At Table: Dinner at Sunset

Tavern on the Hill
100 Mountain Rd., Easthampton
Hours: Sun.-Thu. 4:30-9; Fri. 4:30-10; Sat. 4-10; Sun. 4-9.
Reservations recommended for the deck.
Entrées to $24.95

In summer, sundown is the best time to visit Tavern on the Hill, which has a generous bar for cavorting with office buddies and a pretty deck lined with window boxes and twinkling lights. Show up at around six to synchronize drinks, apps and, later, dinner with nature’s own entertainment. At about eight p.m., the sun takes a dramatic bow into Mt. Pomeroy and it’s time to tuck in.

“Who is this Tom, anyway?” asked one member of our party, a self-proclaimed gourmand who agreed that that the spectacular view looking west at 1,100 feet on the Mt. Tom Range paired nicely with the Frog’s Leap Chardonnay he ordered—a lovely dry white, if you don’t mind spending your Christmas bonus on it. We informed him that Rowland Thomas, a surveyor from the 1600s, named it after himself, not unlike his buddy, Elizur Holyoke, who grabbed the naming rights to Mt. Holyoke.

We stuck around after sunset to see if the food was any competition for the view. The owners are originally from Spoleto, a very nice northern Italian restaurant in Northampton. Spoleto is famous for its staying power and is represented here in a couple of menu items: the gorgonzola bread and the mozzarella en carrozza. The latter is a somewhat dry piece of French bread that is not very rich-tasting. The former is quite delicious, every bit as good as the Northampton original: a pungent red sauce with capers and fresh mozzarella sandwiched in batter-dipped bread that is lovingly fried, just like your Italian grandmother did if you’re very, very lucky.

The Tavern serves a couple of dishes that are original and completely worth the trek up Route 141. They are the Equinox salad, the roasted beet salad, the Tavern mussels and the grilled salmon. The salad, from Equinox Farm in the Berkshires, consists of baby greens served with pears, candied pecans and Roquefort finished with vanilla bean vinaigrette. This twist on a salad already sweet with the sugar-encrusted pecans works very well. Also dining with us was my friend Picky Eater, who tried the roasted beet salad. Topped with orange, carrots and red peppers and finished with Gorgonzola cream and balsamic reduction, the dish was found to be quite acceptable—except, said Picky Eater, that the gorgonzola sauce would have been better in chunks “instead of melted on the plate like a lake of cheese.”

The wife of the gourmand waxed exuberant about the grilled salmon: “It was too good! Best I’ve ever had!” Salmon is so popular these days that it’s difficult to come up with an original treatment for it, but the Tavern has. Cooked with apples and caramelized onions, this fish is drizzled with an apple cider-butter sauce and served with rosemary mashed potato and grilled asparagus. The sweet and savory fish perched on a pile of very nicely done asparagus is well served by the side of creamy potatoes spiked with fresh rosemary.

Picky Eater and I shared the steamed Prince Edward Island mussels. Bathed in a roasted garlic cream sauce and topped with matchstick potatoes, this dish was a standout due to the luscious sauce, which we sopped up with the restaurant’s delicious sourdough bread. Picky Eater, an old hand at this classic French dish, used mussel shells as pincers for easing the mollusks out of their shells—always a nice move if you find yourself dining with gourmands.

Dessert consisted of—what else?—Mt. Tom ice cream. This variety was pineapple orange and tasted exactly like a Creamsicle. Not a bad way to end a perfect evening.•

Author: Mary Nelen

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