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Nantucket Again

January 24, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments
Wauwinet Inn

Wauwinet Inn

For the last three years, we have gone to Nantucket on Labor Day. The nascent tradition (described in one of my earliest blog posts) started when we helped Joel move into housing in Boston in 2006 before his first semester at Northeastern. We flew down to Nantucket once he was settled, returning to Boston three days later to spend a little more time with him before flying back to Seattle. We discovered that three days wasn’t enough time, so the last two years, after spending Labor Day weekend helping Joel move to different apartments, we’ve headed down to Nantucket on Labor Day and stayed until Friday. Each year, we have come back to Seattle thinking that even four days isn’t enough, or a week, or a month. We want to live there. This spell seems to last about two months. By Thanksgiving anyway, I’m no longer talking about moving there and starting a restaurant. But now I’m getting excited all over again, because yesterday I called the Wauwinet Inn, where we always stay, and confirmed our reservation for Room 302 from Labor Day through the following Friday. Joel may not be at Northeastern this time around. He may be studying in France, or preparing to go there. We may find that Labor Day week isn’t a good time to return to Nantucket. There’s time to figure that out. But for now, we’re ready.

The Wauwinet sets its rates for the year every January. Once the rates are set, anyone wishing to hold a reservation for the coming season must pay in advance, the payment being refundable (minus a modest fee) if one cancels up to thirty days ahead. The beauty of going on Labor Day is that that’s when the crowds disappear. The weather is still good, but the island is quiet. Our experience has been that we could delay reserving and still get space that week, but in order to ensure that we get our favorite room, we choose to reserve now. The room can be seen in the photo above, filling the central dormer on the third floor, with four windows looking westwards to the eastern end of Nantucket Harbor, pictured below.

Nantucket Harbor, Landing at Wauwinet Inn

Nantucket Harbor, Landing at Wauwinet Inn

The Wauwinet is on the thin strip of land that extends northwards on the eastern end of the island, with the Atlantic to the east and the Nantucket Harbor to the west, separated by 300 yards of sand. (Nantucket town is on the far opposite end of Nantucket Harbor, several miles westward.) There are about 30 houses to the north of the inn, each of them having property extending east to west from the ocean to the harbor. Beyond that, the land is protected and undeveloped, except for one odd house a mile or two to the north. One can go another six or seven miles north before running out of land at Great Point, which juts out between the Atlantic Ocean and Nantucket Sound way to the northeast of the island’s heart. (See picture below, with seal.)

Great Point, Nantucket

Great Point, Nantucket

It’s not just Nantucket that we love, but the location of the inn.

And we love the food. The first year, we went without thinking about planning ahead for dinner. We were content to eat in the restaurant at the inn on our first and last nights. Of course, this isn’t just any restaurant. It’s Topper’s, the fanciest and most expensive restaurant on the island, a mixed blessing. We love the breakfasts there, which are included as part of the cost of accommodations. Sitting on the covered deck looking out at the harbor, with the chef’s herb garden below, having a leisurely breakfast with the NYT is a daily highlight. But dinner is an intense experience, drawn out with lengthy explanations of everything by the waitstaff and elegant presentations of all the courses. One can only do so much of that. So on the the middle night, we went into town, shopped, walked around, and had fish and chips at a modest restaurant on Straight Wharf. Nothing special, but we needed a night off from the fancy food at Topper’s.

Two years ago, we again went to Topper’s the first and last nights. We had learned from the year before to rely on the Wauwinet staff to make reservations for us ahead of time if we wanted to try the top restaurants in town, but again, we didn’t want to eat so well every night. One night they booked us at 21 Federal. The other night, after spending the afternoon wandering around town, we stopped in at Arno’s, a popular, standard American sort of restaurant on Main Street. We liked 21 Federal a lot, but our favorite meals were the ones at Topper’s.

Our experience on our most recent visit, last September, was different. We booked dinners ahead of time for every evening. Once again, we scheduled ourselves at Topper’s for the first and last nights. In between, we scheduled a return to 21 Federal plus an evening at DeMarco, the place to go on the island for fine Italian food. We had hoped to eat there the year before, but it was closed on our chosen evening. After one night at Topper’s, we decided we just couldn’t do it again. It’s so expensive, and we felt we didn’t enjoy it enough to justify eating there again, especially considering how much time we were spending eating there at breakfast. (And, in effect, eating there for lunch — ordering off their small bites menu on the lawn. This is one of the pleasures of the Wauwinet, lying on the chaises longues that you can see in the photo at the top, reading books all day, having great lunches served at our seats.) The next night we went to 21 Federal, which we absolutely loved.

21 Federal

21 Federal

As much as we enjoyed it a year earlier, this dinner was even better, one of the great dining experiences we ever had. If I had been blogging then, I would have described the details, but I can’t remember. Beautiful room, beautiful food, great service. (A year earlier, we were sent upstairs, in a room that initially was empty, and then a big crowd showed up at the bar and made a lot of noise. This time we were in the main room, or rooms, on the main floor. This was part of the improved experience.)

On night three, needing a break from special dinners, we went to town early in the day to shop and have lunch (at Fog Island Cafe, a wonderfully unpretentious luncheonette type of place with first-rate food), then returned to the Wauwinet to relax a while and drop by Topper’s bar for a light dinner. We got some of the same good food, but without the pretentious service and in a fraction of the time. The only problem was that this was the night that Sarah Palin was to speak at the Republican Convention, the Wednesday of convention week. The bar area is very small. We were at a table as far away from the bar as one could be, but still pretty close. At the bar, someone was watching TV and asked the bartender/waiter to change the station from the US Open tennis tournament to the convention. He then wanted to watch Sarah speak. A clock showed she would speak in 2 hours and some minutes, but he managed to interpret this to mean she would speak in 2 minutes and some seconds. He had the volume raised and talked about her. The bartender noticed our distress and eventually lowered the volume, then when he left, switched back to tennis. We were in our room by the time Sarah actually made her speech, watching a DVD we borrowed from the front desk. Little did we know we were missing what would become such a famous speech. It’s just as well.

On our final night, we went back into town for dinner at DeMarco. It’s reputation seems to have declined, based on online reviews we read, but we were delighted. We loved our dinners. Their signature dish is their Boscaiola: “Badly Cut” fresh pasta, wild mushrooms, prosciutto, tomato, sage, cream. Gail ordered it and we shared a little. We loved it.

We’re ready to return. And I can’t wait to eat again at 21 Federal. It’s been on my mind all day. I’d go tonight if I could. But even if we were on Nantucket, we couldn’t. Like so much else on the island, it closes for the winter. Come back in September and I’ll tell you more about why I love it so much.

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