The Panang Moules Frites was the Best Bite.

You’ve seen this before. Somebody decides to open a little restaurant in a tucked away spot. You think, how on earth will this place survive? Yet, there it is: Cantina 229. And it is thriving. The husband and wife team, Josh Irwin and Emily Rachel, have successfully transformed a many decade vacant restaurant space in New Marlborough into one of the coziest eateries in this part of New England.

Inside, you find exposed post and beam construction reminiscent of any barn found in this part of the country. A iron spiral staircase  sits in the center, lending additional visual interest. It competes for your eye’s attention only with a large, goose feather covered spherical lamp that hovers above the only large table.

Combined with a bar with seating, a wood burning stove for warmth, twelve smaller tables, and floor to ceiling windows that overlook a picturesque piece of land, you have the perfect setting for the farm to table meals that are prepared in the open kitchen.

The menu changes almost daily, dependent upon what is available from the myriad of local farmers whose products inspire their dishes. They have a relationship with a fish monger on the North Shore outside of Boston who supplies their seafood. The menu is brief, with a combination of “Bites” and “Bigger Bites,” that represents their theme, “World Fare Made Local.”  On Tuesdays,  they have embraced the Mexican-inspired culinary concept of “Taco Tuesday,” which was the menu the only other time I’ve dined at Cantina 229.

We began our meal by sharing three of the smaller “Bites.” The Polynesian-inspired Maui Poke consisted of shoyu marinated Ahi tuna, a tangy slaw of Napa cabbage and black radish, topped with Sriracha mayo, was as fresh as it was refreshing. The distinct flavors of the marinade, the dressing and the slaw complemented, not overpowered, the raw tuna – something that is only possible when the freshest fish is used. The Brussels Caesar was an interesting variation on a classic Caesar salad that incorporated charred Brussels sprouts and Romaine lettuce. The addition of cilantro into a garlicky Caesar dressing took it to a whole new level! But the best “Bite” was the Panang Moules Frites! Warm curry and coconut infused broth bathed a bowlful of big, beautiful mussels – absolutely wonderful on a cold winter night! The addition, however, of French fries atop this dish really did nothing for it, and I would have preferred to have it served over rice, or even simply accompanied by a couple pieces of grilled bread to soak up that delicious broth!

Baby Bok Choy is a unique twist on Shrimp Etouffee.

We moved on to the “Bigger Bites” portion of our meal.  I tried the Cantina Cheeseburger, which seems to be the dish offered for the folks who are not that adventurous. As with all the other ingredients, the beef was very fresh. But, frankly, it was nothing special, and Cantina 229 is not the first place I would think of in the future if I was looking for a tasty burger.  I ordered it because there were only three items remaining on this section of the menu as the Pork Pot Pie sold out earlier in the evening and my husband and chose the other two dishes. My husband had the New Orleans Etouffée, wild-caught Louisiana shrimp prepared in a rich sauce whose base is the New Orleans trinity (onions, green bell pepper and celery,) served over rice. Cantina 229 adds an unusual twist with the addition of baby bok choy. While very tasty, the depth of flavor could have benefited from a darker roux.

My son’s dish, the Bibimbap with Bulgogi Beef, was the star of the “Bigger Bites.” The spicy combination of crispy rice, marinated vegetables, kimchi, a 60-minute egg, house-made hot sauce, and Korean-style beef, Cantina 229’s Bibimbap is as good as any Bibimbap you will find in some of the best Korean restaurants.

Cantina 229’s beer and wine list is short, but with something for everyone. Their beer list consists entirely of American craft brews. The price range for their wine and beer selections are in keeping with what you would expect. However, their short cocktail list is very pricey, with every drink offered at $12. Our previous “Taco Tuesday” included a very disappointing Margarita. Not only was it short, it was very mediocre, and definitely not worthy of the $12 price tag. As such, on this visit, we completely avoided the cocktail list, opting only for wines by the glass.

We finished our meal with the Salted Caramel Pot de Creme. Very smooth, very creamy and not too sweet, topped with an Earl Grey infused whipped cream and sprinkled with espresso sea salt, it was the perfect bite to end our meal at the very welcoming and cozy Cantina 229.
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Cantina 229
229 Hartsville New Marlborough Road
New Marlborough (413) 229-3276
www.cantina229.com
Friday  – Tuesday 5:00 -9:00 PM
Closed Wednesday and Thursday
Reservations strongly encouraged

Maui Poke $14
Brussels Caesar $12
Panang Moules Frites $12
Cantina Cheeseburger $15
New Orleans Etoufée $26
Bibimbap with Bulgogi Beef $19