From the casually elegant back porch of Garde East on Martha’s Vineyard, I overhear a boisterous discussion between seagulls, the soft, sandy smack of a man’s flip flops as he strolls the beach below with his fluff-ball of a dog, and yacht crews in the Vineyard Haven Marina unbuttoning their proverbial starched collars.
Much like Martha’s Vineyard this new restaurant from chef Robert Sisca (formerly of Gracie’s in Providence, the three-Michelin-star Le Bernadin in New York, and most recently Boston’s Bistro du Midi) is slightly fancy but mostly casual, a little artsy, and has great views. Sisca along with G Hospitality opened earlier this month in typical island fashion – with celebrity diners and a young staff. The newbies fumbled through service during my first visit, but actress Elisabeth Shue and her T.V. and film director husband Davis Guggenheim did not seem to mind. During my second visit in one week, the seasonal seafood restaurant’s service improved substantially.
Sisca said he’s always dreamed of opening a restaurant on Martha’s Vineyard and he’s taking advantage of the island’s bounty by sourcing much of the restaurant’s ingredients from local fishermen and farms up the road.
“I have an immense appreciation and affinity for Martha’s Vineyard and opening a restaurant here has been a dream of mine for quite some time,” says Chef Robert Sisca. “The one of a kind farms and purveyors on the island are remarkable and it is a true gift to have the ability to utilize their ingredients for the menu at Garde East. Combined with being one of only two waterfront destinations in Vineyard Haven, I hope our guests will find the experience to be distinctive and extraordinary.”
Sisca’s menu casts a wide net for mass appeal but dishes are anything but ordinary. Garde East’s frequently-changing selection of local seafood presents clean, bright flavors presented like art work. The locally-caught live sweet scallop was thinly sliced and served with fruity olive oil, herbaceous cucumber, briny sea salt, and spicy chives. The yellowfin tuna tartare was plump under a texturally exciting layer of crispy duck cracklings, freeze dried corn, and foie gras “beach sand”.
My niece, who despises seafood, started her meal with sumptuous wild ramp gnocchi topped with aged goat cheese, pine nuts and basil, before moving on to the prime sirloin steak with sauce aux poivre and pommes frites. The steak was dry aged until perfectly funky and fermented; tender enough to cut with a fork. My niece commented that it was the best steak she’d ever had.
I started with the Spanish octopus with local little neck clams, confit fennel, and bouillabaisse emulsion. The crispy, charred tentacle enveloped tender meat that I promptly swiped through the saffron-infused sauce – a luscious bite of Summer. The clams were slightly chewy, but I feel that way about most clams. Next came my entree of pan seared sea bass with mission figs, fregola sarda (Italian couscous), asparagus, and sweet corn broth. The fish skin was crispy enough to crack through, into the soft flakes of mild fish.
My husband tried the Berkshire pork chop, cooked until still tender and appropriately pink, then served with pork belly en crepinette (fancy sausage patty), shishito peppers and briny pork jus. My mother opted for the Crescent Farm duck breast, seared to ruby red and served with tart rhubarb puree, soft polenta flavored with vadouvan (French curry), baby artichokes, and smoked duck jus.
For dessert we chose the trio of ice cream and sorbet (smoked sweet corn and caramel ice creams, and passion fruit sorbet) as well as the seasonal fruit cobbler served with another scoop of the smoked sweet corn ice cream. Its vegetal, farm-stand-ish aroma prompted nostalgia for Summer’s past, then gave way to a velvety sweet custard. I couldn’t get enough of the cob-based ice cream and even tried to replicate more the next day.
My next visit will be for brunch, served Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., to try the earl grey cured wild salmon with poached farm eggs and sauce Béarnaise or the dry aged brisket burger with Grey Barn bluebird cheese, house-made salumi and a fried egg.
Garde East opens nightly at 5 p.m, at 52 Beach Road, in Vineyard Haven, 508-687-9926, gardeeast.com.