Local Rhythms – Fine dining in Claremont, NH

Picture 1Let’s talk about food.

I remember my first night in Claremont almost 30 years ago.

After wrapping up a six-hour shift on the radio, I was looking for something to do.  The Shades (a band from my then-hometown Worcester) were playing a club gig.

Having no clue about regional geography, I planned on going – until learning the show was 45 minutes away.

Since then, I’ve grown accustomed to a long journey as the first course of many meals.

Lately, however, things are changing.

Claremont could become a dining destination, not a departure station.

Let’s start with the buzz around the new Common Man Restaurant.

I sat on the brick patio overlooking the Sugar River the other night, enjoying a pint of their signature ale, watching a steady stream of people pass by.

All were incredulous at the expanse of waterfalls and freshly rehabilitated mill buildings, which include condos, offices and a 35-room hotel.

It felt like I was sitting at a magnet for the rest of New England – if not the world.

“Are we really in Claremont?” was the constant refrain of the seemingly ‘Oz-struck’ patrons.

Inside, the dining room was packed, and the bar was humming.  The food’s great (I had the duck), the desserts sublime.

If Common Man was the only story, it would still be a good one – but there’s more.

Carmella’s, specializing in fresh pasta, homemade meatballs and fettuccini alfredo, is opening (a sign in the window says “July-ish”) in the Pleasant Street location vacated by Sophie & Zeke’s when they moved to their posh new digs in Opera House Square.

Factor in the Pleasant Street Restaurant (don’t miss the popovers), and downtown’s positively jumping.

Across town, Bistro Nouveau jump-started the Claremont fine dining movement a few years ago, before moving to Eastman.

Soon, their empty Washington Street location will emerge as Kouzoku, a Japanese steak house with hibachi tables and performing chefs.

Kouzoku, which also features traditional tatami rooms and a sushi bar, comes from the ownership of Imperial Garden, a place that’s given the live music scene a big boost.

They hope to open by the end of July.

That’s three new fine dining locations in a month’s time. Call it what you want – a renaissance, a surprise or simply long overdue – my backyard has never looked so good.

Yes, I’m really in Claremont – waiting for you.

What’s the rest of the week look like?

Thursday: Norris Cotton Silent Auction, Eastman Events Center – Reservations are required for this event, which includes desserts from Bistro Nouveau and music from Second Wind, the duo of Terry Ray Gould and Suzi Hastings – along with a few guests.  All proceeds benefit NCCC, which provides the latest medical technology and assistance to those stricken with the disease.

Friday: Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars, Hanover Green – A free show by a West African group that met in Guinea refugee camp.  The music they made there became the subject of a much-heralded documentary.  Their sound blends autobiographical lyrics celebrating freedom with an infectious reggae beat. It will be cool to see them outdoors on the big lawn – not many shows happen there (unless Dartmouth graduation counts).

Saturday: Adam McMahon Trio, Silver Fern – An excellent addition to Claremont’s downtown, serving drinks, pub food and providing fans of English football (uh, soccer) a place to indulge their pastime.  There’s also live music on the weekends, including this blues player, a former member of the Larry Dougher Band, another frequent Silver Fern performer.

Sunday: Strawberry Festival, Cedar Circle Farm – Localvore denizens converge around this East Thetford farm, with music provided by the Strawberry Farm Band, a Bath, NH band specializing in progressive bluegrass. The event includes horse-drawn wagon rides, strawberry picking, Gabriel Q puppetry, a VINS raptor demo, strawberry shortcake and wood-fired pizzas.

Monday: Vermont Symphony Orchestra & Fireworks, Quechee Polo Grounds – It’s Lake Champlain’s Quadricentennial honoring Vermont’s own Uncle Sam – Samuel de Champlain, who discovered the lake named after him in 1609. The VSO programs includes Gershwin’s “An American in Paris,” show tunes from South Pacific and Les Misérables, a patriotic John Phillip Sousa section and the 1812 Overture, complete with a show in the sky.

Tuesday: Susan Tedeschi, Paramount Theatre – The blues diva, who just announced a November LOH appearance, comes to Rutland.  She’s got brass – I love her comment about meeting the Rolling Stones a few years ago.  “I’m not intimidated by a bunch of British rockers,” she said. “I’d be intimidated by Howlin’ Wolf if I met him, but I’m not intimidated by those guys.” Ha!

Wednesday: Atlantic Crossing, Strafford Unitarian Church – The first in a series of shows, which run through August 19, features a Vermont-based band specializing in Celtic rhythms.  Future performers include Damn Yankee String Band (7/8), Skellig (7/15) and the trio of Jeremiah McLane, Sarah Blair and David Surette (8/5).