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April 27, 2012

Grazing: Mussels, Pesto, Bacon, Frites & Aioli... For Lunch? It's Restaurant Week.

MusselsAfter Sweet Start Smackdown last night, I craved a light lunch — a seaweed salad, maybe, or a kale smoothie. But with the kickoff of Vermont Restaurant Week today, it'd be sacrilege not to dig into some delicious plate or another. This is how I ended up in a booth at Shepard's Pie in Quechee, one of the handful of Upper Valley restaurants that stuck its neck out to participate in this Burlington-centric event.

To those just getting the memo, Vermont Restaurant Week is an eight-day-long dining bacchanalia during which 80+ restaurants around the state offer prix-fixe menus, often including seasonal dishes with morsels such as rhubarb, ramps, lamb and asparagus. Many offer $10 lunch specials, too.

Such was the case at Shepard's Pie, where the VTRW lunch menu profers Blue Hill mussels in a lime-coconut-curry broth, as well as something called "Grown-Up Grilled Cheese" with Cabot cheddar, local tomatoes, avocado and basil mayo.

As I was poised to order, the owner shared that they're also throwing a few specials onto their lunch and dinner menus, too, such as those same Maine mussels steamed in white wine and served in an herbed tomato broth with pesto, bits of bacon and frites topped with garlic aioli.

All visions of health dissipated. Within minutes, I tucked into a pile of plump mussels, some of which had cubes of soft tomato wedged into their shells. On top was a tangle of darkened frites drizzled with that zesty aioli. The plate was soupy, savory and so rich that I couldn't finish it.

Even with one half-eaten plate behind me, I plan to dine out most of these next eight nights, and hope I make it through without a coronary. I'm not quite sure how I'm going to eat again in five hours (this time, at the Harrington House Inn & Restaurant in Bethel). It's shaping up to be a caloric romp that will end on the morning of May 5 with a visit to a juice bar.

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