A couple of weeks ago, I enjoyed a lovely dinner at 80 Thoreau, a restaurant I’d been wanting to try ever since they opened last year. Its location in the charming town of Concord, MA was part of its appeal, as was the fact that they source many of their ingredients from nearby farms and producers including one of my favorites, Verrill Farm. Additionally, chef Carolyn Johnson’s resume includes such standout restaurants as Rialto in Cambridge and Arrows in Ogunquit, ME. The restaurant, on the second level of the Concord train station depot, is easy to miss from the outside. Inside, the space is elegant and minimalist, with both modern and rustic touches. There are two main rooms. The first room contains the bar area and as well as several tables and is wide open with high ceilings and exposed beams. Down a short hallway is the open kitchen which is connected to a smaller, more intimate dining room.
The meal began with several shared appetizers, including tender, buttery gougères; olives in a bath of fruity, herbed olive oil; pork & rabbit terrine with pickles and house mustard; broiled oysters with saffron champagne sabayon; and pork rilletes and lardo.
For my entree, I chose the Roasted Sweet Potato Tart with pecans, black trumpet mushrooms, and garlic. This was the single vegetarian entree on the menu. I was deciding between this and an assortment of the side dishes served with some of the other entrees, something I do from time to time when the vegetarian entree is less than thrilling. The tart was creamy and sweet, with a rich and nutty pecan crust. It would have erred a little too much on the side of dessert were it not for the small bit of heat and spice in the sweet potatoes. The vinegary greens cut through the richness of the tart and added a nice amount of acid. A topping of fried shredded carrots was deliciously crisp and whimsical garnish. Though I thoroughly enjoyed the tart, I would love to see the same creativity in the vegetarian entree that I saw in the appetizers and the other entrees. The grilled quail, for instance, came with an absolutely delightful pan fried crepe filled with bulgur and pistachios that would make for an excellent component of a vegetarian entree.
The dessert whose description on the menu was most enticing ended up being the one that I enjoyed the most. The Chocolate Parfait featured layers of chocolate cookie, caramel pastry cream, chocolate cake, chocolate mousse, chocolate cake, and warm caramel. It was much more reserved and less decadent than one would expect from the description. My one critique, I would have loved if it were in a glass dish so that you could see all of the layers at once.
Other desserts included a Lemon Duet of icebox pie and angel food cake with fool; Ricotta Cake with figs, pistachios, vanilla ice cream; and a delightfully creamy raspberry sorbet with shortbread.
The meal ended with a dish of chocolate-drizzled pistachio toffee. In addition to the food, the setting and the impeccable service (this meal was complimentary) played a large role in creating such a pleasant experience. Being outside the city, the restaurant had a laid-back, cheerful feel, and its location next to a train station adds to its charm. As with any restaurant that relies heavily on local produce, I look forward to seeing how the menu changes with the seasons. Though I enjoyed making a weeknight trip out to the suburbs, I would recommend to anyone else who plans on going to go on a weekend and make a day of it. Spend an afternoon visiting farms and the town of Concord and finish up with dinner at 80 Thoreau.
80 Thoreau Street