Portsmouth, NH: Black Trumpet Bistro

Let's Eat by Kitty Kaufman

trumpet Black Trumpet Bistro lives in a 19th century house with a 21st century menu that chef Evan Mallet changes a lot. This means you can't have what we had and you may not be able to have what you had the last time you ate here. But it's okay. There's enchantment with candlelight for whatever he's creating in the kitchen.

We're overlooking the Piscataqua River from upstairs in the bar. Even though it's early on Saturday night, the room is hopping. Roseanna starts with Loire Domaine du Grand Moulin Touraine Sauvignon Blanc that's dry and crisp. Jim orders a Sonoma Wellington Cabernet Sauvignon. As for me, I'm on the wagon. Black Trumpet sets our evening with grown-up Great American songbook music. The early crowd, since early is what you will be with no reservation, doesn't seem to notice Satchmo and Dean. That's okay, I do and by six, every seat has been taken.

trumpet duck I'm of two minds when it comes to menus that change. Neither you nor the chef will be bored and there's nothing wrong with that. Two, what's online now isn't what we had. Three, I must take accurate notes since there's no double checking the menu I left on the chair. Jim's starter is sesame duck breast with mushroom, arugula and cherry salad. This isn't something I would attempt at home but if we continue sharing, I'll get to sample every chef's duck since it's his regular starter.

trumpet squish Roseanna picks foie gras stuffed summer squash with poached peach and micro greens, a signature dish, and I say that because I don't find anyone else making it right now. (For the record, I don't do food fights - my brothers and I gave them up last year.) It's an inventive use of squash. I mean, it's not like I have cooked peaches hanging around my kitchen. As for squash, if you plant only two seeds soon you will have a farm's worth, even in New England. Zucchini bread may work for you but anyone who knows me will tell you how I feel about bread that's been made with vegetables.

Who's your bread checker? Roseanna is ours and really, don't you think it's helpful to have something to cushion that dirty martini? Or do martini drinkers think bread is just for kids? The rolls are mysterious; we have no idea what they are but we like what could be corn meal maybe?

trumpet cod Here's a buttery Novellum Chardonnay Reserve. It's our pick with today's fish on the street: cod with greens, sticky rice and crunchy lily pods. I have a yard filled with lilies and not once did it occur to me I could use them for dinner. They're good looking all right and the serving is smaller which means I have a clean plate too. As Jim says, "the dishes have definitive tastes that are well thought out." I might not ordinarily think of white rice with white fish but not surprisingly, Chef Mallet is way ahead of me.

trumpet steak Jim's strip steak travels with truffled potato pudding, mushroom ragout and roasted vegetables. It's as rare as you want, meat people, and we don't know what we did before we learned about ragout. I'm always trying to figure out what to serve with meat that doesn't override; I only come up with green things and salad and only if I didn't have some for lunch. Someone should ask him for these recipes.

Contrasts we can go for: the room is old, the food is very new. It's formal service without tablecloths and someone could make a case for filtered water. The crowd is fashionable with music that never goes out of style. Without a hitch it all works and we are ready for our closer. Someone says "Let's do pine nut and almond butterballs with warm fruit sitting in cashew cream with salt." Of course. Um, it's very healthy.

Jim never settles for one dessert which I think happens when the first one is fruit. The second is exciting in a way that fruit will never be. He picks the chocolate caramel tart with candied almonds. Now you're talking: burnt sugar, not sweet or salty chocolate in a buttery crust, whipped cream or is it nougat, and nuts that got rolled and I am out of words. Roseanna, who's been in cooking school all summer, has a lot to say. Me too and my notes are all sticky. Two desserts? Of course, doesn't everyone and you know this modern menu's going to change. So as someone sang years ago . . . get it while you can.

Black Trumpet Bistro
29 Ceres Street
Portsmouth, NH
603. 431. 0887

© 2016 Kitty Kaufman is a writer in Boston.
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