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CR’s the Restaurant

Featured Restaurants by Diane Blair and Pamela Wright / June, 2016

CR’s the Restaurant offers a relaxed dining space, friendly service, and dishes you not only recognize but that taste great. The eatery, which opened late October, 2014, is the newest venture from restaurateur Chuck Rolecek, who owned and operated the late, beloved CR Sparks in Bedford, New Hampshire.

He (then) re-hired Executive Chef Chris Veatch, who was at the helm at Sparks some 20 years ago. “We wanted to create a restaurant that would serve creatively prepared, locally inspired comfort food,” Rolecek says, “in an environment that’s inviting, comfortable, and pleasant.”

Note: relaxed does not mean flip-flops beach bar or diner hangout. The space is attractive, with exposed beams, high ceilings, paneled walls, tufted leather booths, and a large stone fireplace that separates the horseshoe bar and spacious dining area.

“It’s always a good sign of things to come,” our dining companion said on a recent visit, referring to the ample, to-the-rim martini our server had just set down. Quality crafted martinis are a specialty here, and the bartenders don’t skimp on the pours. Consider one of the specialty concoctions, like the Rosemary Peartini made with vodka, pear puree, fresh lime, and rosemary simple syrup, the Pomplemousse, with Deep Eddy Ruby Red vodka, St. Elder liqueur, muddled cucumber, and juniper syrup, and the Devil Went to Georgia, with Jim Beam honey, chipotle peach puree, fresh lime, and simple syrup. All are great choices to begin a leisurely dinner.

The appetizer menu has several tempting choices. You can stick to standards like the Shrimp Cocktail, panko-crusted Fried Calamari, or Crab Cakes. Or go for the tender Wagyu Meatballs, made with beef and pork slowly simmered in a mild, tomato-based sauce, or the piled-high Pulled Pork Sliders, complemented with a smear of habanero cherry jam and crunchy slaw. The Duck Confit appetizer is a meal in itself, a slow-cooked, tender thigh and leg resting on a bed of Brussels sprout slaw, offering a perfect texture and taste balance. Share it so you’ll have plenty of appetite left for the upcoming entrees.

If you’d prefer to start out with a leafier option, consider the Lobster Cobb, a New England take on the traditional salad, with chunks of lobster, bacon, eggs, tomato, and blue cheese, or the Eggplant Salad, grilled eggplant stuffed with asparagus and red peppers, served with tender greens tossed in a roasted tomato vinaigrette.

The main menu boasts a variety of updated American favorites. Steaks are always a popular choice here. The 13-ounce New York Strip is served with frites, or substitute the Truffle Fries or Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes. The grilled Ribeye Steak is also a top seller, a 16-ounce chuck of marbled meat encrusted with sea salt and rosemary. “It’s definitely for people who like a strong complement of salt with their steaks,” Chef Veatch says. If you eschew salt, consider the earthy, pan-seared Porcini Crusted Beef Tenderloin. Seafood lovers will enjoy the Seared Shrimp, served with lobster risotto in a corn broth.

If you ask Rolecek about his favorite dish he’s quick to suggest the Veal Chop. “It’s tender, milk fed veal served with a cheesy au gratin potato cake and the tart and earthy combination of apple compote and mushroom ragout. It’s just delish!” he says.

We’re partial to the Lamb Ratatouille, one of the restaurant’s most popular dishes. The well-seasoned lamb racks, rubbed with minced anchovies, mustard, rosemary, and red wine, are prepared medium rare and set on a bowl of ravioli and ratatouille. The layered dish is garnished with mint yogurt and fresh herbs.

One dish that both Rolecek and Veatch couldn’t leave off the menu is their signature Pan Seared Scallops. The U-10 scallops are prepared to perfection, served with fresh house-made herbed gnocchi, roasted butternut squash, oven-dried tomatoes, and a cider reduction. If you’re looking for something lighter, there’s a selection of shareable pizzas, including the Mushroom, Spinach, Truffle Oil, with portobello and shiitake mushrooms, and the Duck Pizza, with crispy seared pieces of duck, scallions, shiitake mushrooms, hoisin sauce and sesame red peppers.

Whatever you choose, be sure to save room for dessert. The Butterscotch Pot de Crème is a standout, with its crunchy burnt sugar top and pieces of butterscotch. If chocolate defines dessert, order the Chocolate Crème Brulee or the Chocolate Fondant Cake, with a gooey, delicious center, served with graham cracker ice cream (s’mores for grownups). But if Key Lime Pie is on the menu, go for it. The filling strikes a sweet-tart balance and the merengue is light and fluffy, a satisfying ending to dinner at CR’s.

CR’s The Restaurant
287 Exeter Road
Hampton, N.H.

UPDATE: Executive Chef Tom Begani joined CR's in October, 2015. Check out his profile here.

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