But my best friend is dating a chef now, and even though said chef works at an equally ennui-inspiring Italian joint, he seems to know a thing or two about food. That means that my best friend, who really has no interest in food beyond her corporeal need for it, has suddenly found herself itching for haute cuisine. "I want to eat something that doesn't disappoint me," she said, so I searched the internet for something--anything--that would fit the wide criteria.
I stumbled upon Mombo in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, which opened two months ago and is still showing some signs of growing pains. The restaurant itself is a sight to behold, a Colonial building tucked into Portsmouth's prestigious Strawberry Banke. The front porch resembles that of an actual home and the wood has been painted a quaint cream. The dining chairs are antique replicas made from dark wood and the room is raftered and equipped with a functional fireplace. I imagine it's lovely in winter, but even in summer, my view from a corner table faced a shingled home and leaning wildflowers and a triangle of blue Atlantic. The bar is minimalist, boasting only a handful of spirits, and the outdoor space in back, covered by a white tent, is a brick patio with cast iron furniture and one small fountain. The cozy atmosphere can't really be matched in even the oldest and coolest New York haunt. I was hoping the food would match.
First, the wine list: underwhelming, but given my surroundings, I was happy to find a perfectly drinkable Saint Emilion on the list. The chef's tasting menu was a mere $55 for five courses, a New York steal. We bought in. Our first course came in white porcelain mugs, chilled melon and heirloom tomato soup with a fiery finish of ground cumin. Our second courses were both different. L. had duck breast carpaccio topped with a poached egg and accented with arugula and green zebra tomatoes; I had seared yellowfin tuna with fresh peaches and black truffles. The tuna took the prize. Next came country pate with spicy yellow mustard, toast, and cornichon. It was L.'s first pate and she ate the whole thing. I felt like a proud parent, having opened the doors to offal. Cod came next, a fat fillet (clearly over five ounces and topped with a crispy sheath of skin) over black trumpet mushrooms and overcooked potato spaetzle, a rare misstep. The fillet came with fatty cod cheeks over black olives, cubed apples, and Marcona almonds. I had been hoping for a proper meat course, or at least a one-and-one, and I must admit I was a little disappointed. But even as dessert arrived, I knew I was very full.
Dessert was the same for both of us and I felt a little cheated with the lack of variety, but for $55, who could complain? We each received pre-dessert ice-cream sodas spiked with bourbon in tiny glasses with cocktail straws, a precursor to our blueberry cakes, cinnamon ice-cream, and grilled peaches. We left and unbuttoned our pants in the parking lot. It is refreshing to see seasonal cuisine arriving in New England, even if they are a few years behind. I wonder what fall will bring.
Today, I crossed back into the city and hit up another local Bosnian restaurant, Ukus, for cabbage pie and cevapi. Cabbage pie is basically cooked cabbage in delicious puff pastry. One piece could feed five. Why we thought we needed a 12-sausage order of cevapi remains a mystery. Our salad came with bright red tomatoes ('tis the season) and a salty, crumbly cheese that tasted like ricotta salata. Cevapi came with a large, puffy, and warm pita on the side, along with the traditional condiments of chopped onion, red pepper paste, and some kind of thick cream cheese. I might have dreams about that cabbage pie. Luckily, Ukus is right across the street.
66 Marcy Street
Portsmouth, NH 03801
42-08 30th Avenue
Astoria, NY 11103