3643 West Route 2, North Hero, 372-4732
Vermont Restaurant Week kicked off Friday evening. Since I can never make things too easy for myself, my destination took me over partially flooded Route 2, which at times felt like driving under water. The calm, refined dining room at the North Hero House Inn & Restaurant was an ideal oasis from the chaos outside.
This was my first time at the North Hero House and, despite the treacherous outdoors, the room in which we were seated felt like a visit to an art gallery, complete with paintings by local artist Corliss Blakely. That's not to say it was stuffy. Owner Walt Blasberg stopped at each table to chat and, between courses, we sat down on leather couches overlooking the roiling lake.
From our discussion with Blasberg, we learned that the kitchen was short a sous-chef that night — his home's entire first floor had flooded. Luckily, chef Tim Leonard and his family recently moved onto the premises. Without the prep help necessary, the chicken galantine wasn't available on the Restaurant Week menu that night, but everything else was.
The heirloom beet salad tasted subdued on first bite, but between the sweet dressing and sharp chunks of goat cheese, I all but licked the plate.
The theme continued with my pork tenderloin main course (right). Like all the entrées that night, my meat was vacuum packed and cooked in a temperature-controlled water bath in a process known as sous-vide.
The result was pink meat, but it was clearly cooked through and ultra-tender. The outside of the loin was lightly spiced and seared for a wonderful crust. The earthy flavors paired beautifully with the blueberry gastrique dotted around another sweet sauce, apple-cider demi-glace.
Green beans were tied in a bundle with a chive as a thread and cooked to toothsome perfection. Even more ideal was the parsnip purée. Always one of my favorite sides, this velvety, robust mash could only have been improved by being four times larger.
My boyfriend's Alaskan halibut was meaty but yielding and, like the pork, benefited from a crisp pan sear. Colorful roots and a balsamic-marinated artichoke heart brightened up the creamy flavors created by moist fish and its Hollandaise shower.
Blasberg warned us that the caramel ice cream wasn't as cold as usual since Leonard had to prepare it without his usual prep help, but it didn't matter. The three chocolate-drizzled scoops reminded me of a dulce de leche creemee — with a smear of real dulce de leche on the side.
I tried the chocolate bowl filled with raspberry mousse. This was a calculated risk, as, more often than not, I find berry mousses too tart. Instead, this was an ethereal foam tasting of berries and cream. The raspberries on the side were of far higher quality than one would expect this time of year.
If ever there were a meal to make one forget the outside world, flood and all, this was it.