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So, What Are You Having For Dinner at Oakes & Evelyn, Justin Dain?
Oakes & Evelyn in Montpelier, Vermont may lie just beyond the northern border of the Upper Valley, but its connections transcend geography. Owner/Chef Justin Dain once manned the kitchen at the Hanover Inn, and opened Pine Restaurant as its Executive Chef in 2013. After leaving the Inn, in 2021 Dain became the owner of Oakes & Evelyn, “the culmination of decades of toil and more dreams than can be counted,” and brought his Hanover Inn colleague Amanda Champagne on board as Executive Chef. Now Upper Valley folks, many who knew Dain’s food at Pine and some newcomers, book a table and travel the interstate whenever they can to dine at Oakes & Evelyn. I am one of them, and not nearly as often as I would like.
Fine dining is scarce in the UV. (Mention it to older foodies and they will bemoan a list of the upscale restaurants that have disappeared, starting as far back as the esteemed D’Artagnan.) Oakes & Evelyn offers fine dining with a Vermont-casual vibe. The menu is sophisticated, the service polished, but you can show up as you are. The restaurant’s mission is borne out by the exceptional quality of the food on every plate that leaves the kitchen. “We will put the ingredients first and execute them to the highest degree to make the local food shine and speak for itself.”
How does a chef go about creating a menu? Dain describes the process:
Creating and designing a menu starts with the seasonality and availability of products in the surrounding areas. We try hard to use local farms through every season throughout the year. Late spring-fall are amazing for produce, while winter time is more difficult because of the weather. Sourcing local fish from Wulf Fish in Boston makes our raw bar program shine with their outstanding dedication to quality fish.
Menus also need to have a balance of flavors, textures & variety. I always think about who our guests are and what they expect with a nice push of excitement to have them try new things.
What would Justin order from the Oakes & Evelyn menu? A dinner in four courses with a variety of flavors that he says “hits all my favorites”:
Spiced Crispy 1000 Stone Farm Bao Bun, Thai Herbs, Calabrian Chile, Kewpie, Togarashi
Seared Foie Gras & Ahi Tuna, Pear Agro Dolce, Cape Gooseberries
Bone-In Brined Local Pork Chop, Butternut Squash & Apple Puree, Turnip, Local Chard, Corn & Bacon, Apple & Miso Emulsion
Eggnog Cheesecake, Chai Caramel Sauce, Gingerbread Cookie
Hungry? Oakes & Evelyn is located at 52 State Street, Montpelier, Vermont. For more information, to peruse the menu, or to make a reservation, please click here.
(Photo, above, Justin Dain and Amanda Champagne cooking at the James Beard House, courtesy of Justin Dain)
This is one in a series of posts (“So, What Are You Having for Dinner?”) that is a collaboration with Rob Gurwitt and Daybreak about area restaurants and what chefs/owners/workers would order from their own menus.
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And in case you are wondering . . . Susan B. Apel shuttered a lifelong career as a law professor to continue an interest (since kindergarten) in writing. Her freelance business, The Next Word, includes literary and feature writing; her work has appeared in a variety of lit mags and other publications including Art New England, The Woven Tale Press, The Arts Fuse, and Persimmon Tree. She connects with her neighbors through Artful, her blog about arts and culture in the Upper Valley. She’s in love with the written word.