Sunday, July 12, 2009

Havens of Happiness: Part 1 - Nantucket

If there is one thing that I am certain of, it's the importance of happy places. Every one should have at least one. That place where no matter what is going on in your life, you feel at ease - basically like a child again. While the best part of a happy place is actually being there, the memories of the place can often be just as powerful. I'm coming off a couple months of hitting up almost all of my favorite spots and, I'll be honest, it feels pretty great. True, these places would not exist in such an elevated place in my mind without the amazing settings and friends and family in tow. However, when it comes down to it, most of my days away are defined by my meals - making sure I get to pack in all of my favorites in such a short period of time. Could it be that my happy places are really my happy eating places? To any one that knows me well, that actually sounds just about right.

My original happy place is Nantucket. I have been going there with my family every year of my life during the month of June - missing only one year and I can guarantee that will never happen again. We have our traditions - and with no surprise, they basically all revolve around food. Whenever people ask me what my favorite food is (one of the hardest questions for a lover of all foods!), I can actually easily answer. It's lobster - hands down. And this love affair started at the age of five when I had my first lobster out on Nantucket. A trip to the island is not complete without lobster night at home. We used to pick up our live lobsters at the local seafood store, and then, cook and crack them at home. I loved playing with the lobsters, making them race each other across the kitchen floor - truly getting to know them before they took their last breathe. As excited as I was about getting to eat my favorite food, it was always pretty traumatic when it was time to get out the big pot. It took only a few years of convincing me to break part of this tradition and actually have someone else cook and crack them. Believe it or not, the lobsters taste even better when you don't have to do the dirty work. Call up the Straight Wharf Fish Store or Sayle's Seafood and they will be more than happy to prepare your very own lobster feast for the evening.

After a night or two at the house, I am always ready to head out to dinner. A night at The Company of the Cauldron is a must. This quaint restaurant is the site of my first gourmet meal. At age ten, one night at the Company was the beginning of the end for the Hungry Roach - my days at the Brotherhood suddenly became few and far between. Located in the heart of downtown, this tiny restaurant serves only one menu each night at two different seatings. The moment we arrive on island, we head to India Street to reserve a night that appeals to all. In all fairness, I have yet to have a less than perfect meal there. We could definitely blindly pick a night and be more than satisfied as each year the food just seems to get better and better. This year was no exception. We started the evening with house made lemon basil fettuccine tossed with lobster, shrimp, spring peas, and fresh morels. I can never turn down an evening with lobster on the menu - and this dish did not disappoint. It was followed by a farm arugula and melon salad served with Nantucket farm greens - an excellent, light transition between the heavier dishes. I still had plenty of room for every morsel of the pecan crusted halibut topped with key lime beurre blanc, served with herb roasted fingerling potatoes and grilled asparagus. This was every bit as delicious as it sounds. And the momentum carried straight on through dessert as we all polished off a blackberry creme brulee. I already cannot wait for next year's meal - another tradition that simply will not be broken!

We do try to mix it up and try out another restaurant or two each year. This year's lucky winner was The Galley at Cliffside Beach. And, it truly was a winner in our eyes. Despite a cloudier morning, we ended up there for the quintessential Nantucket sunset. Whether we are sitting on our widow's walk, on the cliff at Step's Beach, or right on Jetty's beach, I've got to watch the sun sink into the Nantucket Sound at least once before leaving. We were lucky enough to catch our sunset all the while enjoying a delicious meal. The restaurant is located right on the beach - and the seafood-full menu doesn't let you forget it. There were so many excellent options for both starters and main courses, it was almost hard to decide. The pernod-scented escargots with melted leeks, tomato, and garlic butter served with a homemade breadstick were excellent. I would also recommend the hamachi tartare with creamy avocado, radish, seaweed crisp, and aged soy. Seafood was definitely the way to go with the entrees, but that still did not seem to narrow down the many choices. The miso-marinated halibut with daikon, carrot and tatsoi salad topped with chiang xiuang vinaigrette as well as the pan-roasted artic char with braised greens, double-smoked bacon, and rock shrimp polenta were unforgettable. Whether or not you have room for dessert, another course is the perfect reason to prolong your rights to this high-valued real estate. We passed around and completely cleared the plates of a lemon-lime tart, an apple tart with caramel ice cream, and a warm chocolate brownie topped with vanilla ice cream and toasted hazelnuts. The Galley may have just joined the ever-growing Nantucket tradition list.

Just thinking of all of these meals, I am sitting here with a smile on my face. If that doesn't define a happy place, then I don't know what does. Thank goodness for memories and the possibility of return. That alone should get me through the next 11 months until it's time to return to our magical island once again! The countdown has begun...


GTS said...

YES Nantucket is heaven or a haven!! Great place for the HR....

Anonymous said...

I know whereof you speak about both of these restaurants. They are superb in every way, and both are "musts" for anyone traveling to Nantucket. Of course, as you say it is hard to beat the lobster feast at home! What a treat! I usually get one a year, and I missed mine this year. I can almost taste all of that sweet-meat goodness and feel the drawn butter dribbling down my chin.

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