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Best Bites: Main Street Grill & Bar

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118 Main Street, Montpelier 223-3188

When I think NECI, I tend to think great, locally influenced comfort food. That began to change this weekend, when I sampled the Lounge Mediterranean Tapas menu at the Montpelier Main Street Grill. The selections were delicious, though there was little "Vermont" about them. 

A pet project of Executive Chef Tom Bivins, the menu showcases nearly 20 choices from across the Mediterranean, most in the four dollar range. I was most excited to try the Pato y Espinacas con Mole. The tiny empanadas filled with duck and spinach burst with earthy flavor, but it was the nutty red mole that defined the fried treats.

The rustic gnocchi (pictured) were among the softest, most delicately cheesy I've ever tasted, with delightful leaves of spinach and sage mixed throughout the dough. With just a bit of butter and grated parmesan to dress them up, the ricotta dumplings were still stunning. I just wish there were more. Though only $3.95, I still found the plate, which contained just five, disappointingly skimpy.

At $2.95, the two slices of goat cheese galette was a better value. The cheese was sharp and had a light, bracing freshness, amped up by a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. It was further complimented by a dollop of sweet red onion jam. Moroccan briouats were quite different from the phyllo pies I know as brewats. The lamb-filled dish that I make is spiced with curry and cumin. This one had shrimp and scallops. Instead of aromatic, it was sweet, with Muhamarra red pepper sauce the dominant flavor.

A plate of Serrano ham, prosciutto, Parmesan-Reggiano and addictively smooth manchego was complimented by a sticky sweet fruit moutarde and a sword of grilled bread. The tahini that came with a pillowy plate of lamb domas (dolmades) was stunningly creamy, with just the right touch of acid.

Perhaps the most satisfying dish I tried was the jawaneh (pictured), or as I referred to it, the Juwanna Man. The plate of three whole wings (that's three wings, three drumettes, still attached) boasted excellent crisp skin despite being grilled, not fried. The marinade of lemon and herbs paired delightfully with yogurt-mint dipping sauce.

I finished the meal with a trip west of the Mediterranean, for warm chocolate cake. The slightly molten center was mixed with freshly made vanilla ice cream, but it was caramelized banana slices that stole the show, ending my exotic dinner in the tropics.

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