If you dine out just once during your visit to Nantucket, make sure the restaurant you choose is Galley Beach. Set in the white sand of Cliffside Beach at the end of Jefferson Avenue, this restaurant offers everything that can create a treasured memory: gorgeous location, chic ambiance, superb food, impressive wine list and refreshing cocktails, professional staff and warm hospitality.
David and Geoffrey Silva, managing partners of Galley Beach, have a new and extraordinary chef in Brit Neil Ferguson, who took charge of the kitchen this season after a few years as sous chef. Prior to moving to Nantucket with his wife and son, Ferguson worked at many of the top Michelin restaurants in London, Paris, and New York City, and he considers the years he spent cooking alongside acclaimed chefs Alain Passard in Paris and Gordon Ramsey in London as inspirational.
Born and raised across the pond in Southern England, Chef Ferguson was first introduced to our island when his financé, Shelley, told him that she wanted to have their wedding on Nantucket. His reply was “Great, where’s that?” After just a taste of Nantucket, he and his wife set a 10-year goal to move to the Nantucket Island: “we achieved it in just 3 years.”
With his goal to “elevate and showcase really good products…in light, fresh, elegant” dishes, Ferguson is a natural fit for Galley Beach. He professes a distain for “fussy, overworked food,” but that doesn’t mean his food is plain—the dishes that this chef prepares are among the most creative we’ve tasted, with great character and beguiling flavor. Ferguson demonstrates great talent for combining and contrasting flavors, an artistic hand in design, and an unfaltering sense of what makes a magnificent dish. He also has a flair for the unexpected—several times throughout our recent dinner, we found ourselves delightfully surprised at a spark of heat, at an unusual ingredient, at how the flavor of a single dish changed depending on the approach.
Like most of the staff at Galley Beach, Ishmael, our main server for the evening, is a skilled professional, back for his seventh season. He guided us through the menu and made sure we wanted for nothing in a gracious and unpretentious fashion.
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We began our recent meal with a Parsnip Velouté, smooth and buttery, with a hint of sweetness. Its perfection is a demonstration of Chef Ferguson’s mastery of classic techniques—the presentation was our introduction to this chef’s inventiveness. The velouté is served poured around a mound of sweetbreads, roasted then sauteed till the edges are crisp, and pickled seckel pears, chopped into delectable morsels. This mix of deeply savory and sweet is simply sensational. (Suggested pairing: Pride Viogner or M. Chaputier” Chante-Alouette” Hermitage Blanc)
After tasting Ferguson’s Golden Eggplant appetizer, we understand what he meant when he told us he wants to “elevate really good” ingredients. This dish features three slices of tender roasted eggplant crowned with candied red and green peppers, pine nuts, and a dollop of smoked goat cheese, arranged around a small salad of lightly dressed mixed greens. The earthy, sweet, smoky, toasty flavors form a delicious harmony, and the pine nuts add a pleasant firmness. (Suggested pairing: Starry Night ‘”Nervo Station” Zinfandel)
In our years on Nantucket, we thought we’d tasted scallops in every possible preparation. We were wrong. Ferguson’s Roast Sea Scallops appetizer is a clever pairing of sea and land, showcasing beautifully caramelized scallops (another example of his perfect technique) adorned with accompaniments that enhance rather than hide the sweet, delicate scallops — plumped golden raisins, cilantro, and spiced carrot puree. Tender-crisp baby red and orange carrots finish this beautifully composed dish. (Suggested pairing: Lucien Crochet Sancerre)
We must confess that we tend to be wary of terrines. But when it comes to the Terrine on the Galley Beach spring menu, we advise you to throw all caution to the wind and savor this mosaic of flavors. Crafted from succulent chunks of free-range chicken, wild mushrooms, and foie gras, it’s served with a splendid contrast of pickled vegetables and tangy violet mustard. This is an appetizer that will leave you wanting more; we’ll be back for an encore! (Sommelier Frank Hersey suggests a pairing of sauternes, either Chateau Soucherie 2008, Chateau Rieussec 2005, or Chateau d’Yquem)
Chef Ferguson covers an impressive culinary range with just 8 entrees on his Spring Menu — like the appetizers, each offering is sophisticated yet approachable, and each is very different from the other.
We found it difficult to choose a favorite between the Muscovy Duck and the Colorado Lamb entrees — both are supremely satisfying, their star ingredient prepared two ways and served with perfectly matched accompaniments. The duck breast is seared, sliced, and fanned out over turnip puree with a ladel of rich port sauce. A portion of duck confit is tucked alongside with a nutmeg glazed potato and roasted brussel sprouts. (Suggested pairing: Peay “Pommarium” Pinot Noir)
The Colorado Lamb is served as a deliciously charred grilled chop with a slow braised and deeply savory neck. These are paired with roasted onion and fennel bathed in a savory jus tinged with the warm flavors and enticing aroma of ras el hanout.
At Ishmael’s recommendation, we sampled one of Chef Ferguson’s favorites: Line Caught Fluke. This simple sounding dish has layers of bold flavor that took us by surprise. The base is a gentle cauliflower cream, the next layer is a deep green parsley and mushroom sauce (emphasis on the parsley). The fluke, which the chef managed to keep moist yet still give a crisp edge, comes next, topped with a brioche crust with a touch of mustard to add a spark of heat. (Suggested pairing: Albert Boxler “Sommerberg” Reisling Grand Cru)
Our favorite entree is Chef Ferguson’s preparation of Wild Halibut. The fish is sparkling fresh and served with a combination of earthy treasures: braised celery root and muscat grapes in an eloquent and buttery verjus. We kept returning to this dish for one more spoonful to get every drop of the bright, lilting flavors. This halibut is better than lobster. (Suggested pairing: Michelot Meursault)
Desserts at Galley Beach are created and prepared by the executive chef with the same inspired creativity as his earlier courses. Every one is superb! Strawberry Shortcake arrives as a gorgeous pink and white tableau of lemon-vanilla cheese cake, strawberry ice cream, fresh berries, strawberry jus, and a scattering of sweet shortbread crumbs.
Slow Roasted Apricots are arranged with apricot puree, almond mousse, and Maldon salt streusel whose salty ting lingers after the sweet flavors dissipate.
A refreshing summertime treat, the slice of Creme Fraiche Parfait is served next to a slice of olive oil sponge cake in pools of blackberry jus and lemon curd.
But it’s the Bittersweet Chocolate that will haunt our dreams. For this grand finale, Chef Ferguson presents a sensuous chocolate custard next to a warm chocolate bouchon with a slice of cocoa poached pear in between. Opposite is a scoop of chocolate ice cream set in crunchy chocolate crumbs accented with dark chocolate sauce and pear puree.
For 2012, Zagat rated Galley Beach as “Extraordinary to Perfection,” we can’t imagine what they’ll rate it for 2013, and we can’t wait to taste what Chef Neil Ferguson has up his sleeve for summertime!
54 Jefferson Avenue www.GalleyBeach.net • 508-228-9641, reservations suggested
Lunch from 11:30 to 2:30 pm • Bar Menu served 2:30 to 10 pm
Saturday & Sunday Brunch from 10 am to 2:30 pm
Dinner served from 5:30 to 10 pm • Beach Bar open 11:30 am to 1 am
Entree prices range from $33 to $43
Dress for dinner (sunglasses might be handy for early seatings)
MasterCard, Visa, Amex accepted