Amesbury always seems to be trying to get its downtown up to critical mass as a foodie destination.
Flatbread Company’s pizzas are a longtime staple, and the Ale House has become a new favorite. Ristorante Molise and Phat Cats Bistro also have their fans. Now No. 8 Kitchen & Spirits is testing the upscale end of the market, just doors away from the Ale House. No. 8’s food is definitely worth a visit.
The space has been home to a few restaurants, including the Mad River Tavern. The current restaurant takes its name from the No. 8 mill, home to a woolen company and a carriage maker, that used to occupy the spot and burned down in 1929.
The high-ceilinged storefront goes back to a deck overlooking the Powwow River, which crashes scenically down the falls in the Upper Millyard. We didn’t think ahead enough to get one of the small tables out there, but ask for one if the weather’s nice.
The 94-seat restaurant, which opened in May, is comfortable and spacious, with plenty of room around the tables. The decoration is very spare and in a muted palette, though. Maybe hang some brightly colored local art?
For drinks, there’s a full program of beers (20 on tap, more in cans and bottles, at $4 to $9), wines, and cocktails. My wife started with her standard Grey Goose and pineapple ($9).
Figuring it’s the reviewer’s duty to sample the house drink, I went for the No. 8 Gin & Tonic, with Brockman’s gin, tonic, peach purée and prosecco ($8). It was a lovely, refreshing cocktail, sweet narrowly winning out over tart, with a good whack of gin in it, although whatever makes Brockman’s distinctive didn’t really stand out through the other ingredients.
For appetizers, my wife ordered the tempura wax beans ($7). The menu is pretty specific about ingredients, and she ordered them because the yellow beans are her special favorite and in season. The beans arrived lightly battered and fried in that Japanese style, with excellent technique and a Peruvian yellow pepper dipping sauce on the side. But they were plain old green beans.
I had the big bowl of steamed mussels ($11), a generous serving in a white wine broth flecked with deliciously salty tasso ham atop grilled toast. Nice.
These were both what the menu calls “social plates,” serving one generously as an appetizer but intended to be ordered several at a time to share. No. 8’s starters also include cured meats and a selection of cheeses, available individually or as boards.
For the main course, my wife had the No. 8 Burger ($14), a generous hunk of tasty, grass-fed beef nestled in a brioche bun with pancetta and cheddar, with house-cut fries. Half of it ended up in a doggy bag, only because it was so big.
I had the seared scallops ($27), which were beautifully golden on the outside and still moist and tender inside, another display of pro technique in the kitchen. They came with creamed corn, a scattering of pancetta, and romesco sauce, all delicious.
The four big-but-not-giant scallops seemed like a rather small plate for the price, though, and our waitress had said there would be “five, I think.”
Other offerings the night we were there included pork ribs, hanger steak, a truffled chicken breast, and striped bass. But executive chef Chris Jackson’s menu changes often, and some of the dishes discussed here have already been tweaked.
With our entrées, my wife drank a glass of Boneshaker Lodi Zinfandel ($11), a big red with lots of varietal character that stood up to the burger.
At the hostess’s suggestion, I had a glass of the Celestin Blondeau Sancerre ($12), a pretty, dry white that complemented the scallops.
For dessert, we shared a lime semifreddo ($8) with a basil lime sauce and a red peppercorn crackle. I loved it. My wife felt its texture didn’t match the description we’d been given. All these little communication issues suggest that the pre-service staff meeting ought to be a minute or two longer.
But these are minor problems, not enough to keep us from going back for Jackson’s accomplished plates.
/north to see more photos from No. 8 Kitchen. Joel Brown can be reached at jbnbpt@gmail.