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I Ate (& Drank) Here: Moxy in Portsmouth. 

As a food and drinks writer, I’m often asked by people where to go. Though my opinions are of course my own, I’m never shy about spreading the gospel of places that have won my palate of high standards. I’m not a picky eater, but quality and service are paramount to what equates to a positive dining experience in my book.  It also helps when a chef manages to delight with inventive combinations of flavors. The cherry on top is a well-curated bar and modern cocktail menus (which means a nod to classics these days – no overuse of “tinis”).

This is why I must tell you about Moxy, a newish restaurant in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Prepared in a tapas style with a decidedly New England twist, the cuisine highlights local farms and purveyors. At its core, it’s quite simple, but seems complicated from the burst of flavors in each bite. You’ll think you’re getting the same pork belly, but be surprised by a cider glaze and pickled onion tang. Roasted cauliflower is dotted with crispy sunchoke chips. All of these dishes are meant for sharing, but you’ll want to keep them all to yourself.

While the small plate or tapas style of dining is nothing new, the attention to a one-bite philosophy is often missing.  Chef and owner Matt Louis manages to layer a juxtaposition of flavors together on a single bamboo toothpick, just for you. Or he’ll make finger foods fun, like the Johnny Cake Community, a plate of cornmeal pancakes, brown sugared pork shoulder, house made chili and barbecue sauces, crispy onion and pickled cucumbers. A favorite: salty, flash fried kale with sunflower pumpkin seed granola pieces sprinkled in. It shouldn’t work, but it does.

The drink menu at Moxy follows suit, with crafted cocktails like the Portsmouth (Bulleit Rye, Carpano Antica Formula vermouth, Cardamaro, house grenadine). I particularly loved the section of aperitif suggestions, aptly named “To Begin” (they had my favorite, Cocchi Americano) as well as after dinner selections ranging from Sherry to 20-year Tawny Port. Bar manager James Woodhouse know his way around a jigger, having spent time at one of the best cocktail bars in Boston, No. 9 Park. The beer selection leans toward craft, while wines are fresh and unexpected choices to complement the food.

My entire meal was spectacular, and the drink pairings were spot on. We opted for a chef’s choice tasting menu called the “The Fab Five.” It’s a terrific value at $30 per person (add $20 to include five drinks paired with the food). While some restaurants serving small pates skimp on the portions, Moxy gets it just right – you’ll be happily satiated, trust me. Chef Louis spent time researching New England cuisine for his tapas concept and approached it brilliantly.

The busy Saturday night I was there was testament to the early success of Moxy. Hip, modern and the right vibe for date night or girls’ night, Moxy is a welcome addition to the burgeoning food scene in Portsmouth. The staff looked like they were having fun, too, without missing a beat.  It’s not often all the pieces of a dining experience fit together so well. Yum.

106 Penhallow St., Portsmouth, NH, 603.319.8178;