Thursday, June 5, 2008

Black Eyed Susans, Nantucket, MA

This past weekend I had the distinct pleasure of taking part in one of the best parts of living in Boston-spending time on "the islands" specifically, Nantucket. This being only my second visit in all the time Ive lived in Massachusetts, I am still totally enraptured with this island. It is absolutely the quintessential New England "town" complete with cobblestone streets, and historical architectural preservation societies. It is one of those places that you can imagine a horse drawn buggy in place of the present day cars. They have maintained this integrity, but all the while all of the vacationers needs are met from beautiful beaches, shopping galore, gorgeous views, and, of course, amazing dining experiences.

Monday evening I had the opportunity to go to one of the well loved establishments on the island, Black Eyed Susans. Located in the heart of their down town are, this is a quaint little restaurant serving basic new American fare, at a high quality. We chose to sit at a long counter that over looked the kitchen so we could watch the chef prepare each dish as the orders came in. I have to say- I was completely enthralled by this experience. I spend FAR too much time watching the Food Network, and asking ridiculous questions in restaurants to anyone who seems to be in the know, but sitting at a counter that for all intents and purposes was in the kitchen completely blew me away. To watch a chef create dish after dish, adding a little of this and a little of that, working in conjunction with his sous chef, creating the rhythm between them- well to say it was fascinating is worlds largest understatement. I can take full responsibility for being a horrible conversationalist throughout the evening.

We started with one of their appetizer specials for the evening, fried soft shell crab in a tempura batter, dressed with a peanut sauce. The crab was fried perfectly golden brown, and the tempura batter was just light enough to allow the flavor of the crab to shine through. Ive often been disappointed in fried seafood as the batter, or method of frying, sometimes takes away the delicate flavors of the seafood. It is a hard balance to reach, and I thought that Black Eyed Susans well maintained it. The peanut sauce that was served with the crab was also well balanced. Oddly enough I had had a conversation earlier in the week with a good friend of mine who had had a bad experience making her own peanut sauce- the recipe had instructed her to use too much soy sauce making the end result incredibly salty and, unfortunately, inedible. Personally, I have had peanut sauces that have been too "peanutty", whereby I feel as though I'm eating a big tablespoon of peanut butter which is not very enjoyable, and extremely over powering. The sauce that was served with the crab was very well combined- the strong peanut flavor was cut beautifully with what I assume was soy sauce and other oils etc. It was rich and full without completely overshadowing the crab, and rather really enhanced it. I found this dish to be perfect.

As D knew the chef we were sent a second appetizer as well, asparagus, mache and mozzarella salad with an oven dried tomato vinaigrette enhanced with a lavender honey. I have to say, for the evening, this was by far my favorite dish. The asparagus was cooked and cooled so it was crisp and refreshing, the vinaigrette captured a slight tartness that was beautifully offset with the sweet lavender honey, the mozzarella was cold and creamy, and the mache provided that very subtle crunch to round out the textures of the dish. The dish captured every essence of summer for me. Hot summer days all I want is something cool and refreshing, without losing the comfort of cream. Every ingredient in this dish played into this. The asparagus and mache were light, cool, crisp and delicious, and the mozzarella and the honey played into an indulgence factor with their sweet and creamy combination. This was honestly a dish that I found to be beyond perfect, and I was extremely sad when it was finished.

As a quick aside, as I had to look into it as well, Mache, also known as "lambs lettuce", is a mild green often served with other greens and lettuces, and reminded me greatly of micro greens. It was small and delicate, almost with more stem than leaf. So there is my interpretation of what Mache is- for those confused as I was.

I had been told that Black Eyed Susans is known for their linguine with clams in a white sauce, and so I decided to go with the tried and true. It is my impression that what a restaurant is able to do with a "simple" dish, such as linguine with clams, is a great indicator for their quality. Having one of these dishes shine, and not get left in the dust for some of their "showier" entrees, indicates that there is real quality to the place, and dedication to the craft. That is, at least, my impression. On that note, if I were to use only their linguine with clams as an indicator, I would be more than excited to try the rest their menu. The flavors of the white sauce were spot on. The presence of garlic, though beautifully in the background, enhanced by parsley and generous additions of clams made it slightly rustic but delicious. During plating they had also added small piles of ground black pepper and Parmesan cheese to the side of the bowl for the consumer to add as desired. I found this touch to be a fantastic addition, often there is too much cheese, or not enough pepper. This touch was thoughtful, and made the meal a constant work in progress up to each individual. I loved it.

D had ordered their halibut special- served with tofu, spinach and bacon based demi glace. The way that the chef had described had made it sound beautiful, but honestly- the dish surpassed even those expectations. Luckily I was offered a bite. Each flavor was preserved in its own right, and I even enjoyed the tofu, though I rarely do.

We also ordered dessert, which of course I'm not going to remember the proper name for, but was basically a pot of chocolate mousse, topped with fresh whipped cream and served with three cookies on the side, a macaroon, a white chocolate chip cookie, and chocolate chocolate chip cookie. The chocolate pot was delicious- the chocolate was rich and slightly tart which to me is a sign of a great chocolate, and the it was nicely lightened by the whipped cream topping. The cookies were good as well, though I wasn't blown away by the, though at that point my expectations were probably over the top for cookies.

I have to also note, Black Eyed Susans has a BYOB policy, and so we had brought a couple of bottles of wine with us. I was rather honored to share a bottle from my friends reserve selection. The chosen was from the Silverado Vineyards of Napa, a Fantasia wine, vintage 2002, comprised of 54 percent Sangiovese 43 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 3 percent Zinfandel. The result was full bodied, ripe fruits with a delicate finish. I couldn't quite place what it was, though I believe we narrowed it down to the ripeness of the fruit, but I had a very strong feeling of Port within the wine as well, though without its characterized sweetness. By far, this is one of the best bottles of wine I have had the pleasure to enjoy.

Black Eyed Susans far surpassed my expectations. Knowing my friend who recommended it, I knew it would be good, but I did not anticipate the variety and the expertise and the thoughtfulness of the meal. E- I am working on a rating system-but you can be sure that I would offer this my highest rating.

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