November 2009 (dt)
6.46 – 7, 6.75, 6.75, 6.7, 6.5, 6.5, 6, 5.5
Year Eight started as Year One did – at The Millrock
Restaurant in Windham.
The menu is clearly Italian. Take your pick from a dozen pastas done in ten different Italian styles. Choose from four different salads, a half-dozen vegetables, a dozen appetizers, a ravioli and lasagna, another dozen chicken and veal preparations, and a back page selection of salmon, chicken breast and strip steak for the non-Italian Americans.
Did I say pizza? The centerpiece of the restaurant’s entry is the bricked pizza oven, with flames dancing and the temperature gauge hovering in the high 500s. And, a Margherita tops the selection list.
We ordered five salads, a la carte. Don/Deb and Judy ordered the garden salad, a wide-rimmed six-inch bowl of fresh greens, shreds of carrots, nearly a tomato’s worth of chunks, slices of cucumber and red onion – with the dressing on the bottom of the bowl. Ken/Kriss and Chay enjoyed the Caesar salad, and Deb K ordered the arugula salad with goat cheese croquettes – four half-dollar fried disks that could have been an appetizer by itself. All were deemed excellent, with a note about the freshness of the greens. Portions were generous although $6 & $8 for salads should guarantee some generosity.
Our choice of entrées ran the gamut: the veal scaloppine piccata, with lemon and white wine (Tim, veal was good, sauce excellent); veal parmesan (Ken, excellent veal and red sauce, with the right amount of cheese); eggplant parmesan with spinach (Deb, good-excellent); chicken parmesan (Chay, good-excellent, good sauce). All of these were accompanied with a side bowl of spaghetti or penne, cooked perfectly, somewhat marred by a unanimous verdict that the red sauce on the side pasta was just warm and a tad bland, not nearly as good as the sauce on the entrées.
The other entrées included a plate of penne and two sausages (Deb K, very good, although she started off feeling somewhat full, with the same comment about the bland red sauce); the NY strip steak (Kriss, ordered and delivered well done, sitting in a small puddle of meat juice, excellent); the baked shrimp (Judy, the shrimp baked in the wood oven, with a citrus-orange marinade, good shrimp, an excellent sauce); and the smoked salmon, wild mushroom and pasta in garlic and olive oil, flambéed with brandy in a cream sauce (Don, one of his favorite ten DP8 dishes!). Judy and Kriss had dinners that came with sides of roasted potatoes (good but too few) and broccoli (not even al dente and mostly not eaten).
After a short break, a dessert list of 7-10 items enticed five of us: crème brûlée (Deb T, good); chocolate mousse (Kriss, in a tall sundae glass, good but not much of it); peach sorbet in a hollowed & frozen peach (Judy, Deb K; very good); and a chocolate truffle mousse cake (Don, very fine!).
The usual sippers of the after-dinner drink abstained for lack of a liqueur menu (unless one wanted port or dessert wine).
Service was very good. Our server (whose name we did not ascertain in the busy-ness of the restaurant’s evening) was efficient, courteous, reasonably quick with requests and quietly invisible most of the time. Although water was not set for everyone, water glasses, for those who asked, were filled regularly. Plates were removed at appropriate times. Ken’s coffee came upon request and, after advisement of Ken’s fondness of coffee, brought a small urn for Ken to use for the rest of the evening.
Drinks included two diet sodas, one water (no glasses of white wine available), and two bottles of Castelluccio 2007 Sangiovese Le More for the usual five red wine drinkers (selected by Deb K since Tim had gone galavantin’). The wine proved to be an uncharacteristically full-bodied Sangiovese, almost more than a hint of Cab Sauv; however, we all enjoyed it. Furthermore, the $23 price showed remarkably little markup, perhaps one of our three or four best bargains, excluding our past carafe selections.
And many of the other small details worked in Millrock’s favor. Within five minutes of seating, a basket of Italian bread with an accompanying plate of dipping oil, appeared, lasting until the entrée course, and was promptly filled again upon request. The bread was only average-good, a bit densely non-distinctive, with a soft crust, not the usual crunchy Italian crust we might expect.
The initial impression of our table was a mix of favorable and so-so. Seating was tight on the floor, with the ordinary veneer tables with a wood edge. But, nice glassware, hefty silverware, and white linen napkins added a touch of class.
A jarring note is the inability to make reservations, which for a table of eight, on a Saturday night, at prime time, might be trouble. Upon parking, Judy sprinted for the door, just ahead of a poor mom and her four poor kids, just to get our name on the list. (I don’t think Judy pushed the kids out of the way!) Told that a twenty minute wait followed, we hung around for a few minutes, watched one woman admire Deb’s pocketbooks and quilted jacket, and then decided (we four men, of course) to wander up the street to the Cave Mt Brewery for a drink. Ken even asked the blonde (the mom) if she wanted to go, she said yes, but had no one to watch the kids. So, off to the brewery we went, and just as the round of drink was set on the bar, a cell call summoned us back to the restaurant. A quick slug and off we sauntered back to our ladies-in-waiting. The refusal to take reservations is only one of the several we have faced in DP8’s travels (and three of them are on our eight revisits!) All this just to say that no reservations might serve some useful service to the restaurant but none to us.
Of course, the other part of this past jarring note is a lack of a good spot to wait for a table. There is no bar, just a weak excuse of a side room that not only looks into the restaurant’s sitting area but also serves as the path to the bathrooms.
Ambience is a plus for Millrock. All walls are beige, just waiting to set off all the natural wood inside. A natural wood finish graces the window frames and the entire ceiling’s paneling. The windows present a classic clean, new look. The walls hold several Francis Driscoll photographs, a handful of rural-country paintings, and some Italian theme posters. The lighting is surprisingly subdued when one realizes how many lights are shining. The major lights are the hanging dome-globes, perhaps eight of them lighting the major room. The floor is tiled in foot squares of rose-cream, set diagonally to the building’s orientation, with dark grout, evoking an Italian courtyard.
And, of course, there’s the pizza oven, which crackles and flames, with a work counter in front that not only wards off the public but also is the space upon which the pizza makers set the pizza and on which the salads are made.
From our vantage point, we gazed into the flames; further back, the glassware—dozens of glasses—reflected cleanly every angle of light. Just beyond, the prep staff set plates of orders for the waitstaff to hustle away, and further back, around the corner and out of sight, the dishwashers appeared and disappeared.
Noise was a strong ingredient in the evening’s experience. Millrock was one of the noisiest places at which we have eaten, with our four on the side having the ends unable to hear each other. The women had already set themselves in the middle (yeah, the men deserved the ends for deserting the wives).
The pacing was quicker than usual. The entire meal spanned ten minutes short of two hours, but I think we felt we were not rushed.
And, then there was the maître d', who was efficient ushering us in but we witnessed a dozen incidents of ordering waitress to different places during the meal. A bit more subtlety would have been more professional.
The final bill came to $90 per couple, surprising a few. However, a salad & entrée combo totaled in the mid-20s, not unlike many other establishments we encounter. Perhaps, the bill was low-average to some and, perhaps, if we lived closer to Windham, Millrock might be one of our more regular visits (although Messina’s at the end of the village is another Italian restaurant that has caught our attention before).
The evening had started at the Karnes’ residence. Deb had
a veggie tray of celery and carrots, a plate of cream cheese topped with
homemade pepper jelly (an interesting mix of tasty flavors), crackers, and a
tray of petite puffs – half of them buffalo chicken & spinach and the
other half tomato-y & cheese. Chay shared some of his Petra beer (from
Jordan), a smooth 8% alcohol drink while serving up T&T and wine.
So, we caught up on stories – school, fall, kids, grandkids, shingles, mellow November weather, crock shopping, wedding plans, Christmas shopping. Kriss had nothing to roll her eyes about this evening because not even one risqué comment was heard all night. Well, she did threaten Tim a couple of times to delete some photos he had taken with his cell phone. Even the ride to Windham seemed like a pleasure ride, almost there before we realized we were rolling into town. It was a comfortable and casual evening marking the beginning of our eighth year of Dinner Party of Eight.