Ambitious seasonal dishes
These Cape, Nantucket chefs succeed
The Cape and the Islands have never been dining destinations, but the restaurant scene has evolved. In addition to clam bellies and lobster rolls, one now finds tapas and sushi, French pastries and handmade pasta, and ambitious, chef-driven cuisine.
At Sol in Wellfleet, I recently sampled a rice noodle soup with roast pork and bacon so delicious I’m still thinking about it. Same with the tuna Bolognese at Blackfish in Truro. Or just about any item from the small plates menu at American Seasons in Nantucket. These dishes rival anything I’ve eaten in the city recently.
This year, several new restaurants join the scene - projects from Boston-area chefs and restaurateurs doing what Bostonians do in the summer, heading to the Cape.
In North Truro, former Garden at the Cellar chef Will Gilson and partner Aaron Cohen have taken over longtime establishment Adrian’s for the season. The duo is behind the group Eat, which has hosted a series of pop-up restaurants in hair salons, coffee shops, chocolate factories, and antiques galleries around the city. Now they have a pop-up restaurant . . . in a restaurant. It’s so meta it just might work. (And last week they brought in the people behind New York’s Big Gay Ice Cream Truck to run a pop-up within a pop-up.)
Eat at Adrian’s is part of a motel, and the atmosphere is fairly basic, aside from the view of Cape Cod Bay. The food, however, is anything but. The menu incorporates seasonal ingredients and local seafood, including a sampler of fish charcuterie. One evening it features a pot of cod rillettes, fish pate with pickled mustard seeds, smoked salmon, and fuchsia beet-cured scallops. These are accompanied by a variety of pickles (sunchokes!), mustard, and toasts.
There may not be pig on the charcuterie board, but Gilson certainly makes up for it elsewhere. Clam chowder isn’t the thick affair many New Englanders crave - as our waitress warns us when we order it. Perhaps some have complained. There’s no reason to. A bowl arrives containing a cube of crisped pork belly surrounded by clams. The server pours a light, creamy broth around them. This dish is as much about bacon as it is about clams.
Dates are stuffed with hazelnuts and goat cheese and wrapped in bacon for a crowd-pleasing snack. An entree that features grilled pork loin is stunning. The meat is juicy, flavorful in a way loin rarely is, and perfectly pink inside. It’s a pleasure on its own, but even better accompanied by seared peaches, grits, braised greens, and a sauce made from chorizo.
There’s also a bar menu, along with daily specials. And the bar itself deserves a visit. Jaded city drinkers will find balanced, inventive cocktails such as the Honey Badger (bourbon, Barenjager, yuzu, and chamomile bitters) and the g80, similar to a margarita, but with a creeping heat from habanero syrup.
Eat at Adrian’s is open seven days a week until Labor Day, then on weekends up to Columbus Day. Will Gilson and Cohen return next summer? Stay tuned.
In Provincetown, restaurateur Krista Kranyak opened a third branch of Ten Tables this season. (The other two are in Jamaica Plain and Cambridge.) The new restaurant has the feel of an old farmhouse, with fireplaces and wood beams. There is an upstairs bar and lounge.
The bar menu offers Ten Tables’ signature burger, but you can have that at home. The thing to order here is lobster sliders, available singly or as an order of three. These are lovely little round lobster rolls, with plenty of fresh, sweet meat, plus a spread of chunky avocado puree. Beet chips come on the side.
Cucumber gazpacho with apples and almonds is a refreshing starter on a summer night - perfect followed by grilled bluefish with clams, chorizo, red peas, eggplant, and herbed yogurt. The flavors straddle Portugal, the Middle East, and New England, and make the stance look graceful.
For something simpler but satisfying, try ricotta cavatelli cacio e pepe. The handmade pasta is tossed with liberal amounts of cheese and pepper, plus some wild greens. There’s nowhere to hide - this dish is either perfectly balanced and fabulous, or completely uninteresting. Here it is excellent, perhaps due to the hand of sous chef Matthew Ruzga, formerly of Mario Batali’s Lupa, famous for its cacio e pepe. Alex Saenz, previously the chef de cuisine at Ten Tables in Cambridge, heads the Provincetown kitchen.
Ten Tables’ service is not as wonderful as its food, unfortunately. When things go awry - as they will, always, in a restaurant - servers don’t seem to know what to do. Bartenders bicker. But you will eat well. The restaurant is open until Oct. 30.
In Nantucket, Ventuno is a new project from husband-and-wife team Gabriel Frasca and Amanda Lydon, who left Boston to take over Straight Wharf here in 2006. A beautiful space filled with cozy nooks, Ventuno offers Italian dishes inspired by the produce and seafood of Nantucket. With former favorite Sfoglia closed (the space now belongs to fellow newcomer Pazzo), it’s a good time for a new Italian restaurant on the island.
Olives are stuffed with pork sausage and fried for a great snack to accompany a well-made Negroni sbagliato, a version of the drink that includes prosecco. The sommelier is also happy to steer you to a bottle that complements everyone’s food.
Ventuno’s pasta is wonderful. Garganelli served with duck Bolognese, herbs, and ricotta salata is likely to prove a signature dish - it deserves to be ordered regularly. Pasta e fagioli is not the hearty, rustic concoction you may know. Whole-wheat casarecce bring an intriguingly grainy taste to the dish. The beans are borlotti, butter, and Romano. But the pasta and fagioli play second fiddle to the Nantucket lobster included in the dish. Almond-tomato pesto rounds out the flavors.
A main dish of wild striped bass showcases the produce of Bartlett’s Farm. The fish is moist, the skin perfectly crisp; purple carrots, golden cherry tomatoes, and fresh beans nestle alongside in a smoky, salty prosciutto broth. Preserved lemon aioli lends brightness and richness.
Ventuno offers an elegant version of veal marsala: juicy grilled veal porterhouse with chanterelles and a sauce that’s barely sweet. It’s accompanied by buckwheat polenta, about which there is nothing whole grain-y whatsoever. It’s utterly creamy and decadent.
Dessert is worthy at all three restaurants, but it would be morally wrong not to single out Ventuno’s bomboloncini, one of the best sweets I’ve had all year. Described on the menu as doughnuts, they are more like brioche filled with bittersweet chocolate, served with mint chocolate chip gelato and chocolate sauce. Ventuno is open until Columbus Day.
Each of these new restaurants impresses. Any could stand alongside city establishments with pride.
Devra First can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.