One of the most anticipated restaurant openings in Oak Bluffs happened this past week at Down Island. Down Island is the second restaurant for the Celestial Group (Adam Jaime, Doug Abdelnour, Dave Gaffy, and Steve Ansara) which owns sister restaurant, 20 By Nine, on Kennebec Avenue, Oak Bluffs.
Down Island is also on Kennebec Avenue. However, you might be surprised where you’ll find this great new restaurant. Perhaps you remember the Dive Bar, below The Lampost? Well, that’s where Down Island is located.
However, you no longer enter on Circuit Avenue. The entrance is now on Kennebec, down a low lit ramp, which helps with the anticipation of what’s to come.
With no window, just a door, you can’t help but be excited for what’s behind that door. My friend Scott and I gingerly crossed the threshold, and were immediately impressed. Though the space is quite large, about half of it is currently being used for Down Island.
Not knowing what to expect, we both agreed that we liked the bright turquoise walls (a perfect way to lighten up a dark space) and the simple, functional decor. There are a couple of little areas to choose from — depending on your preference — bar, tables, and communal table. Down Island is fine dining, but the space is casual, with the idea to have diners be comfortable.
We decided to dine at the “bar.” I say that loosely because this is not your typical bar. Here, it’s used to hold the beer and wine, water, etc., but there’s no bartender. The servers here, do it all. We were lucky enough to have Eve as our server for the evening — smiling, knowledgeable, the best service I have had in a long time.
Eve went through drink options — beer, wine or the featured bottled signature cocktail, which on that night, was the Hanky Panky. We were not in the mood to do a cocktail, and we both selected wine. Eve recommended a wine flight. Four wines carefully selected to pair perfectly with your dinner.
How can they know what I am going to have for dinner? Well, Down Island’s menu is a set menu, a communal-style dinner of modern American cuisine for $49. I borrowed the italicized part from their website, since it captured the essence just right.
Down Island’s menu is dependent on what’s able to be sourced locally — as much from Martha’s Vineyard as possible — and carefully selected from responsible purveyors when not. The menu is a chef’s dream, at Down Island, that means chef Scott Cumming’s creative dishes.
The menu is six courses, and there no substitutions. This growingly popular off-Island concept will appeal to some, and not to others. I however, like the idea of not needing to make any decisions for myself regarding my meal. The chef is the expert here and I am along for the ride. I can nitpick tomorrow.
So, I sucked up the fact that I don’t like cooked carrots, course two, and was ready to eat. We began our Island dinner with Down Island Bread & Butter, which was sourdough bread with a citrus jalapeno butter. I only nibbled on this, which was very good, because of what was to come. I had to pace myself.
Course two was Zucchini Fritters. I loved these, made with feta cheese, the flavors were amazing. The creamy sharpness of the feta with the zucchini and the seasoning was so good. I could have eaten 12 of these, but luckily that wasn’t an option.
Then it was on to the Charred Carrots. I complained for a second about cooked carrots, but my friend Scott assured me that I was going to like them. To my surprise, I loved them. Why don’t my carrots taste this good at home! I enjoyed every bite, and am inspired to perhaps be a little more open to the idea of cooked carrots.
Gnocchi was next. Not just any gnocchi but Chicken Skin Gnocchi Ragu, served with peas, fava beans, beautiful morel mushrooms and fresh parm. Don’t let the chicken skin throw you off. These were melt in you mouth little vessels of deliciousness, and the mushrooms and beans were so good.
However, the pièce de résistance was next, the Brisket and Lobster Brochette. Not only was the lobster cooked perfectly, but the brisket was to die for. On top of this well prepared piece of meat, you’ll find a duck fat crumble topping. I want this creation on everything everyday, but seriously this dish was beyond perfect.
The wine with this meal really stood out for me. A Grenache was paired with this amazing dish. The dryness of the red wine with the richness of the meal, the stuff that food dreams are made of.
Scott and I leaned back, savoring the moment, almost forgetting about dessert, but then it appeared. A deconstructed Creamsicle – sponge cake, vanilla ice cream, orange sorbet (so good). The dessert was not too sweet, not too heavy, and you could use each bite to create different flavors.
Now, dinner was really over, and we both agreed that it was one of the best meals we’ve had in a long time.We were full, and happy, and had to go have another glass of wine together, so we could recap it all before the night was over.
Down Island’s menu is based on product availability, and will change throughout the season. I would definitely check out the menu on their website, and make a reservation. There are three seatings per night, starting at 5:30 p.m. and the last at 9:00 p.m.
When I asked one of the owners, Adam Jamie, about the menu concept – fixed he said it was something the owners experience frequently when they travel, and they wanted to bring something special to the Island. There are plenty of full-service restaurants, this is unique, as is 20 By Nine.
The menu itself is chef Scott Cumming’s baby. At 20 By Nine, there was already a food concept in place, Down Island’s menu is all Scott. His vision. It really highlights his ability to create flavor and food combinations that are unique.
You can tell that Scott is really proud of this menu. He was so happy when we chatted a bit.
This is something special for Oak Bluffs, something completely different. I look forward to going back again, soon.
**Though it says no substitutions, Down Island can accommodate food allergies and dietary restrictions, but requires a sufficient heads up in order to conceptualize a new dish, which could require ordering special food and equipment. They don’t want to just throw some vegetables on a plate for vegans or vegetarians, for instance, the chef would rather conceptualize a nice course or full menu so that they’ll leave truly impressed, not just humored. The more heads up the better, so we ask that diners let us know when they make advance reservations online on the website.