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Talking SCHOP! Getting down on Martha’s Vineyard

Kysha Harris | 9/8/2016, 5:54 p.m.
Food editor Kysha Harris explores the cuisine at Martha's Vineyard.
Gazpacho Kysha Harris

And just like that, it’s the end of summer 2016. Where did it all go? At least there are plenty of fun times for which to reminisce until Memorial Day, not the least of which is memo about an awesome weekend in Martha’s Vineyard with family and friends. We had great times on the beach, at the house, taking in the fireworks, laughing and catching up—some things the city doesn’t afford you to do all of the time at the same time.

And the food—I’m obsessed. My cousin Quinn knows me well and was excited to have me try the food at a couple of new restaurants on the island, but not before my aunt Sylvia had her way with my palate. Like a Notorious B.I.G. song, we landed just in time to drop our bags and change before making our reservation at Down Island (@DownIslandMV, 6 Circuit Ave., Oak Bluffs, 508-338-2503, www.downislandmv.com).

If you didn’t know, you might miss the entrance to Down Island. A small sign leads to a ramp down to an unmarked door. Once inside, and after a sigh of relief, the sublevel aqua-colored space reveals itself to be dining speakeasy. Perhaps a purposeful choice to alter your perception of what a dining experience at Down Island would be.

We were lead to our table, the same table where the Obamas dined recently. (I stroked the table and rubbed my bum on the chair a little.) Our server presented the daily five-course tasting menu featuring seasonal and local ingredients. Yes, please!

Though there was a cocktail list, there was no bartender. Down Island premixes and bottles their cocktails to keep the focus on one-on-one service. Intrigued, we ordered a gimlet and some margaritas and pretended cocktail shakers were rattling somewhere.

After the bread service of a petite loaf with sweet butter and olive salt, it was time for the first course of summer gazpacho made with local Morning Glory Farm tomatoes with pickled watermelon rind, local lump crab and baked arugula. It was a great start to the meal and a favorite of the table—bright, briny, great balance of acid, sweet and texture.

The next course of roasted carrots with citrus supreme, melted leeks, toasted almonds and yogurt spiced with harissa showed wonderful cookery. The carrots were meaty with crunchy charred tops counterbalanced by the subtle spice and smoothness of the harissa yogurt. It’s a perfect side dish to add to your fall menu.

The next course of New England Berkshire pork belly with local clam, celery foam and escabeche, while gorgeously plated, was not a favorite of the table. Each element felt a little disconnected from next.

My final course was local striped bass with tomatillo sauce, bell pepper crunchies and young garlic puree. The fish was cooked perfectly, perhaps sous vide (in a sealed bag in a water bath), and we loved the texture of those battered and fried bell peppers. ‘Twas the other favorite of the table.

Because we were on a tight social schedule, I missed dessert—my favorite, too—grapefruit panna cotta with passion fruit, strawberries and basil. I am kicking myself for not asking for a to-go bag. I am sure it was delicious, though.

Thank you Sylvia and Down Island for a fabulous first meal in Martha’s Vineyard. It set the tone for what would be a needed special time I won’t soon forget.

Happy eating and thanks for reading!

Kysha Harris is a food writer, culinary producer, consultant and owner of SCHOP!, a personalized food service offering weekly and in-home entertaining packages. Questions? Comments? Requests? Feedback?  Invitations!  Email her at kysha@SCHOPnyc.com, follow her on Twitter and Instagram @SCHOPgirl or on Facebook www.facebook.com/SCHOPnyc. For even more recipes, tips and food musings, subscribe to her blog at www.talkingSCHOP.wordpress.com. Follow AmNewsFOOD @NYAmNewsFOOD.