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Nantucket Restaurant Week, Spring 2013: reviews and gossip

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A couple of weeks ago, another poster asked what's new in the Nantucket restaurant scene. Restaurant Week just ended, so I have some immediate impressions, I have also been talking to a lot of people about what they are enjoying, and I will pass on some of this purely as hearsay. Take it for what it is worth. Others (Steve P?) are welcome to chime in. I am not in the restaurant business, and I don't have any connections with anyone at any of the restaurants I discuss.

There have been a lot of changes in the Downtown scene this year. Demarco's closed after a long run, and the new owners are hoping to have the space reconfigured and in action by the end of June. Maybe. They will have to work hard. Arno's on Main is open again under yet another new management, and the Jared Coffin House, shamefully, still doesn't have a restaurant since someone neglected to get the permits. I still have heard nothing positive at all from anybody about Met on Main, new last year. It is hard to know whether the food or the service is more disappointing since both are mentioned. Odd, because the owner has two well-received restaurants in Boston. Someone isn't paying attention. Cru, the high end seafood place on Straight Wharf, began this season as it began 2012: a rich, entitled drunk got hauled away by the cops after Behaving Badly. Although these people can afford Cru's prices, does the restaurant really need the aggravation? More training for the bar staff on when to cut people off? But the food, I hear, is excellent if you can avoid the clientele.

We (myself, my wife. and another couple) went to three restaurants over the week. I used to be able to handle more, but my digestion is not what it used to be, and we had to intersperse vegetarian days between days of indulgence. All three restaurants had good things to offer, and one was outstanding.

We went to Company of the Cauldron on Tuesday. Three courses, no choices. It is always a prix fixe, no choice restaurant. Prices vary significantly depending on the featured ingredients, with the triple lobster (not three lobsters, sorry) perhaps the most expensive. They post menus a week in advance, and you get what is on it, though they will make substitutions for health reasons if you arrange it in advance. But what is on the menu is almost always very good, and it was this week. The starter was a delicious cabbage-based salad with homemade duck pastrami. The main course was collar sections of rib roasts perfectly cooked, with a wonderful Béarnaise sauce. These were succulent without being at all fatty, which is tough to do. Dessert was crème brulee. with a perfectly caramelized crust and some superfluous, though delicious, pastry garnish. Good food, but it is the ambience at Company that is always a treat. Even when it is broad daylight outside, the restaurant is dim and romantic, with a harpist playing. It is invariably busy, this night no exception, and you will always need a reservation.

On Thursday, we went to Oran Mor, a restaurant that impressed us a lot last year. Same owners and chef, different faces in the dining room, but another superb meal. Oran Mor is upstairs and would be difficult if you have mobility issues, but the food is so good that we saw one gentleman persevering with his walker in order to indulge. The set menu was four courses. The first was a flaky tart of asparagus tips and goat cheese , the second was one perfectly grilled sea scallop, beautifully garnished with fried potato threads (someone spent plenty of time with a microplane) on top and a pork belly hash below, the main was duck with a parsnip puree and a garnish of spelt and quinoa, and dessert was a carrot and ginger cake. I see why they chose it, but it was too bland to fit the rest of the dinner.

This was, however, an outstanding and incredibly delicious meal, light but with rich flavors, beautifully presented. They had to have lost money on this dinner because the changes of plates and silver alone were elaborate and took plenty of staff time. The staff, as they were last year, were superb. Theo, our captain (more than a waitperson) was charming, informative, attentive and a wonderful manager of our meal. It is rare enough that you wish a meal could go on longer, but this is one of those occasions when we did. They have won us as customers for special occasions and when we just need to be good to ourselves. No attitude, just great, imaginative performance in the kitchen and on the floor.

Saturday night, we took off for the Ship's Inn. Our friends' granddaughter is spending the summer with them and working on Nantucket. She is beginning to wonder if they ever stay home!

The Ship's Inn, on Fair Street across from St Paul's Episcopal Church, is an old friend. It has the virtue of looking exactly like the dining room of a New England inn ought to look, and the food is excellent as well. If you had friends who wanted a real Old Nantucket experience and you don't belong to the Yacht Club, this is where you should take them.

Two of us started with wonderful wild mushroom soup, two of us started with good Caesar salads, lots of anchovy, please. They asked. We all four chose sea scallops for mains, grilled on a beautifully laid out plate with a sweet pepper risotto, pesto, and perfectly cooked carrots with sort of funny little radish "ears". That would not be my choice of garnish, but I am glad I didn't have to choose! The dessert blew us away. Ordered at the beginning of the meal, the only choice was between chocolate or Grand Marnier soufflés! These arrived perfectly cooked with a ewer of crème anglaise. It takes great confidence and great timing in the kitchen to offer soufflés, and to do it as part of a promotional menu is amazing. You don't see the kitchen from inside the restaurant, but I looked in the windows on the way back to the car and watched the Line, performing like the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Bravo.

We again had exceptionally competent service. I believe our captain was Michele, and everyone she supervised was excellent. A really nice evening. From the regular menu, I always have the braised short ribs, so it was a nice change to have the scallops. I don't drink martinis, but if you like them, the ones at the next table were spectacular!

Other food gossip. Friends are saying really great things about the new Lolaburger at the rotary across from the I&M newspaper. Burgers start at a very affordable level and go right up to a much higher price point with the LolaBurger and Tunaburger, so your meal can be as economical as it is delicious. Or you can go for the top and have truffle fries, too. I am looking forward to this as I love Lola41, though not in the summer except for lunch. It is a beacon in the dark in February, but the summer crowd is too young and too noisy, and the kitchen has a hard time keeping up. Pazzo, another restaurant owned by the same group, got mixed reviews from friends last summer, but I have never personally had a bad meal or bad service there. Crossroads, at the airport continues to be the place to go for blueberry pancakes and for their nightly specials: steak on Tuesday, ribs on Thursday, fish and chips on Friday, and Indian-inspired food most Saturdays. It is unassuming, noisy, totally kid friendly, and an amazing value for money.

Finally, a word about prices. Our three restaurant week meals were $45 per person, plus wine and/or drinks. That would be a lot of money in many places, but it is considered real value here. The wines are not inexpensive, and the lists are wildly different, which may be a big part of the fun if you are eating out a lot over a vacation. For value at a higher price/ambience point than Crossroads, both Town and Queequegs, which share a common kitchen but have very different menus, always deliver. So does Corazon del Mar. People feel the same way about the bar at the Sea Grille, where the menu is more imaginative than in the dining room. We did not have good experiences at Straight Wharf last year. The food was boring and the staff was sloppy and not well trained, odd because Ventuno, owned by the same group, was very good, though not excellent. It gets another try, Straight Wharf is off the list until it changes.

So there you go! Eat, drink, and be merry in ACK!

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