In past years, when we’ve come to Nantucket, I have written long posts about our daytime activities and our dinners. As we sit now awaiting a light lunch and the ride to the airport, it’s evident that I won’t be doing that this time. Probably just as well. Nonetheless, there are a few items I want to touch on. I’ll do so in individual posts. This one is devoted to Ventuno, the restaurant where we had dinner two nights ago.
I have written before (here, for instance, two years ago) about our favorite Nantucket restaurant, 21 Federal, and about my disappointment on learning last summer that it had closed. The restaurant’s name is simply its address, Federal Street being one of the central streets of Nantucket’s town. The restaurant that took its place is Italian in orientation, and gave recognition to the old name by taking as its own the Italian word for twenty-one: Ventuno. It was set up by Gabriel Frasca and Amanda Lydon, the couple who already ran another Nantucket institution, the nearby restaurant Straight Wharf.
When we tried Ventuno last September, we were delighted. And we found ourselves in good company, as John Kerry and Teresa Heinz Kelly took a table across the way. On planning our time on Nantucket this year, we put Ventuno at the top of our list of restaurants to eat at. Once again we were delighted, and more. It was our favorite among many wonderful meals this past week.
The restaurant is an old house with several small rooms. We sat in the far corner of the back room, a lovely space. In addition to the menu items — you can see the online menu here; Friday’s version was similar in conception, though different in detail — the waiter told us about two specials built around a pig the restaurant had raised on an island farm and now slaughtered. I forget the pig-based appetizer. The main dish was pork loin with farro verde, island tomatoes, and island lettuce.
We decided to share three appetizers: the polpette (five small meatballs in a tomato sauce), the chilled tomato soup with (according to Gail’s memory) almond creme and pecrorino, and a half-portion of cavatelli pasta with chicken sausage, broccoli, rabe, pepper flakes, and a wine sauce. Each was spectacular.
Gail chose the duck for her entree, accompanied by farro, candied pistachios, and some sort of sauce. You can see it below.
I had the pig. Shortly after it was served, the chef came out to tell us about it. He explained that it was the best fed pig — or mammal of any sort — on the island, feasting on Ventuno scraps for months. Plus, the restaurant makes its own goat cheese, and would send the whey to the farm for the pig to try as well. The first time, it was an experiment, but the farmer reported back that they should keep it coming, and so they did. We were reassured that this was one happy pig.
And soon Ventuno had one happy diner. Two, actually.
On to dessert. Gail had the bomboloncini: bittersweet chocolate doughnuts, coffee gelato, and chocolate sauce. I tasted one of her two doughnuts and it was fabulous. I went light, with the morsel of caramel panna cotta and a little almond cookie.
As we finished, the chef returned to make sure the pig hadn’t died in vain. We fell into a long conversation, during which we realized that he was the founding chef and restaurant owner, Gabriel. He described the troubles last summer with customers who weren’t happy about the changes, somehow wanting Ventuno to be 21 Federal in all but name. Some didn’t get what the restaurant was about, or weren’t sympathetic to it. This year, things are better. Unhappy old-timers stay away. Those who come get what they’re about. We talked as well about how he and his wife handle their split life in Nantucket and Boston, this being the first complicated year, as the older of their two children began kindergarten this week. Until now, where they were, the kids were.
On our way out, we bought a Ventuno t-shirt for Gail to wear, the same style t-shirt the bus staff were wearing. The thought that we would have to wait a year for our next meal there saddened us. Maybe next year we’ll go twice.
For more on Gabriel Frasca, see this short article and the video below.