The Hippo


Jul 23, 2019








Fresh herb structure built for XO on Elm’s new farm-to-glass bar by Four Seasons Aquaponics. Courtesy photo.

 XO on Elm

Where: 827 Elm St., Manchester
The new menus will debut in mid February. XO on Elm will also reopen for lunch. 

New year, new menu
Manchester restaurant embraces clean eating

By Allie Ginwala

 No food made in a Fryolater, no Coca-Cola products served at the bar and plenty of superfoods on the menu — those are just a few of the changes patrons can expect to find when they visit Manchester’s XO on Elm after the debut of its new clean eating concept in February.

“The goal is to have an additive-, preservative-, chemical-free restaurant,” said owner Rosa Paolini.
She’s been preparing for this big shift for the past three years, making the decision to completely overhaul the restaurant’s concept after researching the restaurant industry and realizing that many consumers aren’t aware of the ingredients going into their food. 
“We pay all this money to  eat [foods that might cause] cancer,” she said. “People are adults and have the freedom to choose where to eat. As a business owner, I have the right to choose what I’m selling.”
XO on Elm has been open for six years (she’s been in the business for 18 years) and has established a regular clientele, “but it gets to the point where it’s time to start educating our customers,” she said.
Paolini’s goal for XO is to be as local, sustainable and organic as possible, an ideal that isn’t without its challenges when it comes to New Hampshire. “Local” won’t be defined as products grown only in the state’s soil but through partnerships with local farms and businesses, like Four Seasons Aquaponics and A Market, that align with the clean eating concept.
The 3 G’s
The redesign of XO on Elm will take form in a few key ways, one of which is a farm-to-glass cocktail and juice bar. Its name is Green Glass Gourmet or “The 3 G’s,” a juice bar that’s its own entity housed within XO.
Alcoholic beverages behind the bar will include locally produced wine, beer and spirits and mixers made with organic cola. The cocktails will have interesting twists like a kale-ito, a mojito made with kale and coconut sugar instead of mint and regular sugar, or a pomegranate martini. 
“You want your normal drinks? Elm Street is full of that,” Paolini said. “When you come to XO, you’re going for an experience.”
To give an idea of the types of ingredients that will grace the new menus, Paolini gathered a box of colorfully labelled products: wheatgrass shots, goji berry and blueberry superfruit for salads, pomegranate powder, matcha green tea powder, coconut water, carrot powder and beet powder, to name a few. 
Running an all-natural, all-organic bar during a New Hampshire winter is tricky; for the time being, she’s sourcing organic powdered vegetables and fruits to create the desired flavors. The ultimate goal is to preserve local fruits and vegetables in the summer to use year round.
“In my hometown it was a lifestyle,” she said — her grandfather owned a large farm in the south of Italy, so coming back to a cycle of preserving and utilizing is very familiar for Paolini. “Whatever we produce in the summer, then you produce that to have it in the winter.”
The makeup of the meal
Not all of the original concept of XO on Elm will be lost come February. Certain menu items, like the lamb shank, will remain but might be prepared differently. But if it can’t be altered in a healthy way, it’s gone, like the crab rangoon Paolini is struggling to let go of — Fryolators and deep-fried foods won’t have a place in the new XO.
“It’s going to hurt, but I’m doing people a favor,” she said. “When they try a new food they are going to fall in love.”
One of the new foods people can try is bone broth, a nutrient-dense dish that Paolini calls “liquid gold.”
“When you cook [bones] in a very slow flame for three days … with your basic vegetables and herbs … until the bone breaks down practically and you strain it,” she explained. “The collagen in that is extremely good for your skin. Gives you energy.”
Folks can get bone broth (chicken, beef, fish or vegan options) in a to-go cup or to sip at a table. 
Other standout dishes she’s particularly excited about are ceviche, a citrus flash-cooked fish, zucchini noodles, black bean pasta, red lentil pasta, quinoa pasta and “flatza,” a mix between a pizza and a flatbread with a chia and honey crust. They’re going to use coconut oil for cooking, and mostly will use slow cooking methods to maintain nutrients.
“When you don’t put any chemicals or preservatives or additives in your system, you are happier,” she said. “Your mood changes, you lose weight, you have a lot more energy. You are what you eat. Period.”
Changing the culture
Educating the community is a driving factor behind the changes at XO. She hired a nutritionist to be at the restaurant to answer questions and will also host workshops, cooking classes and even Zumba onsite.
“I want to teach people to eat well, feel well and show them that eating healthy is not boring; it’s beautiful,” she said. “Delicious dishes can be made with good ingredients.”
One of the biggest obstacles she encountered along the multi-year process was finding professionals well-versed in clean cooking and eating. She remedied that issue by inviting her mother to come to New Hampshire for three months starting at the end of January to help train the staff.
“She’s an amazing cook, she knows how to make olive oil, cheese, wine — you name it she knows how to make it,” Paolini said. “My mom grew up on a farm, old school. … She never used bouillon cubes, never owned a microwave [or] a Fryolater.”
Aware of the big leap she’s taking, Paolini hopes the community responds to the changes at XO and that her risk encourages other area restaurants to step up as well. 
“If I don’t get the response from people, they don’t accept eating healthy is a beautiful thing, I promise you I will never be in the restaurant business again,” she said. “Now that I know the truth, I’m not going to … [serve] something that is going to kill you.” 

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