Downtown Manchester’s Cabonnay just might be the most unconventional restaurant in the Queen City … maybe even in the Granite State.
And that’s a good thing.
Cabonnay is an intentionally over-the-top, fun and quirky eatery that features an extensive wine list, an art gallery, and outstanding food.
Just how quirky, you ask? Well, the restaurant, which opened in May 2017, doesn’t take cash, only credit cards. Reservations are accepted … but not by phone. Nightly kitchen tours are available. And though the exterior looks like just another downtown dentist’s office, once you walk inside you’ll see mannequins and hi-tech design elements, kitschy and garish decor, outrageously flowered wallpaper and more.
Each of the three dining rooms, like the bar, is uniquely decorated. The outdoor deck even boasts patio heaters with lampshades instead of the usual ugly tin hats.
When you visit the roof deck, try the Jenny ($13), a dangerously attractive house cocktail with vodka, ginger beer and peach puree served with ice in a snifter.
Pretty cool, eh? Yet it all wouldn’t matter much if the food didn’t hack it. Not to worry. The farm-fresh and house-made items that dominate the seasonal Cabonnay menu are generally pretty terrific.
We were heartened by the pair of miniature popovers ($5) that began our dinner. Just a few nights earlier, at an acclaimed Greater Boston steakhouse, I had sampled popovers that tasted more like leftovers. Not these pretties.
They were light and puffy, just a tad doughy in the center, and graced with a smidgen of sea salt. When they were slathered with locally made butter, all was right with the world.
The large cup of sweet pork sausage and winter bean soup ($8) was a superb pick-me-up. The hearty selection was so chock full of tempting chopped sausage in a savory broth that my spoon literally could stand on its own in the middle of the cup.
A half-dozen perfectly seared New England scallops ($28) were served with pork belly in a unique surf-and-turf twist atop a subtle celeriac puree schmear. The lotus root chips, pickled shallots and wild mushrooms were impressive supporting players.
The 15-hour tonkotsu pork ramen ($22) radiated a variety of flavors, in part because of a colorful mix of ingredients that included a soft-boiled egg, black garlic, nori, corn, chili threads and wild mushrooms. We were informed that the ramen would include lobster as part of the new spring menu. No lobster for us, though. My wife made a mournful sound
I had never heard before.
During my several years as a food critic for mvm, I don’t think I have ever insisted that you must go to so-and-so if for no other reason than to try the such-and-such.
Well, I am now.
The dish is Cabonnay’s “Winter Chocolate Forest” dessert ($20). It was mostly assembled tableside by Executive Chef Angelina Jacobs and pastry chef Casey Sloan. It featured a chocolate coconut dome, petite lace crepes filled with Meyer lemon curd, fresh berries, white chocolate sorbet inside the dome, raspberry Thai crispy noodles, marshmallow meringue toasted at the table, coconut powder, house-made “Pop Rocks” (not just for show), and more.
There is ceremony, there is flavor galore and there is plenty of chocolate. There are some caveats: It is served on a first-come, first-served basis, or when specifically reserved.
If you feel like hanging a bit after dining, there is a tiny retail section that features, among other things, food-related signs such as “Wine is like Duct Tape. It Fixes Everything.”
And in another first for me, at least, my wife and I were both offered a choice of homemade soups before leaving. Trust me, they had no idea who I was … just another customer seduced by the place.
I expect there will be many more of us in the future.
Manchester, New Hampshire
Tuesday through Saturday, 4 to 11 p.m.
Kitchen closes at 10 p.m.
Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Thanks to Kevin Harkins for getting this behind-the-scenes footage of Cabonnay’s “Winter Chocolate Forest” dessert – yum!