March 27th, 2011

Herb Lyceum, Groton

The first thing you should know about Herb Lyceum is that it is communal dining – there are 3 large tables set up in beautifully renovated 19th century carriage house. If you can’t get pass the awkward situation of sitting with strangers, this is not the restaurant for you. However, the second thing you should know is that the food is delicious.

It is not your usual dining experience; there is only one seating a night, all guests arrive between 6:30-7 and since they do not have a liquor license, it is BYOB. They tell you to conceptualize it as if you were at someone’s home for a dinner party. There is a set menu that changes monthly. You must be sure you like what is being served, as there are no choices (accommodations made for vegetarians and allergies, of course). We got there and were warmly greeted by the hostess and were introduced to some of the other guests. This is when we realized that it was communal dining and we were to be seated at a table for 14. I had no problem with this; after all I’ve been eating Dim Sum communally my whole life. Steve was more uncomfortable with it and I’m sure had we known beforehand, we would have never gone. I’m glad we went, as the food was wonderful and we weren’t really forced to socialize with the others.

We started with an amuse bouche of a lovely fried ball of pulled pork. It was crispy and flavorful. I thought the sauce was a bit too sweet, but a great start to the meal.

The first course was a lovely roasted beet salad served with a morbier cheese fondue and pepper cress. The beets were earthy and flavorful, the cress was vibrant and spicy and the cheese sauce tied it all together.

Next was the pasta course – an excellent mushroom and shrimp tortellini with a garlic chive cream sauce. The pasta was tender and flavorful, but the sauce stole the show – I saw a woman stealthily scrape up and enjoy the last spoonful of her dining companion’s sauce. If my ex-mother-in-law was there, she would have picked up the plate and licked it.

The main course was a cassoulet with pork belly, duck confit, homemade sausages and lentils. I really enjoyed this dish; every bite was savory and different. Steve did not like the dish as much, but he is not a lentil fan.

The cheese plate was included an aged gouda and a mild goat cheese. They were served with candied walnuts and a green tomato jam. The walnuts were candied with lavender and I did not like the floral flavor. The jam was excellent and went quite well with the goat cheese. I thought the one piece of grilled bread was not enough for the amount of cheese. This also highlights a deficit in the meal – there was no bread basket. I think a lovely assortment of warm hearty farmhouse breads would have been perfect.

Dessert was the big disappointment of the night. The chocolate cherry torte was okay. Apparently there was curry in there, but I couldn’t taste it. That might not be a bad thing.
The coconut panna cotta had the right texture (jiggle, jiggle) but was flat in flavor. It was the kind of dessert a chef makes, as opposed to a pastry chef who has skill and training in dessert.

The pace of the meal was leisurely – the whole thing took 3.5 hours. The staff was warm and friendly. The price was $55 per person, not including gratuity. If the communal dining aspect bothers you, bring another couple, or two and it wouldn’t matter.

Food: A- (minus points for dessert and lack of a bread basket)
Service: A
Value: A-
Overall: A-