Black Trumpet Bistro
29 Ceres St., Portsmouth, N.H.
Hours: Kitchen open Sunday through Thursday, 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.
All major credit cards accepted
Restrooms are up a flight of stairs and are not handicapped-accessible.
The Black Trumpet Bistro, a locavore favorite on the New Hampshire seacoast, is the kind of place where diners are apt to travel farther to get there than the ingredients do.
The front of the menu is simply a list of the 17 area farms that supply the restaurant. Chef Evan Mallett and his wife and co-owner, Denise, are committed to buying local wherever possible. Last year, they and their employees even began farming a plot at Meadow’s Mirth Farm in Stratham, N.H.
“Evan wants his kitchen staff to be as familiar as possible with the roots of the food,” Denise says. “The closer you get to where the food is grown, the better you understand your ingredients.”
The bistro, named after a wild mushroom that’s abundant locally, occupies two floors of a Colonial-era ship’s chandlery on Portsmouth’s waterfront. Before 2007, the spot housed two other fine-dining destinations, the Blue Strawbery and later Lindbergh’s Crossing.
The narrow ground-floor dining room has the vibe of a dimly lit jazz cellar, with its rough-hewn stone and brick walls, heavy beams, and near absence of windows. Upstairs there are more tables (and more light), as well as a wine bar.
Arriving shortly after 8 p.m. on a Friday, we were seated at a copper-topped table for two. The wine list was covered in copper, too. Our attentive and very knowledgeable waiter brought us house-made focaccia and cornbread. The latter tasted as if the kernels had just come off the cob.
We were pleased to see that the menu grouped the dishes in three sizes: small, medium, and main course. Thus, for $100, the two of us were able to indulge in a smorgasbord of distinctive delicacies. A “small dish” of three Atlantic red crab croquettes with a pumpkin romesco sauce ($8) was tender and spicy. They were each smaller than a ping pong ball, so they disappeared much too quickly.
A second appetizer was a mini-extravaganza called the Daily Cure ($16): homemade salumi, or cured meat (in this case a delectable serving of smoked bluefish pâté), a small chunk of oozing honeycomb, a mound of creamy ricotta cheese, a dab of homemade Lambrusco mustard, and “pickled abundance,” which was a small pile of freshly pickled vegetables. The whole ensemble came on a slab of slate with the word “cure” dashed in chalk on the corner. On the other corner was the final ingredient of the cure: a small tumbler of red wine.
A serving of spicy beetroot soup ($12) came in a shallow bowl with decorative dollops of crème fraiche. Opposite these was an island of succulent beef shortrib (grass-fed, as if you needed to ask). In the middle of the arrangement was an apple chip. This was not your grandmother’s borscht.
Our one main course was a plate of fried pollock fillet ($21), which came with sticky-rice pilaf, fresh green and yellow beans, and chermoula, a tangy Morocco marinade. The batter on the fish was a delicate envelope, light and soft. The slightly crunchy beans and a few scattered pumpkin seeds added texture, while the chermoula provided spiciness. (This is the kind of place with no salt and pepper shakers. You have to trust the chef.)
A pairing of pungent Vermont cheeses ($13), one hard and one gooey, arrived with small rounds of toast. The accompaniments, a sweet balsamic onion jam and a loganberry-pistachio jam, were tasty but distracted from the cheese.
For dessert, we ordered an avocado lime tartlet with a coconut crust, which came heaped with juicy fresh berries ($8). We hear what you’re saying. An avocado pastry? Isn’t that like putting sugar in your guacamole? We don’t know, but we do know it was a green custardy triumph.