On a recent Saturday night, the corner of Hanover and Chestnut streets in Manchester was packed with people waiting to dine at Ignite and at owner Neville Pereira’s newest restaurant — Hooked.
“It was such a good feeling,” Pereira said. “The buzz was on.” Pereira’s new eatery opened on Valentine’s Day and he said “the place has just taken off.”
A unique aspect of Hooked, whose walls are painted a vibrant goldenrod color, is its raw bar, manned nightly by — what else? — a raw bartender. “A raw bar is something Manchester doesn’t have,” Pereira said.
The ice-filled raw bar offers oysters, clams, shrimp and lobster cocktail, peppered mackerel, smoked rainbow trout, smoked pastrami salmon (rubbed with pastrami seasoning) and ahi yellow fin tuna. The restaurant also offers a “Sampler Plateau” filled with enough raw bar items to serve four to six guests. And the condiments go beyond the traditional cocktail sauce and mignonette: guests may also opt for sriracha, wasabi, horseradish, pickled ginger, ponzu, capers, onions, cilantro crema or lemon crème fraiche.
Calamari, tossed with cherry peppers and cayenne lime aioli, and Costa Rican fish tacos (three soft tacos filled with mahi mahi, pico de gallo, greens and creole tartar sauce) serve as the top-selling appetizers at Hooked, but starter options also include such dishes as sea conch fritters and Sicilian escargot.
“Everyone that goes to the islands eats conch fritters and, especially in the winter, we want to bring back those memories,” Pereira said.
While many chefs serve escargot en croute or sauteed in butter, Pereira said he decided to serve them Sicilian style to keep in line with his bold menu. The escargot at Hooked is served in a sauce of sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, shallots, butter and wine and topped with provolone and asiago cheese.
While coming up with bold-flavored entrees, Pereira settled on many international-inspired dishes. The menu now boasts an Aegean Haddock Piccata, which is eight ounces of fresh haddock sauteed in a piccata sauce of butter, wine, capers, scallions and garlic, red bell peppers and sliced pepperoncini, and topped with feta cheese. “You can’t get more Greek than that,” Pereira said.
Other dishes with international flair are the Sukayaki shrimp (shrimp tossed in Japanese sweet and sour sauce), the blackened mahi mahi (blended with cajun spices) and the Tandoori salmon.
“Tandoori is a very strong Indian flavor but also a familiar one,” Pereira said. “The herbs make [the salmon] a bold color and the yogurt adds a nice tangy taste.”
Pereira noted his favorite entree as the Seafood Cioppino: sea scallops, tilapia, mussels and clams served in broth of tomatoes, white wine and Italian herbs and accompanied by crusty bread for dipping, all served in a bowl nearly eight inches deep that is filled three-fourths full.
“It’s a great dish if you have a good appetite,” Pereira said, adding that he chose the big bowls because they have a dip on the side to make it easier for customers to scoop and sip.
In addition to a full lobster — Pereira said now is the best time for lobster as the crustacean’s shells are harder and the meat sweeter — customers may opt for lobster macaroni and cheese or lobster ravioli with a champagne-cream-tarragon beurre blanc.
“In today’s market, lobster is an expensive commodity,” Pereira said. “Things like lobster macaroni and cheese and ravioli still give that effect to people … they satisfy people’s lobster fix.”
To break the monotony of the all-seafood menu (all the salads are even topped with fish), Hooked offers Fins and Feathers, a combination of chicken and seafood, and a Surf and Turf, a filet served with seafood.
“Our menu is just a guideline, we’ll do anything — Fins and Fins, Feathers and Feathers, Turf and Turf — that sort of thing,” Pereira said. “We try to accommodate everybody.”
As he considers both Hooked and Ignite to be small restaurants (Hooked seats 44 but will be able to accommodate nearly double that number of guests when it adds outdoor seating this summer), Pereira said he has been very busy splitting his time between the two eateries.
“I’ve been having a lot of fun with it,” Pereira said. “My thing is that I want to meet all of my customers and if I can’t greet all of them, I will go to their tables and talk to them. I think a personal touch goes a long, long way.”