Last night we drove to Montpellier, Vermont’s capita (and the smallest state capital in the US, by the way), to have dinner at the New England Culinary Institute. The Institute has two campuses, one in Essex and one in Montpellier and each campus has associated restaurants. In Montpellier, they have Brioche Bakery and Café, The Main Street Grill, and The Chef’s Table, their fine dining establishment. We opted for the last one, The Chef’s Table.
It didn’t take long to reach Montpellier, maybe 30 minutes, so we parked across the street from the restaurant (actually caddy corner), and strolled through the downtown before settling down in an Irish pub for a pint. About 7:50 we walked over to the Chef’s Table for our 8:00 reservation.
The restaurant is located up a flight of stairs, above the Main Street Grill. We see a small bar when we enter, maybe three seats, and a maitre ‘d who meets and greets us before confirming that our table is ready to receive us. The dining room is small, maybe, twelve tables, all but two of which are filled with diners in varying stages of our meal. Only one other couple is seated after us.
The maitre ‘d leaves us with menus and the wine list and we ponder over our choices. The menu has entrees, which use “Vermont Fresh” ingredients and we see things like Quail, Chicken, Pork Loin, Halibut and Venison. It takes all of a minute for me to decide on the Quail, stuffed with fois gras and served atop a bed of wild rice and Chris to choose the Venison served atop a creamy bacon, butternut squash risotto (though he waffles between that, the quail and the tenderloin). We back into our appetizers, where Chris chooses oysters (what else) and I opt to go with a mixed green salad, garnished with toasted slivered almonds and raspberries, rather than the seared local fois gras since I’m already getting it in the quail). The menu options aren’t huge, probably six or so items in each category but enough of a range to find something (they even had a vegetarian stuffed gnocchi).
For drinks, we each start with a prosecco, and then rather than getting a bottle (since I have to drive home, and won’t have more than a glass), opt for individual glasses of O’Reilly’s Pinot Noir, to go with our entrees.
We find the service a little slow to start, it takes some time to receive our amuse bouche, a tiny taste of “lobster cassoulet” but once we’re brought our appetizers, we move at normal pace and appreciate not being rushed. My salad is simple and dressed well, not covered with goppy dressing. Chris likes his oysters, and especially the dressing that comes atop them, which he says is spicy, tangy and sweet. By the way, on that cassoulet, it tastes good but I think the beans may have been slightly undercooked; they were a bit al dente.
Between the appetizers and the entrees they serve us a soup spoon filled with a chilled apple soup scented with rosemary. It’s to cleanse our palettes and hits on all cylinders. Rarely am I surprised but this had me going, “Wow!”
Our entrees both tasted delicious with Chris coming out the winner but only slightly. The chef cooks his venison perfectly (medium rare) but that risotto tastes amazing, smooth, bold flavors really good. And I can’t complain about my quail, since all I leave on the plate is a small pile of bones.
For dessert, Chris goes with the stone fruit upside down cake accompanied by a glass of moscato while I enjoy a chocolate hazelnut caramel torte, which is as rich as it sounds. They finish us off with two small chocolate-peanut butter truffles and we’re ready to hit the road. So dinner, with the above (three glasses of O’reilly’s total) and some coffee with dessert for me, came to about $132 (without tip) if memory serves.
The really disappointing thing is that the restaurant is closing September 1st. It seems that while students used to have a choice as to which NECI campus they intended, the school is changing, and all second year students, the runs who run/work at the Chef’s Table, will now be at the Essex campus while first years will remain at the Montpellier campus. Since there won’t be any second years their, the restaurant will close. On the bright side, Essex has a comparable restaurant for second years (though the name escapes me), so we’ll have another place to try when we return.