The pea-sized dot of garlic was but a tiny portion of the dish, which centered on a medley of mushrooms, but an incredible amount of thought had gone into it. Before adorning the plate, the garlic had actually been baked in the soil in which it grew—something that had even the most experienced diners at Stages at One Washington in Dover, New Hampsire, doing a double take. Chef-owner Evan Hennessey mixed the soil with egg white to form a paste, and coated the bulb of garlic with it before baking. Then, he puréed it with a bit of paprika for that distinct hit of flavor.
That kind of imagination and extraordinary attention to detail are hallmarks of Hennessey, who takes a few pages from the molecular gastronomy of Ferran Adria and the perfectionism of Thomas Keller and blends them with a devotion to local ingredients to come up with an experience unlike any other.
The intimate dining room, the chef’s table at the bar
It starts with finding the way to his small reservations-only restaurant. Hidden on the third floor of a historic mill building in downtown Dover, Stages feels like a secret gastronomy club, with an intimate dining room and nine coveted seats at the “Kitchen Table”—a bar where diners can observe and ask questions about the unusual ingredients and preparations.
For curious eaters, the questions are likely to be many. The menu at Stages is perhaps intentionally vague, offering dishes like the aforementioned “mushrooms,” which features king trumpet mushrooms prepared two ways—smoked and braised—along with pickled chestnut mushrooms, set atop a bed of celeriac purée, dotted with the garlic purée, and then sprinkled with a “soil” made from coffee, rye, coriander, dried black trumpets, and pumpernickel. A lot of effort for a dish that equates to just a few bites—but each bite is full of flavor, and is a pure expression of the earth.
Beets and herbs, a unique dish, garlic goat cheese with cabbage
Another dish, “Carrots,” looks like an orange steak tartare. But instead of steak, Hennessey uses a base of grated carrots and substitutes the classic egg yolk on top with a carrot sphere—carrot juice treated with a special chemical agent to form a soft shell on the outside, encasing vibrant carrot liquid that spills out when poked with a fork. The result is as delicious as it is beautiful.
The prix fixe menu is very much driven by the seasons and local providers. Mushrooms are cultivated in Tamworth, New Hampshire, and the delicate greens that grace several dishes are foraged behind another farm Hennessey works with. Still others grow in the window at the back of the kitchen. The only Stages signature is that everything is always changing—in fact, Hennessey has been known to switch up the menu mid-service, if, for example, a forager turns up with some exciting mushrooms or a farm has only enough duck to serve half the dining room.
Chef-owner Evan Hennessey, a sous chef readies a meal
Hennessey plans his menu entirely around what local farms and fishermen have available, and if he’s not preparing an extraordinary dish made from seemingly ordinary ingredients, he’s likely serving something you’ve never tried—usually sustainable, often foraged, perhaps invasive—with tasty results. For example, a recent menu featured cusk, a little-known but delicious relative of cod and haddock that is often just “bycatch”—the fish that get caught up with the real quarry of a fisherman’s net. Hennessey served the cusk roasted, topped with a slice of pickled kohlrabi and a frozen uni purée grated over the dish like cheese. Garnishes included black radish painted with a black garlic and vegetable ash, as well as a wild carrot more commonly known as the overlooked root of Queen Anne’s lace. And because he is so flexible and his orders are small, given the size of Stages, he is the only commercial customer who works with Élevage de Volailles in Rye, New Hampshire, an artisanal producer of poultry, lamb, and eggs.
Just as each dish is a harmonious sum of sometimes surprising parts, the optional wine pairing elevates the flavors of both the wines and the food. Wine is also available by the glass or bottle from a thoughtful list.
Wine pairings, Evan Hennessey uses tweezers to detail bite-sized dishes, chocolate, beets, and basil
The view from the Kitchen Table reveals exotic chef implements, including induction burners for instant heat, and cryovac vats and thermal immersion circulators for sous vide slow cooking, but the chef’s most important tool is clearly a pair of oversized tweezers that Hennessey uses to meticulously plate every dish. On one wall, next to dozens of copper pans polished to a warm glow, hangs a white board filled with brainstorming ideas, like ways to use green crabs, a highly invasive species area foodies are scheming to make commercially desirable. Thus far, Hennessey has only used them in bouillabaisse.
Of course, the desserts are just as surprising. On a recent night, offerings included unusual parsnip-based sweets, including ice cream, cake, curd, and candied slivers. The decadent “Chocolate” featured smoked chocolate curd, artfully swirling around basil meringue and pools of a bright basil syrup. The intense flavors, each vibrant on their own, came together as a harmonious whole—much like the dining experience at Stages, which will make visitors view the bounty of our area in a whole new way.
The menu is prix fixe only, and reservations are required. Options include a four-course tasting menu ($50); the Secret 8, a chef’s choice eight-course tasting menu created on the spot ($100); and Nature/Technique, a 12-course tasting menu focusing on the natural flavor and complexity of only a few ingredients ($150). An optional wine pairing ($35) is also available.
One Washington Street, Suite 325, Dover, N.H.