PORTSMOUTH – Waiters passed alligator meatballs and deviled eggs, bartenders rocked original cocktails and attendees were just happy to be back at such a familiar event as the week’s first kick-off party of the restaurant after two and a half years of pandemic interruption on Wednesday, April 20 at Jimmy’s Jazz and Blues Club.
Lori Harnois, National Director of Tourism at New Hampshire Department of Business and Economic Affairswas there to welcome back the Seacoast tradition.
“The return of Restaurant Week is very important to the return to normalcy for the local community, and Portsmouth is important as a great gateway to the rest of New Hampshire,” Harnois said. “I always remain optimistic and it’s important to recognize and celebrate how restaurant owners and local workers have weathered the pandemic. They’ve been creative and figured out how to sustain their business in the face of so many challenges.”
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Harnois also said she looks forward to a successful summer tourist season for the state this year.
Surrounded by members of the Restaurant Week Committee, Portsmouth Mayor Deaglan McEachern rang the bell to officially open Spring Restaurant Week, a tradition that has continued at the start of each Restaurant Week since its inception.
More than 30 local restaurants participate in Spring Restaurant Week with special menus for prix-fixe lunches and three-course dinners. To learn more and make reservations, visit restaurantweekportsmouth.com.
“It’s exciting to be back after two years away. It’s exciting to bring the community together again,” said Ben Van Camp, president of the Chamber Collaborative of Greater Portsmouthwho also thanked Jimmy’s, the host of the party, represented by co-owner Peter Labrie, who is also a member of the chamber restaurant week committee and who will open the new from Rio on Bow Street at the longtime location of Poco’s soon to be.
“That exact experience is exactly why we opened this place,” Labrie said. “We wanted to create a gathering place for the community.”
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One of the kick-off highlights was the Cocktail Challenge, presented by sponsor MS Walker. The competition pitted five local mixologists against each other to win the title of Portsmouth Restaurant Week Top Mixologist. The only requirement is that their cocktail creation includes Grainger’s premium organic vodka, which is distributed by MS Walker. The winner would take home the MS Walker silver shaker trophy, a decanter of the week from the restaurant and a plaque to hang behind the bar where he works.
Justin Corriss, sommelier and house manager at Raleigh Wine Bar & Eatery, won the Cocktail Challenge with his Shipbuilder’s Punch. Rachel Wall, General Manager of The Franklin Oyster House with her creation Rosemary’s Berry, was a finalist. Also competing were BRGR Bar bartender Alex Murphy with Summer Can’t Come Soon Enough, a cocktail crafted by BRGR Bar bar manager Chen Soeurs; Timeena Hartford of Jumpin’ Jay’s Fish Cafe with her creation Sunset on the Reef; and Matthew Rymer, bartender at Tinos in Hampton, with his Jewel of the Nile creation. Their cocktails were judged on creativity, presentation and taste.
“Our chefs, everyone ready and excited. They really missed Restaurant Week during the two-year break,” said Julie Cutting-Kelly, Chef and Owner of Cure, and Restaurant Week Committee Member. . “Grateful to be back, grateful to our sponsors and our community.”
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Sponsor MS Walker also held a blind wine tasting contest for participants where they sipped four wines and made their guesses as to what type of wine each had. Nimi Idnani, owner of the Raleigh Wine Bar and Eatery, came first, and Molly Graham, Tinos and Galley Hatch events coordinator, followed.
Massimo Morgia, owner of Ristorante Massimo in Portsmouth, who also sits on the restaurant week committee, said: “It’s been such a difficult time, it’s been excellent. Restaurant week is fun for our staff, fun for our customers. It was great fun to be able to work with the restaurant week committee and our sponsors again. We really feel a sense of normalcy and it’s great, it’s great.