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J's brings Napa Valley to NE.

Byline: Ann Connery Frantz

COLUMN: DINING REVIEW

Anyone familiar with Nashoba Winery in Bolton, whose national and international award-winning wines feature unique, nongrape fruit varieties, knows about J's. Both the winery and its restaurant, where one can pair Nashoba wines with elegant cuisine, are well known in the region. This time of year, picnickers and apple gatherers mingle in the hillside orchard surrounding J's and the winery, producing since 1978. Cheered by the occasional musicians, soft fall sunshine and plentiful pickings on the trees, visitors spend hours relaxing outdoors, sometimes with a picnic prepared by J's and a bottle from the winery.

While its cuisine is the main cause for celebration, J's carefully rustic setting, in a restored farmhouse with vintage post-and-beam dining rooms, sets the mood for quiet, appetizing dining. Soft jazz sets the tone. There are two main dining areas downstairs - each with a half-dozen tables seating two to four patrons, and an intimate dining room off the entry. Upstairs is another room, for groups of six or more. In good weather, there's a popular patio facing the orchard, a busy place on a recent warm evening. Altogether, J's is a marriage of Napa Valley ambiance and New England comfort.

There's magic, too, in the menu. Using herbs and produce from its gardens, J's offers a limited but eclectic variety of choices, each with a recommended wine. There is an additional fixed-price menu, offered Wednesday through Friday evenings. With such luscious-sounding items as wild striped bass and roasted almond torte, how could one not consider it? The fixed-price menu allows a choice from three appetizers, three entrees and three desserts, all from the standard menu, but at a savings, $35. Hard to resist.

We enjoyed a Maiden's Blush wine ($6.50) and one of the winery's custom beers, the Special Reserve ($4), while taking our time with the menu.

Our server brought a complimentary starter - fresh peach slices with a dab of Gorgonzola, fresh basil and a dribbling of sauce. It did its job, serving to whet the appetite. We chose a Maine clam cake ($12) and gazpacho ($8) as appetizers, and both were tasty. The clam cake, toasted on the outside and tender below, served with a mustard sauce, was especially flavorful and we enjoyed it. The soup was tasty - not thick with onions, as some restaurants make it, but thinner, with diced cucumbers and white wine flavoring. Very nice.

We made it clear that we wanted to take our time, and the server was attentive to that, waiting until we were ready to order entrees, and helpful when we did. Offerings ranged from chicken under a brick, a free-range chicken literally grilled beneath a brick to compress its juices ($24), to a vegetarian dish of brown rice, smoked corn and mushrooms in an herb puree, served in a globe artichoke ($22) - which we'll try next time. My companion chose Niman Ranch beef tenderloin ($35), served medium rare, and it came with tiny, moist fingerling potatoes and grilled asparagus, accented with mushroom tourne and baked fennel. It was tender, and good to the last bite. Absolutely no complaints about the beef from my happy companion, who limits his beef intake and was pleased to have allowed it this time.

My own choice was the striped bass Veracruz ($27), also available on the fixed price menu. It came with a delicious tomato-based sauce, avocado pilaf and peperonata (stewed peppers). The fish was moist and solid, beautifully baked. Every bite was a winner, worthy of a place on the menu at the finest Mexican resort - where bass is always beautifully prepared.

Although we were full, the desserts (all $9) are smallish, so we tried to stretch just a bit more for them, ordering the Orchard Peach Sundae. It's served over a brownie made from delectable chocolate and features peach sorbet and mango caramel. The chocolate is so rich - like Dutch chocolate - that it's impossible to ignore. We also ordered a Chocolate Macadamia Torte - Columbian chocolate topped by a vanilla sauce, Guava Vanilla Anglaise. Both finished the meal with a lingering sweet taste, but didn't overfill us. The third dessert choice, not tried, was Roasted Almond Torte, a poached apple with apple brandy hard sauce. Each is offered on the fixed price menu as well.

Our total, with an additional Wattaquadock Wheat beer, came to $115.28, not counting tip. The smart choice (if one is economical) is to stay with the fixed price and get appetizer, entree and dessert for $35.

This is the place for special occasions, quiet evenings with special people and intimate lunches with friends; one can't help being soothed by the surrounding hillside orchard, the twinkling lights around the restaurant, the rich woods of the post-and-beam interior. With an excellent wait staff and excellent cuisine, J's is a memorable standout.

J's

100 Wattaquadock Hill Road, Bolton

* * * *

www.nashobawinery.com

Phone: (978) 779-5521

Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5:30 to 9 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays. 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays. Closed on holidays and Jan. 18 to Feb. 3.

Parking and access: Large parking lot is unpaved. Two small, separate steps at the entry may require assistance for those in wheelchairs.

Credit cards: Visa, American Express, MasterCard.

Reservations: Required, available online.

Prices: Expensive: Dinner entrees $22 to $36.

Pluses: Cozy atmosphere; friendly and excellent service; delicious, fresh produce and wines.

Minuses: Unstable or handicapped visitors could have a problem with the lot when it's dark.

About the Stars

Perfection: * * * *

Very Good: * * *

Good: * *

Below Par: *

Serious Flaws: No stars

Restaurant reviews are the opinions of reviewers based upon at least one visit to the restaurant. The reviewer is accompanied by at least one companion. Recommendations from readers about restaurants they would like to have reviewed are welcome.
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Article Type:Restaurant review
Date:Sep 9, 2010
Words:970
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