An upbeat and popular bistro in Manchester, Cotton has been a culinary destination for diners throughout central New England for nine years. Chef and owner Jeffrey Paige prides himself on offering sophisticated, eclectic American comfort food presented in a “straightforward manner, allowing the ingredients to speak for themselves.”
A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Chef Paige has had the honor of cooking for Julia Child twice on her birthday. Time spent with the Shakers in Canterbury helped develop his keen interest in cultivating relationships with local purveyors of fruits, vegetables, fish, smoked meats and fresh baked goods. With an emphasis on cooking in season, Chef Paige buys from over 10 local farms for the restaurant.
On a recent visit to Cotton, I was welcomed into the bustling bistro by the hostess, and I noticed the restaurant was already half full on an early Friday evening. I was pleased to find the noise level surprisingly low on such a busy night. Cotton is known for its award-winning martinis, a distinction I couldn’t fully appreciate since I prefer wine. The wine list offers more than 40 choices, available by the glass or the bottle. I chose Australian Rosemont Estate Diamond Shiraz, a smooth and balanced wine, and I enjoyed each sip.
The first appetizer to arrive, Asian Pot Stickers – chewy, pan-seared dumplings with pork and leeks served with a tangy soy sauce – was quite tasty. Pan-seared Twin Crab Cakes with a spicy honey chipotle aioli was also a good choice. The creamy, sweet, slightly spicy mayonnaise flavor of the aioli was a satisfying combination with the fresh crab cakes. The Firecracker Calamari, though, was a fizzling disappointment. The fried calamari was too bready and was neither tender nor flavorful.
My favorite of all, the Strawberry Arugula Salad, was crisp, pungent and peppery. The organic baby arugula, crumbled feta and fresh strawberries, dressed in a white balsamic vinaigrette, was a perfect balance of ingredients.
I ordered Lobster Spaghetti for my entrée. The fresh lobster was simmered in a crushed basil crème sauce and tossed with the pasta. While the sauce was flavorful and rich, the pasta was overcooked and took away from the full enjoyment of the dish.
I also sampled the Retro Meatloaf with All You Can Eat Mashed Potatoes. Instead of the usual breadcrumbs, Chef Paige adds oatmeal to the ground pork and black Angus beef. A savory wild mushroom sauce reduced in port wine was drizzled over the loaf; the potatoes were clearly homemade. While Chef Paige changes his menu with the seasons, this signature dish is so popular that he keeps it on the menu year round.
The final entrée I tasted was a Wood Grilled Native All-Natural Jumbo Sea Scallop dish with applewood smoked bacon, sweet potato corn hash and honey chipotle aioli. The jumbo scallops were sweet, fresh, and cooked to perfection. The slightly spicy, smoky flavors of the hash, bacon and scallops complemented each other well.
For dessert, I highly recommend the Espresso Panna Cotta: a piece of heaven. This treat consisted of dark chocolate, Espresso and a homemade whip cream served in a coffee cup. A soft, homemade biscotti accompanied it.
Cotton’s placement as one of Bon Appétit magazine’s top 10 best neighborhood restaurants in the East is merited. Chef Paige has created a welcoming establishment serving hearty American food with an emphasis on fresh, local ingredients. Well worth a visit, it’s a great place to kick back and relax with friends or family. My meal with wine, appetizer, entrée and dessert plus tip came to $56.98.
Cotton is located at 75 Arms Street in Manchester. The restaurant serves lunch Monday through Friday and dinner daily. Reservations are recommended. (603) 622-5488. www.cottonfood.com.