My wife and I took her son, Gideon, and his son, Oscar, out to Eclipse for a treat last Friday night. ECLIPSE (186 Main St., Northampton, 584-6006, www.eclipse186.com) is the newest entry in the fine-dining scene in Northampton. Opened in the space formerly occupied by the Good Thyme Deli and then Bistro 186, it has had a makeover of warm wood and exposed brick, and, even better, an open kitchen in the back of the room. I like a place where you can watch the cooks – it’s interesting and it shows you how they treat your food. In this case, very well.
The menu changes daily at Eclipse, so your choices will vary somewhat. We started our meal with an appetizer of risotto balls and a beet salad. The risotto was warm and tasty inside a crispy shell. It came on a bed of warm caramelized onions, squash and diced red pepper, drizzled with a balsamic glaze. The beets were on a bed of greens, with blue cheese and an orange vinaigrette. The caramelized onions reappeared on the salad, but worked better, I thought, warmed with the risotto.
For entrees, my wife had the coq au vin, which was accompanied by two excellent potato cakes and a mixture of edible pea pods and zucchini. Oscar, 9, was concerned that there wouldn’t be anything for him to eat. We got him a steak frites, a New York strip steak with fries, aioli and homemade ketchup. His father had the lamb loin chop, with a demi glace, a buttery potato galette (sliced potatoes layered in this case with spinach) and pineapple salsa. I had the grilled salmon. It had a good soy glaze, a cone of layered black and green rice, salad greens and pesto topping.
There was nothing to take home. We ate the steak that Oscar didn’t finish, the lamb and the chicken disappeared, and I left only a few flakes of salmon behind. We all enjoyed the meal. Oscar’s verdict? “# if you like fancy food, you’ll love it.” I concur.
For dessert, Oscar was holding out for ice cream at nearby Herrell’s, which we’d promised him as a reward for being out with the grown-ups. But when he and I saw coconut cream pie on the dessert menu, all thoughts of ice cream vanished. I have to say, it was one of the best coconut cream pies I’ve had. The filling tasted of real cream and the top was sprinkled with good coconut, but the excellent tart shell was the killer touch. We also had the strawberry napoleon, layers of puff pastry, whipped cream and tasty strawberries. My coffee came in a French press and it was dark and good. Too often, restaurant desserts are boring and disappointing. These were surprising and delicious. Eclipse’s pastry chef is Lila Mathieu, the daughter of the former owner of the Good Thyme Deli, a symmetry that chef Zach Gorham finds appealing.
Gorham and his girlfriend, Emma Donoghue, run Eclipse with financial backing from his mother and her boyfriend. A local boy, Zach started dishwashing at Nini’s in Easthampton at the age of 15. By 19, he had enough chops for the banquet chef at the Lord Jeff in Amherst to take him under his wing. While at the Jeff and later at Mulino’s in Northampton, he worked under Phil Hillenbrand, who now owns Bottega Cucina in West Springfield. “Phil had to fire me,” Gorham remembers. “I was the typical young chef who drinks too much and works too much.” He quit drinking and went to work at Bread Euphoria, designing the savories menu. After that he ran the restaurant at the Worthington Golf Club. For Gorham, the freedom there was his first taste of “this is what I want to do with my life.”
It came together at Eclipse. Since the menu changes each day, he can keep the food interesting. His sous chef, Kevin Doubleday, worked with him before leaving for a culinary degree and some time in New York City. He was back in the area when Gorham was looking for a sous and jumped on board. “Everyone in New York wants to open a place like Eclipse,” said Gorham. “Forty seats and a menu that changes daily.” Casey Osburn, who’d managed a café in San Francisco, showed up when Eclipse was being readied and now runs the front of the house in addition to the bar.
Eclipse uses as much local food as it can, especially in the summer. Gorham buys some of his specialty meats from a childhood friend who now owns Upland Meadows Farm in Cummington. The Tuesday farmers market outside Thornes Marketplace in Northampton is literally at his back door, and some local farms deliver.
Salads are $7, and appetizers range from $8 to $12. Entrees start at $16 for vegetarian options and range to $24, with most around $18. Desserts are $6 and $7. There is a good wine list, with a number of wines available by the glass.
Eclipse is open for dinner from Wednesday through Sunday. Official hours are 5 p.m. to midnight, which makes it one of the few choices in town for a late meal.
Originally published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette, July 9, 2010.