Like I said in the preview, David and I had a great quick getaway for our birthday weekend, but primarily for his 50th birthday. The girls were going to friends’ houses, and it was a little strange because they slept at home on Friday night, and slept in on Saturday, but didn’t leave our house to go to their friends’ houses until after we left to catch our ferry. So we just – walked out. With two girls asleep in their beds. Of course, we knew they’d be fine (and they were).
We were on a 10 a.m. ferry, and it took about an hour and a half to drive down to Woods Hole, where the ferry leaves from. It was the first time we’d put our car on a ferry, and so that was not boring. It was a nice quick ride across the water. When we got to the island, we were a little early to check in at the hotel – a sweet bed and breakfast right across the street from the ocean in Oak Bluffs. So we left the car at the inn and walked into town. There wasn’t a ton open, but the weather was nice, and we enjoyed the walk. We ended up having lunch at the same restaurant that we had breakfast/brunch at the last time we were on the island – Slice of Life.
The one other time that we’d been was a bit of a last-minute decision. Mouse was going with a friend for a long weekend (a portion of her friend’s 2 week vacation), and we had to drive her to the ferry. We had thought about going onto the island at the same time, but she complained. This was her trip. We rolled our eyes, but said fine. Yet, once we’d driven the 1.5 hours to Woods Hole, we told her we were leaving, waved goodbye as her ferry left, and then bought tickets to the next ferry. It was a warm June day, and we had nothing with us. We wandered the town of Oak Bluffs (where our ferry landed), and then took a bus to Vineyard Haven, and then another bus to Edgartown (those are the three large towns on the island). All three towns were fine. But I was jealous of the cars full of towels and beach chairs. I wanted to go see the lighthouse. I wanted to rent a bike. I wanted to look at a house’s window at the water.
Other than my discontent at not having a house to stay in and beach gear to utilize, we had a good day. Including our breakfast at Slice of Life. So we were happy to see it was open again.
By the time we ate lunch and got checked into our hotel, it was going on 3, and because it was December, that meant we knew it would be dark soon. So for the rest of that day, we ended up replicating our first day. We revisited the spots and shops we remembered from the first trip in all three towns. We also did some investigation into restaurants.
My friend who goes every summer (who Mouse went with that time 2 years ago) had given me a list of restaurants to check out, sure that at least one of them would be open in the off-season. None of them were. So we did our own research into the available options – there were plenty. There was one menu that jumped out at me, because it had a really solid range of food. I wanted a nice dinner because this was our big birthday dinner. We had brought nice clothes, so were equipped to go as fancy as we could. The menu I liked included a range from the fancy to the quick lunch, but what I really liked about it was that it had a “Chef’s Tasting Menu” option. David was a little less sure, and he also was drawn to a super-fancy French restaurant.
After we had our short list of restaurant choices, we checked them out in person as we went through the towns. His first choice ended up looking a bit bland, and full of grey and blue-haired folk. We ended up crossing it off the list, and ultimately deciding to go with the one I liked: Zephrus, which was in the Mansion House Inn in Vineyard Haven.
The menu had a lot that looked good, but I really wanted to try the tasting menu. David was a little hesitant, because he was afraid we’d end up with something gross. (The on-line menu has changed since, so I can’t really share. Sorry.) We looked at the menu to see if there was anything we’d be unhappy to eat. The only thing was the fois gras. Everything else looked great. But I shut my mouth and let David decide, reminding myself this was his 50th trip.
But he decided to go for it.
Oh My God.
The Tasting Menu was 5 courses, one of which would be dessert. The chef doesn’t let you partake in the exercise unless everyone at the table is on board. We were told that our dishes may or may not come from the existing menu – he may make something up on the fly.
Now, I’m sorry to say we didn’t get with the program and start taking photos of the courses from the start, so I do not have a photo of the first course, which was a sweet potato gnocchi with spinach, garlic and some yummy cheese. I was in heaven. We both had been a little nervous, not knowing what the heck was coming, and we were both giddy with this first dish. Sweet potato and spinach are both favorites of mine, and so I was over the moon.
Our second course:
Balsamic braised bay scallops and asparagus over mashed potatoes. This was more David’s dish. Scallops are a huge favorite of his, although asparagus is another favorite of mine, and so were the mashed potatoes. Again – this was cooked to absolute perfection.
Third course was a salad – but not just any salad – it was a roasted beet salad with gorgonzola and parsley:
(Beets are yet another of my very favorite foods . . . )
We remained giddy, and the chef and the waiter were getting a kick out of our enthusiasm. After the beet salad, David said, “well, the only way this can get any better is if we get steak for our main course.” But when the waiter re-set our places after the salad, he didn’t bring steak knives, so we figured we were in for a fish, or something else.
Our 4th Course:
Oh, what’s that? Filet Mignon over a truffle risotto? Oh, wait – what’s that? Risotto, rare steak and truffle are all some of Suzie’s to-die-for foods? Really??
The waiter chuckled and said, “I didn’t want you to guess, so I didn’t bring your steak knives ahead of time!” as he handed us our steak knives.
For the first few years that David and I spent our birthdays together, we hadn’t yet figured out how to do this “two birthdays in a row” thing, and so we made cakes back-to-back, one for each birthday. Mine was spice cake, his was German Chocolate.
So what was the 5th course?
That, right there, is the last bite of spice cake. (That’s a coffee ice cream, and I really wasn’t a fan — not to mention stuffed!) And so that we had a bit more fun, they brought us different desserts – here’s the second:
A yummy cobbler.
The desserts, frankly, weren’t my favorites. But I don’t think of myself as a dessert person, as a rule. Of course there are things I love, but I’m not always ready for a piece of cake. Also, I’m never a “dessert in a restaurant” person. I will refuse dessert until after a walk every time. I’d prefer a solid walk and then a chocolate bar (preferably high quality) or some ice cream. Sometimes, I’d prefer an after-dinner drink to a dessert. So, the fact that I wasn’t head over heels over the desserts didn’t mean a thing.
David and I both were on cloud 9 after that meal. We felt like it was really our best meal EVER. We agreed that there was something to be said for the surprise element – we had no idea what was coming, so we couldn’t have preconceived notions about how it should taste or look or be cooked. Even putting that psychology aside, though, this food was amazing.
We had gone out to a nice dinner for Thanksgiving, a couple of weeks before this, where we had much less food for the same price. Hands down, this tasting menu was better than the Thanksgiving meal. Maybe one of our New Orleans meals 2 years ago (specifically, the one at Emeril Lagasse’s NOLA) came close to this meal. But, it’s a little doubtful. It’s probably obvious how awesome this was, since I can still write about it 2 months later with some pretty impressive enthusiasm!
We highly recommend not only Zephrus, if you find yourself on Martha’s Vineyard, but specifically the Chef’s tasting menu. We went with the 5 course option (I think it was $65/person, but we know it wasn’t more than $85/person — we do know that with drinks and tip the total check came to $227. Thanks to Mint.com), but there was also a less expensive 3 course option, which did not include dessert.
I think the next time we come across the option of Chef’s tasting menu, we will take it. It was really so amazing.