Good meals out can be tantamount to good lovers. There are decent, steadfast ones, stupendous, short-lived affairs, and the reliable favorites you stick with time after time.
We were invited to pick and choose from the menu, but our waitress and hostess were excited to serve us a tasting menu. They were keen to adhere to our dietary restrictions (this was a night when gluten was on the menu!) and made it comfortable for me to reluctantly admit that although I’d eat them, I didn’t really like mushrooms. I also found it noble that we were invited to pick any intriguing items off the menu that we saw for the chefs to play with– 30 Boltwood is a very seasonal, off-the-cuff fresh venue. I asked that lamb, sunchokes, and turnips be included in our meal.
Prior to my rhapsodizing, you ought to know that we were guests of 30Boltwood– our entire meal was complimentary, but from the quality of the food and service, I would have been more than happy to pay and will certainly return. We started our meal with two cocktails, the Fall Fashion and Clove and Honey Margarita. We ordered our drinks, took a sip, and immediately switched. My Fall Fashion was too strong for me, heavy on the fig and bourbon, but was perfect for the Bedfellow. In turn, I gladly nursed her margarita, with a delicate fleur de sel rim, honeycomb-infused tequila, clove, and more. Although the ingredients mentioned a pimento pepper dram, there was no spice or heat to be found. Unfortunate, as I think the cocktail would have benefited from such a balance.
Our amuse bouche, unfortunately too dark to photograph, was an espresso mug filled with butternut squash and roasted fennel bisque. A classic example of a fall favorite, done perfectly, with a creamy, silky texture. As the quintessential fennelophile, though, I would have enjoyed more of those sweet anise notes.
The staff must have known we were carnivores, as they sent out a charcuterie plate next. To briefly deviate, the Bedfellow and I romanced over the concept of charcuterie while never actually having a plate together. It happened to be our keyword to get together before we started dating- if you catch my drift. To have charcuterie masquerading as sex after months of the inverse put a really wistful spin on this plate, henceforth known as the most perfect charcuterie plate I’ve ever had. Full disclosure- I ate bread. Full disclosure, part II- it was worth it.
The plate’s whimsical array was beautiful, and we spent a few moments marveling in silence, gazing at it from various angles like a sculpture, taking a few photos, and finally ravenously and wholly consumed it like it was the last meal we’d ever have. There were so many combinations to try, from the housemade condiments and pickled vegetables to the jewel-like segments of fresh berries, and the piled variety of meat and cheese. We bounced from sweet, with coppa, St. Andre, blackberries, brisk mustard, and butter on sourdough, to the savory, pickled chunks of okra outstanding against Tarentaise cheese and chorizo. It was only when the plate was virtually scraped clean that we sat back, exhausted and completely blissed out.
But there was more to come. Our server for the evening, Amy, recommended the appetizer special of the night, a salmon tartare. As a huge fan of all things salmon and all things tartare, I was quick to request it be added to our tasting. Such a good call. It was one of the best executions of tartare I’ve had, the elements both quintessential and deviant. The fish was fresh and ruby-red, sprinkled with lemon zest and chives, accompanied by housemade sesame mayonnaise, fennel olive oil, pickled onions, and sunchoke chips, as requested. Each bite was creamy, zesty, and sweet. The Bedfellow was pacing herself for the main courses- lucky for me as I scraped both our plates clean.
Our final appetizer was a most autumnal one, grilled quail thighs with Thumbelina carrots from Kitchen Garden in Sunderland, MA, and roasted farro. Each element was perfectly prepared, complementary, and packed a big flavor despite their diminutive size. I thought it was cute that each element was a smaller version of a larger ingredient.
We tried two more cocktails alongside these appetizers. I went for the Chai Peartini, whose curated ingredients seemed to be tailored to me- Laphroaig, prosecco, and gin were the showboats here, tempered by Chai tea and pear puree. The fruit and tea flavors were the most subtle, and the liquors all played nicely with each other.
The Bedfellow went for the Smoking Prim, with Chivas Regal, Athole Brose liqueur, and a tincture of lemon, thyme, and maple bitters, but unfortunately found it too medicinal, with distracting pieces of thyme leaves invading each sip.
We started the entrees with a hefty, beautiful piece of swordfish, sourced earlier that week from Chatham, MA, surrounded by fresh mussels, chorizo-dill broth, and smoked potatoes. It was like eating a Spanish low-country boil, the thin wheels of sausage accentuating each savory bite of fish. The mussels and potatoes stole the show from the larger protein, though, tangy and flavorful and simply infused with smoke. We enjoyed this with a Chardonnay- on the oaky side, but delicate and austere.
Our last savory dish was a delicate serving of roasted lamb, served to us by the sous chef himself. Regular readers know the beloved carré d’agneau is one of my favorite proteins, so I was delighted before this even hit the table. Served with pinky-red Scarlet Queen turnips and roasted fennel was simply delicious. The eggplant, roasted garlic, and habanero puree hidden underneath pushed this to a level of unreal gustatory satisfaction. Ungh, how tragic it is that spicy ingredients are so underused. The ingredients were so harmonic together that it would be unjust to not adapt this to a hummus-esque dish as an unworthy homage. The 2012 Wisdom Zinfandel blend paired well with this, padding the spicier notes of the dish with a sultry, fruity flavor.
After coffees and the last of our wine, we started in on dessert. The chefs prepared a massive plate of dessert for us, echoing the wonderful charcuterie.
Above and below, we enjoyed a well-prepared but basic tarte tatin with Sauternes-soaked golden raisins and a dish of butterscotch-caramel ice cream.
A chocolate pot de crème was thick and silky, with a crunchy, somewhat heavy-handed layer of sea salt underneath the whipped cream that added a potent punch of salinity to the dessert.
And finally, we chipped away at a substantial chunk of bleu cheese drizzled with honey– a satisfying savory end to an amazing meal. I’m so impressed at how 30Boltwood has developed. I came to the dinner with the unique perspective of having been living parallel to the construction and the history behind it for four years, and to revisit it after all the hullabaloo was special indeed. The drinks were hit or miss, but the food is impeccable. If you’re in the Amherst area, it’s a prime example of how the town classics can develop with the times and trends while still remaining true to their ethos. Other area restaurants could stand to follow suit. And it’s absolutely Gauloise-worthy.