118 Main Street, Montpelier, 223-3188
Back home in Connecticut, my friends and I favored lunch at a now-shuttered French bistro called Le Figaro. Steak frites at 11:30 a.m? Hell, yeah.
Now that my hometown celebrity chef Jean-Louis Gerin is at the helm of the New England Culinary Institute, a wonderful piece of home is here with me in Vermont. And just for Vermont Restaurant Week, he's imported an elegant bistro lunch to NECI on Main that I wish my childhood friends were here to share with me.
For $15, diners choose two of the three listed courses from chef Andre Burnier's bill of fare.
We started with a simple salade verte, dressed in lemon and olive oil and showered with crumbled goat cheese. Walnuts and apple matchsticks lent a dry and wet crunch, respectively.
A different "wholesome, single-vegetable soup" changes each day as the second appetizer option. Tomato was the offering that day and it was simple, comforting and flecked with garlic as well as the requisite basil. A big, grilled crostini lolled in the potage, soaking up the red broth. The flavor of the char on the bread was so enticing that I gobbled it up, despite the fact that I'd already partaken of the bread basket with three different types of home-baked breads, including a satisfyingly sour, sturdy whole-grain loaf.
I turned around to look at the clock on the wall behind me — 11:45 a.m. I usually don't eat lunch until 2 or so, but today was different.
It's the kickoff of Vermont Restaurant Week, something we've been waiting for and working toward all year. As the menus have dribbled in, we've salivated and plotted and planned. What makes this one especially sweet for me is that four spots in the Upper Valley are taking part. That may not sound like a lot, but it's twice as many as last year.
At 11:46, I began gathering my things to go for lunch at one of them.
I don't think I've ever been disappointed with a meal at Tip Top Café, which is saying a lot for a place that's been around for seven years. When I first moved to the Upper Valley, I would hit this airy White River Junction bistro weekly for to-go lunches of curries and creative sandwiches.
At night, Tip Top morphs from a sunny café into an atmospheric, candlelit restaurant with martinis and first-rate food (on First Fridays, it's impossible to get a seat here without a long wait). This year, Tip Top is participating in Restaurant Week for the first time.
And the place is doin' it right. The kitchen is loading it on for the $10, two-course lunch special. The cup of chunky corn-and-ham chowder that kicked it off today was spicy and silky, and dense with sweet corn, minced red peppers, slivers of potato and what looked like bits of kielbasa.
In case you weren't already feeling spoiled for choices with 104 Vermont Restaurant Week participants, one more restaurant posted its menu last night! Mr. Crêpe, at 144 Church Street in Burlington, has joined the fold.
The casual restaurant is offering both lunch and dinner deals, including the full menu of sweet and savory crêpes. Click here to see the full bill of fare.
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