Jonathan Rapp’s popular Chester restaurant, River Tavern,
is a great place for lunch or dinner, even if the Connecticut River is probably a mile away and the closest thing to a river is Pattaconk Brook, which runs behind the restaurant
and is fed by this charming little stream.
But let’s not engage in needless semantics. Since it opened, River Tavern has built a reputation for serving simple, creative fare prepared with ingredients sourced from local farms. The photographs I display are from a wine lunch served in January 2012 and a dinner outing with two friends in August 2013. Those who haven’t visited the restaurant in a few years will find it substantially and attractively remodeled, the dining room, where our group had lunch,
separate from the bar area,
the enormous Connecticut River painting gone, replaced by modernistic artwork.
Here you see the menu for our simple lunch featuring Spanish wines from Classic Wines.
Here’s the ivory lentil soup with prosciutto, shaved Pecorino Toscano and fried sage,
here the braised Run of the Mill Farm lamb shoulder with San Marzano tomatoes, olives, herbs and fennel over crispy fingerling potatoes,
and here the blood orange Bundt cake with whipped mascarpone.
Free to order from the menu as we wished, we were able to experience a greater variety of dishes than the opportunity afforded by the wine lunch. We began with a Côte-du-Rhône
and nice bread with olive oil,
and followed with freshly made tortilla chips
and great guacamole,
all great for sharing.
The spirit of sharing diminished to allowing each other a taste, as one companion enjoyed a salad of local greens, blueberries, fresh cheese and almonds in a poppy seed-buttermilk dressing,
one a bowl of mussels sautéed with shallot, garlic, thyme, white wine and lemon,
and I burrata cheese and nutmeg ravioli served in a brown butter sauce with cherry tomatoes and lemon basil.
With larger portions for main dishes, we were a little more generous with each other, as one companion partook of pan-roasted skate in a lobster cream sauce finished with French beans, tomatoes and bacon bread crumbs,
one the grilled Atlantic swordfish with fregula, grilled eggplant, local greens, olive oil and poached cherry tomatoes,
and I the grilled prime New York strip steak with fresh basil pesto, grilled garlic croutons and an heirloom tomato and Mozzarella salad with balsamic reduction.
We were back to a true sharing model with the desserts. The bittersweet chocolate soufflé, which we ordered ahead of time, was delicious except for being undercooked (probably intentionally, but I’m no fan of undercooked soufflés in the style of a molten chocolate cake).
A better choice was a Liuzzi ricotta and local blueberry compote with a local blueberry compote and candied Meyer lemon.
But the best choice of all was the baked-to-order date pudding with dark rum caramel sauce and whipped cream.
When we finished, we admired this Excalibur parked at the curb, wondering if it belonged to management or a customer.
River Tavern, 23 Main Street, Chester, 860-526-9417, www.rivertavernrestaurant.com