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Nantucket 1

September 6, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

White Elephant

Yesterday, for the sixth consecutive Labor Day, we arrived in Nantucket. We flew JetBlue from JFK, which sure beats taking Cape Air’s two propellor Cessnas from Logan. Flight time was supposed to be 35 minutes. It’s always fun to look out the window, see Martha’s Vineyard in the distance, then pass MV and see Nantucket get closer and closer. Despite light clouds, I could still make MV out, then Tuckernuck Island ahead, off the western end of Nantucket, and then all of Nantucket, to the northeast, then due north (as we flew east). I could see the airport on the southern shore as we continued east, then Sconset on the southeast corner of the island as we continued further east. Some 7 or 8 minutes later we were still flying east, with Nantucket far behind us, and I wondered why no one else seemed concerned. Had the pilot and co-pilot fallen asleep? Would we continue heading east over the Atlantic until, well, I didn’t want to think it. But I couldn’t think of any possible reason why we weren’t making our 180 degree turn and descending. And then we turned. That was a relief. I still can’t figure out what was going on. It just may be that they did fall asleep.

Long-time readers of Ron’s View know that we always stay at the Wauwinet. But this year some party booked the whole place for tonight and tomorrow night. We were asked if we could change our dates. Since the answer was no, we instead agreed to spend the first three nights at their sister property, the White Elephant, before moving out to the Wauwinet.

The Wauwinet is about 9 miles out of town on the southern end of the spit of land that juts way north on the eastern edge of the island, separating the inner harbor from the ocean. It’s a remote but spectacularly beautiful location. The White Elephant is a 5-minute walk from town. A couple of years ago we walked out to it from town to see what it was like. We even were shown a couple of rooms for future reference. But we’d rather be at the Wauwinet. We always stay in the same room there, with its four windows looking out over the eastern end of the harbor, a glorious view. We have no desire to be elsewhere.

Nonetheless, and not that we had a choice, we figured it would be enjoyable to try out a location near town. So far it has worked out well.

We arrived at the White Elephant around 2:15 yesterday. A little over an hour later, we walked into town. The first major building one reaches in town is the Nantucket Historical Association’s Whaling Museum, which also happened to be our first destination. Already we were benefitting from staying at the WE. The museum is great in itself, but we were eager to see the new 45-minute movie Nantucket, which was made for the museum and premiered on July 1. It’s a documentary made by Ric Burns, brother of Ken Burns and collaborator with Ken on the PBS Civil War series.

We arrived, bought a membership in the Nantucket Historical Association, entered the museum, took our seats for the 4:00 showing, and then watched the film. It’s a mostly historical look at the island, focusing on the whaling industry of course, but looking also at some of its early pre-Columbian days and its more recent shift to tourism. There are some fabulous shots of the island filmed from a helicopter. Alas, I had trouble staying awake early on, having had limited sleep over the weekend in New York. Once the movie ended, the museum was closing, so we headed to the gift shop and bought our own copy to watch at home.

On to two of our favorite Nantucket stores, Jewel of the Isle and Dokkim. Gary Trainor, Jewel of the Isle’s owner and jewelry designer, is also a local musician and one-time Nantucket High School music teacher. A year ago, we spent some time talking to a friend of his who was helping out in the store for a bit: Seth Burkhart, jazz drummer and leader of Opus 3 Trio. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to hear Opus 3 play, but Seth did give us one of their CDs, which is first rate. They spend a lot of time in Asia or on cruise ships, not much time in the US. I was hoping they might be on Nantucket again this summer, but Gary brought us up to date on them, and they’re not.

After wandering around town some more, we headed back to the WE for a rest, then returned to town to have dinner at The Pearl. We had long intended to eat there, but never made it. Last year we were booked to go on our final evening, but were tiring of running in from Wauwinet every evening, so cancelled. This year, we booked it first so as to have no excuse. And we sure were glad.

The dinner menu as a pdf file can be found here. We started by sharing the Golden Pork + Shrimp Potstickers with sesame + soy + chili oil and the Vietnamese Lettuce Wraps with crispy chicken + crab spring rolls, mint + basil + butter lettuce. (I’m taking the plus signs straight from the menu.) Sublime. I don’t know how to describe how great the lettuce wraps were. Just wonderful. Then Gail went with the Lemongrass + Cilantro Beef BBQ with green papaya salad + candied cashews, traditional sticky rice, thai green chile sauce and I had Grilled Kurabuto Pork Chop with black garlic butter + crispy island egg, toasted almond fried rice + fresh herbs. Both again were fabulous. We never should have waited this long.

We awoke to rain today, ate breakfast at the WE’s Brant Point Grill during some heavy rainfall, then headed into town around 11:00 AM when the rain took a break. On to a Nantucket landmark, Murray’s Toggery Shop, home of the classic Nantucket Red line of clothing. I wrote about this a year ago. I won’t again, or even link to it. Suffice to say that if you were hoping to dress like a New York Yacht Club commodore (don’t we all?), you’ll need some Nantucket reds.

Last year I bought a pair of Nantucket red shorts. Color aside, and any whiff of WASPish upper class snobbery aside, they’re made of an excellent cotton fabric and this summer became a mainstay of my wardrobe. I needed to branch out. Today I got the red slacks and a complementary blue pair. They may change my life. Sailboat next.

On down Main Street to Jewel of the Isle, more chit-chat with Gary Trainor, and a purchase for Gail’s Nantucket charm bracelet. It was nearing 1:00 PM, time for a light lunch at another island institution, Fog Island Cafe. It’s a deceptively simple lunchtime place with tons of business and maybe the best modestly priced lunch in town. And we didn’t make it there last year, so it was a must. Gail had her usual chicken quesadillas. I had the curried chicken sandwich.

Back to Dokkim, which I won’t say much about because it just isn’t the same to go there when the owner and bag maker, Dok Kim, isn’t in town, and he isn’t this week. Then next door to Grand Union, the supermarket, for some snacks to bring back to the room. A couple more favorite stores and we headed back to the White Elephant. Soon it was raining heavily and stayed inside to read. Or actually outside, as our room leads to an outdoor seating area covered by the room above’s deck.

In the late afternoon, rain falling and wind howling, I borrowed a hotel umbrella and made my way a few hundred yards east, directly into the wind to Brant Point, site of a Coast Guard Station and one of the island’s three lighthouses, returning by a circuitous route that brought me past a line of homes that look out onto the open water of Nantucket Sound, with Cape Cod 30 miles to the north.

Soon it was time to return to town for dinner at Company of the Cauldron. Every time we’re here, we walk past it, look in at the darkened room, and wonder whether to try it. I have resisted because it has a fixed menu each night and I fear the menu won’t be to my taste. There’s a single seating this time of year, starting in fact yesterday, with two seatings in July and August. They post the coming week’s menu on-line, so one does have the opportunity to see what they’re serving before booking. This time, we booked well ahead of time, deciding to take our chances. While sitting at JFK yesterday morning, I went online and was relieved to see that tonight’s menu was an appealing one.

A few words from their website:

Located in the heart of Nantucket’s Historic District, the abundant charm of this small red building with ivy-covered windows invites you to enter. Inside the doorway massed flowers greet you on the antique bakers rack. Just beyond, tables glow softly, lit only by candles. The kitchen is open and can be seen from the dining room. Classical harp music wafts in the background three evenings of the week. Romantic ambience abounds.

Our harpist Mary Keller has been playing her harp on Nantucket for over 20 years. In addition to delighting our diners with her gentle lyrical music

That sounds about right, though it doesn’t begin to suggest just how good the food is. By Gail’s count, the restaurant holds 36 people in mostly two-tops and four-tops. We were sat in one of four closely arranged two-tops. It’s tight. But what a warm and welcoming setting!

We had four courses. I’ll just copy from the website:

Lobster & Leek Crepe
with a Lobster, Brandy-Chive Sauce

Red Oak Lettuce and Yellow Cherry Tomato Salad with Goat Cheese and a Preserved Lemon and Fresh Oregano Vinaigrette

Grilled Nantucket Stout-Marinated Filet Mignon
with a Caramelized Shallot Sauce,
Roasted Potatoes, and Local Green Beans Provencal

Valrhona Chocolate “Pudding”
with Dulce de Leche

I know I shouldn’t, but I inquired about the goat cheese, learned it was feta, and they offered me an alternative of Argentinian parmesan. I accepted. I have to say, the salad might just have been the best course of the meal, and whether or not I would have liked the feta, the parmesan seemed like the perfect touch. But really, everything was perfect. The potatoes were sliced thin, like quarters. The dulce de leche sauce was a delight. Why oh why did we wait so long to eat there?

We’re back in the room now. I’m halfway through Tripwire and thought I’d spend the evening reading it. Instead, I’ve written this. Time for bed. And there’s still our New York weekend to write about. Maybe tomorrow.

Categories: Restaurants, Travel
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