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Chop shop
Steaking a claim in Dover, NH
BY KATHY GUNST

Orchard Street Chop Shop

Orchard Street Chop Shop
One Orchard Street, Dover, NH, (603) 749-0006. Open from 5 to 9 p.m. on Sun. through Thurs., and from 5 to 10 p.m. on Fri. and Sat.
Reservations recommended.
Credit cards accepted.
Full bar.

When it comes to steak houses, I set the bar pretty high. The Hilltop Steakhouse outside of Boston is a joke in my book. And Bugaboo Creek Steak House . . . fuggeddaboudit. Real steak houses — Peter Luger in Brooklyn, New York; the Palm in Manhattan; Doe’s Eat Place in Little Rock, Arkansas — are in an elite category.

Visiting the new Orchard Street Chop Shop in Dover, New Hampshire, I was looking for the ingredients, both tangible and intangible, that go into a genuine steak house meal. I’m talking about aged beef grilled to perfection, two-fisted drinks, crisp white table cloths, and charmingly cantankerous waiters who arrive at your table loaded with plates stacked up their arms. Of course, admission to the real steak house experience is not cheap. So I also expected a hefty tab at the end of the evening.

On that last point, the Orchard Street Chop Shop has no problem keeping up with the big boys. But, here’s a pleasant surprise: It’s actually worth it. I’ve dined there twice since they opened a few months ago, and both times the food has been superb. The USDA Prime Grade dry-aged beef featured on the menu is exceptionally flavorful, and the chef really knows how to turn out a sizzling hot, juicy steak.

All the dishes are a la carte, which means each salad, side dish, and extra sauce comes with price tag attached. But there’s a benefit to this — you can get your meal prepared any way you want, no questions asked. For example, instead of the boiled two-pound lobster on the menu, my husband asked for his lobster to be broiled (the way they do it at the Palm). Without batting an eye, our waiter, dressed in a crisp white-linen jacket, said "No problem, whatever you like, we can do it!" The lobster that arrived at our table 20 minutes later was slightly under-cooked. But it was quickly whisked back into the kitchen for a few more minutes under the broiler, and ultimately proved to be one of the most satisfying crustaceans we’ve eaten in quite a while.

The Orchard Street Chop Shop is the creation of Christopher Kozlowski, owner of Dover’s highly successful Crescent City Bistro. Mr. Kozlowski’s genius is that he has been able to identify and satisfy a demand for fine dining in Dover that no one before or after has managed to imitate. The restaurant occupies the site of the former Firehouse One restaurant, which was destroyed by fire on Easter Sunday last year. The building, which was a working firehouse built in 1850, has been tastefully restored with hardwood floors, a stone fireplace, beadboard paneling painted in pleasing earth tones, and an oversized window that fills that space where one imagines fire trucks once pulled out of the building with their bells and sirens going off at full volume.

Like the décor, the menu is an attempt at blending tradition with modern tastes. Most of the time this approach works. The Pan-Seared Scallops Casino have little in common with their prototype, Clams Casino, other than the fact that both dishes are made from seafood served on the half-shell cooked under a broiler. These oversized scallops are hot and tender, served in a briny sauce, and, best of all, garnished with lots of thinly sliced leeks that have been brined and then quickly deep fried. The Oysters Rockefeller are seasoned with small bits of applewood-smoked bacon and a subtle green aioli, and cooked so skillfully that the tops are warm, but they retain all the appeal of a raw oyster. And the Caesar Salad, an ample portion of crisp Romaine leaves tossed with a garlicky, creamy Caesar dressing, served with a large croute with melted Parmesan on the side, was just right.

Not all dishes were this successful. The Heirloom Tomato and Stilton Salad with a sweet onion vinaigrette was tasteless. If those were heirloom tomatoes then my Honda is a Porsche. We sent it back. Again, no questions asked. The Creamed Spinach was another disappointment. This dish is a standard at many fine steakhouses. Although the baby spinach was fresh and tender, it was just kind of limp and smothered in an excess of heavy cream. (The vegetable offerings, in general, could use more pizzazz. A side dish of Steamed Carrots looked like those pre-packaged baby carrots steamed and served with a pat of butter. But the potatoes — Buttermilk Mashed, Rosti, or Hand Cut Shoestring Potatoes with a Habanero Ketchup — are all well worth the calories.) The Cheesecake with fresh strawberries also suffered from an excess of butter fat and a lack of taste. Finally — and this may sound petty — but instead of serving butter or olive oil with the bread, the Orchard Street Chop Shop offers sweet apple butter. The sweetness and totally unappealing, lumpy texture of this condiment are an unfortunate opening act in an otherwise above-average culinary performance.

Happily the main part of the meal, the steak, was truly superb. Whether it was a Porterhouse, a Delmonico, or a Strip Steak the flavor was rich, deep, and satisfying. If you’re a carnivore, this is a peak experience. Each steak order comes with your choice of five sauces made on the premises, including Sauce Béarnaise (recommended), Hollandaise (a bit too salty), and a Worcestershire (light and flavorful). But the steak really doesn’t need any embellishment, it’s such a pleasure to eat all on its own.

For non-beef eaters, there’s Grilled Ahi Tuna, Seared Scottish Organic Salmon, and Free-Range Chicken. But Orchard Street Chop Shop is all about the beef. When you crave a perfectly aged, perfectly cooked steak, the place can’t be beat.


Issue Date: July 9 - 15, 2004
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