My wife and I visit the Nashua/Merrimack area once or twice a year from New York, have been doing so for many years. Although we're not so thrilled with the population explosion that brought with it the endless lines of cars, the traffic lights that seem timed to turn red just as you approach them, the transformation of greenery and wooded areas into mall after mall after mall, we have enjoyed seeing the culinary offerings increase and improve over time. We've especially been impressed with Michael Buckley and his wife's first two establishments in Nashua (Michael Timothy's and Surf), so we were eager to try his new steakhouse in Merrimack.
We decided to stop in for a drink last Sunday evening, just to view the place and inspect the menu. We thoroughly enjoyed the bar, with its roaring fireplace and warm and inviting ambiance, and we very much appreciated its long list of wines by the glass.
Based on that we made a reservation for dinner on Monday evening, thinking that Monday of Thanksgiving week would be slow and that might give us a chance to experience the restaurant in a more leisurely manner, which was the case.
The restaurant itself is comprised of several smallish rooms, each with four or five or six tables. It is, after all, a house, and an inviting one at that.
The staff couldn't have been more welcoming or more attentive. Our waiter was knowledgeable about the menu and the wines and took his time discussing everything with us.
The menu has a nice selection of appetizers and an impressive array of steaks. We decided to go lightly on the appetizers, so we split an iceberg lettuce salad that had bacon and cherry tomatoes and exactly the right amount of dressing. They kindly brought us our own portions on our own plates, a nice touch. The salad was terrific.
For the main course Maureen ordered the dry-aged New York Sirloin and I ordered the Cowboy Steak (a bone-in ribeye), which our waiter said is his favorite dish. Each main course is accompanied by a side dish of your choice; extra sides are at extra cost. We went with garlic mashed potatoes, pommes frites, and I decided to splurge on a side of spaetzle (don't see that on menus every day).
We had a Chardonnay to begin the meal and with our salad, and we followed that by an Australian Shiraz, both of which we liked a lot.
The first note of disquiet was when we saw that the menu lists six sauces (at $5 each, but if you order a steak you get a sauce of your choice free). Conversation with our waiter revealed that all the steaks are served with a demi-glace, and that the other sauces are on top of that. We asked that the demi-glace be served on the side, as we generally don't want any type of sauce on our steak. We didn't order any other sauces. We wanted to see how our steaks stood on their own.
Neither of us had any quibble with either the quality or the quantity of the meat that we were served. However, we did have a quibble over the fact that both steaks were, essentially, very dry, no juices at all to speak of. The steaks are cooked over native hardwood on their Aztec wood-fired grill, and I think that might be problematic. I ended up using some of the demi-glace to alleviate the dryness, but Maureen decided she didn't want any even though her steak was also devoid of juices. It was obvious to us that the sauces are on the menu to compensate for the dryness of the meat.
We both liked the steaks despite the lack of juice, but at $36 for Maureen's steak and $38 for mine, we really didn't think they were anything special. I hasten to admit that we've been spoiled by years of New York steakhouses (we live in Brooklyn, where we visit the famed Peter Luger's), so this approach was new to us.
Perhaps Michael and his wife are trying to create a new concept in steaks and how they're served, but we think it's going to be a hard sell. There's a reason that there are so many steakhouses in large cities that floursh, but serving juiceless steaks is not that reason. To us, sauces detract from the meat, and if you're going to serve a lesser quality steak, then you might want or need a sauce. But it seems a shame to us to use one or more sauces on cuts of prime meat.
We're definitely going to return, but not for the steaks. We'll be happy to try other things on the menu (it has a real variety of items on it), and we think that a burger in the bar might be terrific.
I'd be curious to know what others who have dined at Buckley's and tried the steaks think.