Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Slip 14 with Chef Timothy Thacher-Renshaw

Some of us are lucky enough to have chef friends. And then there are those of us who lovingly fall at the feet of our good friend, Chef Timmy Taco, also known as Chef Taco-Rickshaw, also known as Chef Timothy Thacher-Renshaw. He's spent some time now doing good on the island of Nantucket, and lucky for us, we were going to spend a week there, and he was ready. Instead of walking into his restaurant, Slip 14, and ordering the regular fare off of the menu, Jesse, world's greatest bartender (in my book), challenged Taco to do a mini tasting menu, and he really out did himself last week.
The restaurant itself is kind of rustic, very nautical, and a bit quirky. It has a larger tented outdoor area, and then a tiny indoor room. After being seated, Jesse retreated to the kitchen quickly to deliver a few squash blossoms directly to Taco, and soon after food began to exit the kitchen in high style. 
Tuna tartar on potato chip
Acts 1 & 2: Two dishes of tuna tartar. The first arrived on a narrow plate, featuring a row of little bites. Each bite consisted of a homemade potato chip, topped with aioli, a thin slice of radish, a leaf of microgreens, and chopped, tiny, tender pieces of raw, light pink tuna. The bite from the radish was a lovely touch, along with the crunch of the potato chip, and then of course who am I to turn up my nose at any snack topped with tuna tartar. However, I think that the second tuna tartar dish was slightly better, featuring seared thicker slices of deeper red tuna, and topped with cubes of diced avocado, cucumber, chopped spring onions, mint, and little scattered bits of red pepper throughout. This second dish was very well complimented with a splash of acid, likely lime juice, and had a vivid flavor to complement the satisfaction of biting into a thicker slice of decadent tuna. 
Grilled baguette with tomato
Act 3: Taco proceeded to send out another light dish of grilled, sliced baguette that had been rubbed throughout and topped with ripe tomato. A small, thin slice of fine prosciutto and a rectangle of romano cheese rounded out this bite. 
Periwinkles with black bean sauce
Act 4: This was a real surprise. I didn't know that you could eat periwinkles, did you? I used to pick them up off of the docks and on the beaches as a kid, always throwing them back because I simply didn't know any better. Taco served up sauteed black snails, as I suppose they are better known in restaurants, that had been tossed with a murky, delicious, rich and salty black bean sauce. Now apparently the best way to release the snails from the shells is to take a dog's nail clipper, and clip off the top of the shell, which then allows the meat to slip easily from the bottom. Unfortunately, as you might expect, most restaurants do not come equipped with dog nail clippers, and I bet a lot of people would be turned off by such an instrument arriving with any dish. But for us, this bowl of critters left our little party happily digging at the morsels of meat with toothpicks, and with only limited success. Despite the struggle, after some time you would find yourself fighting with the hole of the shell, trying to hook a bit of the sweet flesh, and after minutes of fiddling, jerking, and eventually giving up every five snails or so, you'd get a ringer. Boy was it worth the effort. These things were delicious. Sweet, clammy, actually fairly tender, and extremely fun to eat. Nice playful touch, Taco.
Fluke ceviche
Act 5: While we sat struggling with the periwinkles, the chef also sent out a couple fluke ceviche dishes. The fresh, pale white flesh of the fluke was thinly sliced, and then topped with the juice of mandarin oranges and bits of red pepper. I thought this was excellent - fresh, light, sweet, and with just enough acid to give that very delicate fish a tangy zing. The second fluke dish was exactly the same as the first, but topped with a watermelon relish. As I have a pretty crappy watermelon allergy, the chef had taken care to give me warning not to consume this... but the bigger half and the world's best bartender seemed to really enjoy it.
Act 6: I get the impression that Taco must have gone fishing and caught some fluke that day, as I'm told he often goes fishing with the owner of the restaurant, and sometimes prepares his catch for dinner. Another fluke dish arrived, this one with a bit more wow factor. Seared, thin slices of fluke were presented on a narrow dish with olive oil, and a rich, creamy, monkfish liver ponzu sauce. For anyone who has not been introduced to the wonder that is monkfish liver, this sauce was incredible, saturating the tender white fish, and filling ones mouth with the flavor of foie gras of the sea. The ponzu was a nice touch too, giving everything, again, a little bit of acid to cut the richness of the sauce, and just to complement the bits of fish that had not been seared throughout.
Act 7: Heirloom tomato salad with pesto and fleur de sel. Thank god, a lovely, bright, ripe, fresh tomato dish. We're not going to have many of those as the summer continues to fade into fall. The green and red heirloom varieties that the chef put together made for a refreshing course.
Squash blossom rangoon
Act 8: The squash blossoms, recall the ones that Jesse first brought into the kitchen, arrived at the table... and they had been rangooned. Crab rangoon is a classic, trashy Chinese takeout dish that I order every time that I need food immediately, and I need to check the box on consuming really bad for me. Chef Taco had actually created something really sophisticated and playful with this dish, stuffing the fresh, pretty pale orange blossoms with a classic cream cheese and crab meat mixture, then deep frying until crispy. Served with a sweet and sour ponzu sauce for dipping and topped with diced green onions, each bite was crunchy, then oozy, sweet and creamy from the cheese, and just plain awesome. It was both farm fantastic, and kind of sinful, which makes for a very nice bar snack that I've never seen on a menu. In other words, I now know why squash blossoms exist... solely to be rangooned. 
Grilled shrimp
Act 9: Large grilled shrimp, served on top of yellow miso aioli, topped with wasabi microgreens, and a bit of pepper tomato relish was next. Another zesty small bite from the kitchen that I would thankfully eat again. Basically this would have been the fanciest passed hor d'oeuvre offering at any wedding, just to give you an idea of the fine presentation and the flavor of a bite that anyone could appreciate.
Act 10: Working our way into main dishes, a large bowl of mussels emerged from the kitchen. These shiny black shells were each filled with a plump, fresh mussel, and swimming in a broth of beer, butter, chorizo, and a bit of spice. This is among the better mussel dishes that I've had, and definitely the best that I've had on the island of Nantucket. Mussels are a funny thing. You'd think that they'd always be good, but they have to be properly cleaned, and then not overcooked. How sad does it make you to see an overcooked shriveled mussel staring back at you from a large black shell? This was not the case at Slip 14.
Atlantic Halibut
Act 11: Our most "meal-like" dish arrived. Each person received an oval-shaped plate with a seared portion of Atlantic Halibut, served over small, whole-roasted purple carrots, roasted potatoes, and a sweet corn puree. The gentle sear on the fish brought out the savory flavor of the flakey halibut and the sweet meat plus the tender flesh of the root vegetables were all terrifically combined and complemented by that creamy corn puree. This was a nice, classic dish with a homey feel... for all my homies with their popped collars, reds, and chocolate labs on Nantucket. 
Seared scallops
Final Act: Scallops. Oh, a scallop dish. Something very sweet to end the meal. These scallops, perfectly cooked, with a light caramelized sear on the outside arrived at our table, all lined up in a little row, featuring toppings of sauteed mushrooms, chives, and a salty, briny caper sauce. What a fantastic end to the meal.
We left Slip 14 feeling like Taco had out done himself with this more than little tasting menu. He put some real thought into his dishes, and as someone who really enjoys eating both perfectly cooked and raw seafood preparations himself, I think he really created a fabulous meal. We departed the restaurant that evening, a little tipsy from a couple bottles of wine, and ready to head out for some dessert at the restaurant, Dune, located nearby. Taco joined us after his shift, looking a bit proud, and like he could use a well-deserved drink, which we gladly bought for him. Get on a ferry, get to Nantucket, and book your first meal at Slip 14.

Slip 14
14 Old South Wharf,
Nantucket, MA
(508) 228-2033

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