Toppers at the Wauwinet

by: M. R. Stanton

One of the sensual splurges of summer has always been to take a boat across the harbor for lunch at The Wauwinet. This year that experience has gotten even better.

After over a decade of essentially the same “tastings” menu, in which diners could choose three to five mini-courses consisting of a few forkfuls of a dish, the lunch menu has finally grown up. Now there are, thankfully, full-size starters, main courses and, of course, desserts. And the chef and menu are both brand-spanking new.

Chef David Daniels, formerly of The Federalist in Boston, has brought creativity and playfulness to a menu that emphasizes seafood – lobster specifically. No less than four dishes focus around this celebrated crustacean. We tried three of them.

The Wauwinet Clambake ($41), which hearkens back to the history of the inn – long famous for its shore dinners – is an absolute delight in flavor and presentation. This deconstructed ’Bake has four elements on the plate: a mini-mug of corn chowder to start, a small butter-basted lobster tail, a composed cylinder of red potatoes and steamers (clams) removed from their shells and artfully arranged in a decorative shell. A small crock of warm butter is served for dipping.

The traditional Lobster Roll ($25) looks simple enough, but the first bite reveals the difference. The “hot dog rolls” are specially-made brioche buns, buttered and griddled before being filled with a lobster salad that accentuates the flavor of the lobster without mucking it up with fillers or an excess of dressing. Yes, there’s mayonnaise, but it’s light mayo used sparingly and thinned with a bit of olive oil. Hand-made gaufrettes (read the best-ever waffle fries) are thin, crisp and flavorful, tossed with herbs, lemon zest and a hint of garlic. A pickled vegetable slaw, house-made, accompanies this and other sandwiches on the menu.

Lobster Cobb Salad ($23) combines the basic elements of a BLT in a composed, stacked salad with the crowning extravagance of lobster, all capped with a creamy avocado purée sprinkled with chives that guacamole-fans will love. A truffled ranch dressing, which is tossed with the chiffonade of Romaine, also rings the plate. While most salads of this style keep all the elements separate, the layering employed here means that with each forkful the flavor combinations mingle as it’s hard not to get a bite of lobster without the creamy avocado, or capture a chunk of smoky bacon and piquant tomato as you dig into the base of lettuce.

Chef Daniels puts his imprint on this burger, enhancing the tenderness by incorporating short ribs into the Kobe beef mix.
If lobster is not your thing there are several sandwiches, including Daniels’ version of the all-American burger. His rendition borrows from another country’s culinary tradition – Japan. The Sophisticated Burger ($22) is a mix of Kobe beef, short ribs, Dijon mustard, capers and caramelized onions. Kobe beef has been raised in Japan for generations. It is known to be exceedingly tender and flavorful due to the pampering the beef get throughout their life, as well as the humane way in which they are slaughtered. Chef Daniels puts his imprint on this burger, enhancing the tenderness by incorporating short ribs into the Kobe beef mix. At a good 1 1/2 to 2 inches thick, this burger is not for petite appetites. If you love burgers, however, do make a point of heading out to Wauwinet and trying it for yourself at some point as this burger may just have stolen the title of Best Burger on Nantucket.

Main courses are substantial, but if you begin with a starter, do try the Lobster Bisque ($18), which delivers pure essence of lobster flavor. Presentation also gets an A. When the server brings the dish, the soup bowl is empty save for a a swirl of parsnip foam and a large piece of lobster, dipped in tempura batter and flash-fried. The hot bisque arrives in its own pitcher and is poured atop all at the table. The result is hot soup and a bit of dinner theater.

Pastry chef Jennifer Cooper provides a wide array of choices for a sweet ending to your meal including a Brown Sugar Crème Brulée with a Raspberry Roll-Up and Homemade Ice Cream Cones. But nothing beats the simplicity of the Frozen Lemon Soufflé served with Blackberry Sauce, a Candied Lemon Slice and Tuile Cookie. Light, tart and ethereal: the perfect ending.

Linger for a while longer over coffee or tea. The beauty of the Wauwinet is its location right at the head of the harbor. Facing north, there are views from the outdoor deck of Coatue and beyond. The Wauwinet is an oasis of serenity.

Topper’s at The Wauwinet, 508 228-0145. Call for reservations.