Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Down The Cape

We had a run of bad weather. The summer has been hot and sticky and dry, but we picked the week on the Cape when the weather changed and brought in torrential downpours and a night chill. For most of the week, the beach was out, which meant we had to spend our time doing other things (like eating).

On our drive to the Cape, we stopped at Sea Swirl in Mystic, Connecticut for fried food and ice-cream. I shared a scallop roll and a clam roll with my sister. Fried seafood doesn't really do it for me, but the scallops were sweet and delicious. The clams were mostly strips, not at all my bag. Onion rings were the frozen variety. Oh well. I should have stuck with my original philosophy: eat as much lobster as possible. But there was time for that.

Our second night in Harwich, we ate at Twenty-Eight Atlantic. We would eat there twice over the course of the week. The dining room is pretty if a notch too formal, with straight backed upholstered chairs and plush carpeting, but the view makes up for the stodgy appointments. Floor-to-ceiling glass windows face the Nantucket Sound, with its bobbing sailboats and sunfish. A foie gras appetizer--piped pate over duck bacon--was delicious if ordinary. On our second meal, I had the tartare trio (tuna, hamachi, salmon), tasty if non-experimental. The accoutrement was what you would expect with tartare: quail egg, tobiko. What was extraordinary was a fried rice cake (risotto-style) with a creamy interior, possessed of all the right flavors and textures. One night, I had seared scallops over mushroom ravioli. The ravioli was creamy and tasty, but the whole dish was a little too rich and I left it unfinished. My second evening's entree was shelled king crab legs, poached in butter and served with a corn and pea risotto. It was a harmony of salty and sweet but once again I felt assaulted by all the cream and butter and left some uneaten. Desserts were a disappointment and the only element that registered as worth discussing was a basil sorbet, as clean and fresh as August basil itself.

My first gray day found me in downtown Chatham, where I fought my way in to the Chatham Squire, a place I last visited in 1998. I have no recollection of my earlier visit but this time around, I found the place charming enough. I shared a solid lobster roll with my sister (just enough lobster, just enough mayonnaise) and ate my way through a half a dozen raw oysters (salty, briny, perfect) and a crock of onion soup. The Chatham Squire provides fish and comfort and I wasn't looking for much else.

That night, we drove to Orleans to a place called the Lobster Claw, where I enjoyed my first--and only--bona fide clam bake: 1.25 lb. lobster, steamer clams in broth and drawn butter, corn on the cob, and French fries. The ambiance, full of fish netting and decaying buoys, was nothing to marvel at, but the lobster sang. And I had forgotten, in the offseason, how much I love those slimy steamer clams, with their grit and their goo. My father deemed his full-bellied fried clams the best of the trip (he had four separate incarnations), a triumph in itself.

It rained buckets on Monday and it was difficult to get through the wet weather, but we went to Orleans for dinner at Joe's Beach Road Bar & Grille. The best thing about Joe's is their stellar wine list, which is aggressively underpriced and surprisingly comprehensive (for the Cape, I mean). We drank a bottle of Kistler 'Les Noisetiers' for under a hundred clams, but that didn't make up for my undersalted frog's legs or my overcooked seafood pasta (lobster, shrimp, and scallops, but who wants to eat chewy lobster, anyway?). Rumor has it that Joe's slashes their prices on all bottles by fifty percent in the month of October, so maybe the place is better for a bar bottle and a side salad.

On another rainy afternoon, we drove to Wellfleet and ate lunch at Bookstore & Restaurant, a fitting name that describes exactly what this establishment is. As for the restaurant part, it was decidedly New England, with wooden tables and nondescript brown carpeting and valances above the windows that looked out onto Wellfleet Harbor. When in Wellfleet, one must eat local oysters and so I did, another half dozen. But the true star of lunch was local littleneck clams steamed in wine, garlic, and butter, and served with a half loaf of crunchy white bread. We asked for two extra servings of bread and still made no dent on the pool of butter and broth at our bowl's bottom. Alas. Bookstore & Restaurant has a bookstore, too, filled with ancient copies of books you've never heard of, as well as some you have. I stumbled upon a second edition of Emily Post's Etiquette and brought it back to Harwich.

The next day, I drove all the way to the end of the Cape, to Provincetown, a good hour from where we were staying. We wandered into Pepe's Wharf Restaurant and I found myself a perfect plate of linguine with littleneck clams. The sauce, though buttery and full of garlic, wasn't quite as spectacular as my lunch broth at Bookstore & Restaurant. My clams were still delicious, and anyway, the whole meal was redeemed by my sisters' joint order, two giant pork meatballs sitting in a sea of fresh tomato sauce and cheese. We needed extra bread for that, too.

That evening, we tried to get into the Brewster Fish House, which doesn't accept reservations, but a rude hostess sent me away. Next door, at the Brewster Chowder House, I found solace over bacony stuffed littlenecks and a plate of shrimp scampi that exceeded my mediocre expectations. There's nothing fancy about the Chowder House, which is part of its charm. The menu prices are written in by hand and the focus is on simple meat and fish. The restaurant looked like an old Victorian home that had been haphazardly redone. Old flowered wallpaper still clung to the walls, as did antique mirrors. It bore an unsettling resemblance to the house in Psycho, but we managed to leave the property unscathed.

By Thursday, we could see the sun again, so we went to Nauset Beach, where there had been warnings of Great White sightings. Nauset has its own clam shack, Liam's, and we spent the better part of our afternoon waiting in the Liam's line. I was rewarded with a monstrous lobster roll (1/2 lb. of meat, the sign said) and delicate, beer-battered onion rings. My watermelon freeze, one of my favorites up in northern Massachusetts, was too sweet and I drank only a few sips. Now, about that lobster roll: It was too big. I know some people would argue that more lobster is better lobster, but this sandwich was hard to eat and the pieces of claw were completely intact. I felt guilty tossing some of it away, but I had no choice. As far as clam shacks go, Liam's was fine, if a little too expensive. We should have done what neighboring beachgoers were doing. They had set up two grills and coleman stoves with boiling water and were making their own lobster lunch.

For our last Cape dinner, we went to the Academy Ocean Grille in Orleans, where I had my final clams for the week. These ones were littlenecks stuffed with breadcrumbs and served in a thick, bready broth. In clam world, it was the best of both. My pork loin was impossibly tender and matched with fresh, sweet corn, cut off the cob. I skipped the wan and overcooked green beans, but I did order dessert, a sticky toffee pudding that demanded my full attention. It was a fitting farewell.

Sea Swirl Seafood Restaurant
30 Williams Avenue
Mystic, CT 06355

Twenty-Eight Atlantic
2173 Massachusetts 28
Harwich, MA 02645

Chatham Squire
487 Main Street
Chatham, MA 02633

The Lobster Claw
52 Cranberry Highway
Orleans, MA 02653

Joe's Beach Road Bar & Grille
5 Beach Road
Orleans, MA 02643

Bookstore & Restaurant
50 Kendrick Avenue
Wellfleet, MA 02667

Pepe's Wharf Restaurant
371 Commercial Street
Provincetown, MA 02657

Brewster Inn & Chowder House
1993 Main Street
Brewster, MA 02631

Liam's At Nauset Beach
4 Nauset Beach
Orleans, MA 02653

Academy Ocean Grille
2 Academy Place
Orleans, MA 02653

1 comment:

Chatham Gardens said...

Small correction 28 Atlantic is located on Pleasant Bay. Not Nantucket Sound.