28 April 2016
I find the car rental rules so annoying sometimes. This is why this morning I left Boston’s North Station by train and went through New Hampshire, including the town of Dover, to arrive at the beautiful city of Portland, Maine — only to hop into a rental and drive straight south. I had to stop off in northern Massachusetts quickly — meaning I’m basically driving back to where I started… Then I made my way to Dover for a dining experience I have been anticipating for months.
After last night’s rubbish experience at the previously reliable Craigie on Main, I was keen to get things back on track, and nowhere could that happen best as at Dover’s absolutely amazing Stages at One Washington. My first visit here last year provided one of the year’s most memorable meals, and I knew I would come back to this place time and time again.
I got to the restaurant and was seated at the counter, where a group of 4 was enjoying their tasting menus already. As I enjoyed a cocktail, quickly catching up with Chef-extraordinaire Evan Hennessey, I decided to do the big tasting. And as I suspected, Chef decided to go off-script a little from what was on the printed menu. This should be fun!
Chef and his sous chef also had to run the different tasting menu for the other four diners, but they managed very well as they always. Last time, remember, it was just Chef, so I know they have the ability to juggle this challenging dinner. And soon enough, a French chardonnay was poured, and the first dish appeared, and I smiled.
Nope, not what you think it is. This is a carrot dish! It’s a cute play on the classic beef tartar dish, with the egg a gooey carrot surprise too. Excellent carrot too, so a nice and fun start! Next up something I could smell during prep, a dish focused on mushrooms.
Mmm, these were terrific, especially the king trumpets. The “soil” that was made with rye brought even more earthiness to this combination, all going well with a Chilean pinot noir pairing. Excellent! I am so glad I took this detour today!
Enjoyed a bit more of that pinot noir as I awaited the third dish, and wow…
These beautiful beets were fabulous, retaining a nice crunchy but not hard-to-eat texture. Gotta be careful as they are so spherical and not soft you may accidentally push them off the plate! The glazing was fabulous, bringing out the natural beet flavours. And the mint was a surprise. Chef Hennessey is a stickler for herb usage, and he grows them himself and these had a very distinct bite unlike most of the mint you buy elsewhere. Fabulous!
So far it’s been a parade of vegetables, all good local stuff from New England. If there was a restaurant that did their ingredients proud, it’s this. If it doesn’t need messin’ with, why mess with it, right? Next up was more local vegetables in a beautifully-plated dish.
The focus of this dish are the much-maligned (but I love them) rutabagas, as well as dried cabbage. You may imagine this being bland, but far from it. The items are all well-seasoned and the herbal additions really carried more complexity than you’d imagine from this. And I really like rutabaga!
We finally get something meat for the next dish, and goodness this looks fantastic…
These dumplings are filled with an heirlook pumpkin called musquée de Provence, and it has a warm and rich flavour — which works so well with that goose prosciutto I remember so well from my previous visit. A gorgeous dish, amazing flavours. The next dish moved onto seafood.
Cusk is something you don’t see often on menus, and I’m always glad to get them. This was topped with some dehydrated sea urchin, and it’s amazing how quickly the flavour explodes out of them once they get into your mouth; it works like a magical version of grated cheese! Don’t discount the kohlrabi on the side either, I love all of these roots! Fish had wonderful texture and flavour, and that urchin…mmm…
I was smiling ear to ear at this point and as the other diners had finished and departed, the conversation with the two became more detailed. Love this dedication to ingredients and how to get the best out of them, not just to “cook for cooking sake” that so many chefs are guilty of these days (I blame TV frankly). And then the next dish appeared, focused on the duck.
This duck was nice and tasty, full of flavour. Now perhaps the grain on top didn’t quite work for me, some may like the contrasting texture. But the duck was wonderful. A bit more wine, and sadly we moved onto the final savoury course for the night — the pork.
It’s actually a porridge using local grains! The pork was amazingly rich, and I could have kept shovelling this into my mouth all night! Lovely rich and strong finish!
Then a little bit of a break before we move into the next phase of the dinner. And here it comes, the cheese course.
Of course Chef has a surprise, and this is actually dehydrated goat cheese. Again, like the urchin, the flavour just explode in your mouth. I love this. Then we move into the sweets, first with a sweet potato cracker.
Tasty on its own, but the vanilla on the side was just delicious. Could have licked the plate here. Then the first of the main desserts, and again Chef uses the brilliant vegetables at his disposal.
This was focused on parsnips — more awesome root vegetables! Tasty, not too sweet, with several different takes of parsnip used here. I was just sad this meal was coming to an end! And the final item indeed arrived.
Chocolate and herbs, a perfect ending. The marshmallow was certainly cute, and far better than the metaphoric flødebolle at Atera. A fabulous close.
The team looked tired and I was the only diner left, so I didn’t want to hang around too long. So I had a coffee and headed out soon after, thanking them for another awesome evening. This clearly showed last time was no fluke, and it’s already near the top of 2016 for me. Chef Hennessey is a rare talent who really knows his ingredients and how to bring the best out of them. He is not bothered by PR and media and showing off; he’s there to deliver a dish a diner will like, a dish where the ingredients rule with their natural flavours with his skills providing a supporting role. A humble chef who shows true respect for his ingredients.
I very highly recommend this place to everyone. It’s not as hard to get to as you think, as Dover is linked by train to Boston several times a day and the restaurant is a 10-minute stroll from the train station. It’s more than worth a trip here. I know I will be making my way back here time and time again.
Stages at One Washington
1 Washington Street, Suite 325
Dover, New Hampshire