a star-struck window shopper on 5th Avenue, I choose those things I truly covet for myself: the mucver for an appetizer – a zucchini fritter with carrots, dill, parsley, potato, egg, and flour, served with a white garlic sauce; a grilled whole sea bass to remind me of my unforgettable escapades in the Greek Islands and Lebanon; and, finally, the lamb shank – because I’ll never make it this good and just want to luxuriate in the succulent juices and tender give of its texture between my teeth. It’s settled.
I head toward a couple enjoying the company of their 10-year-old daughter and ask what’s their favorite thing on the menu. Ernie opines that someday he hopes he’ll get here before the tabbouleh and stuffed grape leaves run out. The lamb shank, though, is one of his all-time favorites. (My intuition is spot on.) Ernie’s wife, Tanya, praises the calamari and the wine list and the family’s fondness for sharing each other’s plates, trying new things. Daughter Amelia nods in agreement before her father adds some meatier words to the conversation.
“I just really like that Manchester is so diverse. The more so the better.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Note: Matbah Mediterranean Cuisine is taking reservations for New Year’s Eve from 6 – 10 p.m., 603-232-4066, serving a full menu and lots of specials including special drinks.
Happy New Year! नयाँ बर्षको शुभकामना Feliz año nuevo yeni Yılınız mutlu olsun
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About The Barking Tomato: Carolyn Choate loves to chew on food. Literally and figuratively. In the kitchen from her garden in Nashua or her favorite market, a restaurant across town or across the globe. When not masticating, Carolyn is likely swilling wine or spirits as neither is far from her heart – or lips. Forget diamonds and Louboutins, she’d rather blow a wad on Pinot Noir and grass-fed filet with fresh sautéed morels. And write about it. You taste the picture: The “Barking Tomato” aspires to push your “foodie” button.