Order this... Delicacies and a view at The Atlantic Inn

Fri, 07/20/2018 - 10:00am
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In my dining experience, there are restaurants with a great view and restaurants with great food. Usually it’s one or the other, but if you dine at The Atlantic Inn, both are yours for the evening. Overlooking Old Harbor, the inn has an expansive lawn peppered with classic white Adirondack chairs that are perfect for enjoying a cocktail and tapas while you watch the sun set as the ferries take the last day-trippers off the island. 

The menu at The Atlantic reflects the guiding hand of Executive Chef Adi Mandel, who oversees both The Atlantic and its sister restaurant, Eli’s. Adi explains that the dining experience is constantly evolving at the restaurant, and the cuisine is “whatever inspires us; we like to play with different regions to create our dishes and specials.” Chef Denny Gomes has worked at the restaurant for five years, working his way up from intern to sous chef. He and Jeff MacDougall (proud mama moment) are responsible for most of the nightly specials and are a strong force in running the kitchen.

Chef Adi stresses that while the food is not intimidating, it is meant to challenge the diner to try things they’ve never had before, such as the ostrich fillet that was on the menu a few weeks ago. Fish, vegetables, cheese and herbs are as fresh and local as possible; the tomatoes are flown over each week from a local Rhode Island farm, and Denny and Jeff add that the herbs used in their dishes come from Ann Marthens’ (she and Brad own the inn) own garden. “We don’t play outside the seasons” is the mantra for these chefs.

Here’s a little more from Chef Denny: 

What’s your earliest food memory that made you think “I want to work in a restaurant”?

I went to a vocational high school, which means we had shop and academics. When it came down to choosing a shop, I chose culinary. I honestly chose it because I had the most fun there. When I got in, I was ecstatic about cooking, but it started off as baking and pastry, which was fine. My junior year in high school we finally worked the line. After my first busy lunch, I sat down at the end of the school day and said to myself “That was the most fun I’ve had, ever.”

What made you want to be a chef on Block Island? 

I started off as an intern on Block Island. I interned at The Atlantic Inn for two years, and then became head line cook, and I worked my way up to sous chef. After being sous chef for a year, it seemed like people really started to like what I was doing in the kitchen. So, here I am putting out my ideas and the food I personally love. 

What is your favorite food to cook with on the island? 

I love to cook with fish. Striped bass in particular has such a dynamic flavor — it goes well with anything from fennel to mushrooms, and because it’s fatty it can hold up to butter and acid. It’s balanced and a local favorite.  

If you’re eating out on the island, what other restaurant do you go to and what do you order?

I personally spend a lot of my time at the Poor People’s Pub because of their blackboard specials. 

What is the one food you never want to eat again? 

The one food I can’t stand is monkfish, I don’t know why but I can’t stand the smell or the taste of it. I personally think it smells and taste like cat food. 

Who was your most memorable customer?

Actually, my most memorable customers were this year. A server messed up an entrée and of course the kitchen did what we could to fulfill their wishes. After the food was served, I went out to the dining room and asked how everything was and instead of giving me an answer, the whole table began to clap their hands. I’ve never felt so appreciated before. I’m glad my food can make anyone happy, never mind a whole group of 12 people. 

What’s your favorite dish to cook right now that you wish everyone would order once?

My favorite dish on our menu right now is the charcuterie board. We do everything from cured game to foie gras ganache. The amount of effort, passion and love that Jeff MacDougall and I put into that dish shows in each element on the slate. That charcuterie board is why we do what we do. 

What would you want to eat for your last meal? 

I was recently diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, which is an auto-immune disease in my digestive tract. This has limited my diet and been a bit challenging because I miss a lot of my favorite foods. So, for my last meal, without any regrets, I would have a bucket of Buffalo wings with chunky blue cheese cream and I would eat every last bite! 

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With a lovely breeze blowing, I sat on the porch and enjoyed a wonderful sampling of some of the many dishes The Atlantic has to offer.  The charcuterie board was as good as Denny said it would be; it brings together lamb prosciutto, house-made Mediterranean pork sausage and a foie gras ganache, accompanied by eggplant marmalade, grainy mustard, house-pickled vegetables and slices of perfectly ripe peaches. Grilled bread completes a dish that sates all of your taste senses — the saltiness of the lamb balanced with the buttery richness of the foie, the sour of the vegetables and eggplant against the peaches makes this dish a satisfying work of art for the eye and soul. The fried quail was outstanding; it was my first time eating quail and I’m hooked. Buttermilk-brined and fried in cornmeal, the bird was tasty, sweet and when eaten with a bite of the pickled mango on the plate, one of the lightest and most surprising food combinations I’ve had lately.   

Finally, we sampled from two of the week’s entrées. Plump, seared scallops were cooked to perfection, accompanied by grated horseradish and sautéed fava  beans, tomato bacon vinaigrette and roasted sunchokes. The sunchokes were soft yet firm with a great mouth-feel. We loved the fava beans as another strong element in a dish where each taste elicited sighs of satisfaction. My friend also enjoyed the char-grilled ribeye, so tender that she was able to cut it with her fork. This dish came with a marble potato cake, pearl vegetables, and a decadent combination of marcona almond butter and blue cheese cream that may replace bernaise sauce in my own cooking — stellar elements that come together from the creative minds of these young chefs.