Dan’s busy performance schedule brought us out to Concord, NH a few days ago. The Concord Chorale was giving a performance that included the Requiem by Fauré. I’m so glad that I was able to attend because I’m not sure I’ve ever listened to the piece from start to finish. The music is subtle and gentle – I read somewhere that it is often referred to as the lullaby requiem because of its quiet, understated feeling. It’s also the only piece that I know of in which the violist is the concertmaster because there is no section of violins in the original orchestration. So, I was extra proud to see Dan leading the orchestra.
Downtown Concord is a really cute area, but be warned if you are there on a Sunday, not much is open. By the time we arrived, I was half-starved since I foolishly skipped breakfast before we got on the road. We had planned on eating lunch in Concord before the concert since there are so many restaurants in the immediate vicinity of the church where the performance was held. We walked around for almost a half hour becoming very frustrated and sadly surprised to find that only a handful of places were even open for lunch, and were mostly short-order or self service.
Slightly off-topic… If you are a media-phile like Dan and I are, you must check out Pitchfork records while in downtown Concord. We did after lunch, and found an amazing selection of used records, cd’s, and even cassettes. Better yet, all used items were half-off! I purchased some amazing finds – Susan Graham singing Berlioz, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra under Hugh Wolff playing Haydn symphonies, and an out of print and hard to find cross-over album by Bert Lucarelli called “The Sensual Sound of the Soulful Oboe”.
The first time we walked by Bistro Rustica, I decided to pass. The menu was mostly sandwiches at first glance, and I was really hoping for a little more, despite the fact that I do love a good sandwich. We ended up back there because the other two options looked even less appealing. I couldn’t have been more wrong about my initial assessment on an empty stomach, however. Every now and then, even with 15 years in the restaurant business, I am still blown away by an unassuming place like this.
Bistro Rustica is owned by a couple from former Yugoslavia. All of their food is home cooked and made with plenty of love – that was easy to taste in what we ordered. Obviously many agree, since they were out of several things after a busy Sunday. Undeterred, I ordered the lasagna. We found out later that it was made from a recipe borrowed from a friend of the proprietor’s who is an Italian chef. Dan had a gorgonzola and roast beef panini, and we shared a generous order of stuffed grape leaves with kefir. We were pleased to find Boylan’s sodas there too, and Dan and I each had the delicious black cherry with our meal.
The grape leaves were off the chart. They were bursting with savory rice and meat filling and were warmed through for service. There was fresh dill on top of the creamy and tangy kefir making for a perfect counterpoint to the mildly and refreshingly bitter grapeleaves themselves. I felt the leaves had to be fresh, rather than the vinegary canned ones that are usually used to make dolmas. Granted, I was starving and cranky, so I reserved my judgment for the lasagna, but I was ready to give this place at least one thumb up. A good first course did indeed sooth the savage beast, and Dan asked, “Are you better now?” as I finished off the last dolma with a smirk on my face.
When the lasagna finally arrived, my second thumb went way up in the air even before I tasted the first bite. There must have been eight or nine layers of Bolognese alternated with creamy, tomato-y bechemal sauce. The cheese was golden brown and the sauce was bubbling hot surrounding the pasta in the ceramic crock. It was delicious – satisfying, hearty and perfect for a cold and damp spring day. We both loved it so much that we ended up sharing the generous portion of lasagna and taking Dan’s panini to go. I’ve not had better lasagna anywhere.
I ate the roast beef and gorgonzola panini in the car on the way back to boston, and it was tasty too! I watched one of the owner’s making another sandwich as we were leaving Bistro Rustica. She was rubbing oil, salt and pepper into the bread before assembling the sandwich – I guess a kind of Mediterranean mayonnaise. The gorgonzola was whipped into a paste with some yogurt possibly and was not too strong for the mild beef. The bread was nicely toasted and good quality as was the beef. Although it didn’t beat the lasagna, it was well-made and good deal considering the price to quality ratio.
Bistro Rustica is a must for a visit to downtown Concord if you happen to be there. It’s unbelievably inexpensive for the quality and love that goes into the food. You won’t have better homemade lasagna anywhere else and the grape leaves are to die for. I’m glad to find that the old adage still holds true: “You can judge a book by its cover!”
You can find Bistro Rustica at 80 North Main Street in downtown Concord, NH in the shadow of the beautiful capitol building. Their menu features soups, salads, and sandwiches (hot and cold). I will be back for the Mediterranean Specialties: Moussaka, Goulash, Stuffed Peppers, Burek, and Maslanica. They serve breakfast and lunch and are open until 5:30 Monday through Saturday, and until 4:00 on Sunday.