Accolades: Providence Journal 8/1997
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Atlantic Inn: A perfectly relaxing dining experience

By Katherine Imbrie

BLOCK ISLAND  - They don't fool  around with their street names on this island: Beach Avenue leads to the beach, Ocean parallels the shore, and High Street is high above the town of Old Harbor.  That means there’s a great view from up there, where the long white Atlantic Inn perches on a grassy hilltop from which gardens, fields and winding pathways spread down toward the town and harbor.

The Atlantic, built in 1879, is a classic Victorian inn which had fallen into a serious state of disrepair until Brad and Anne Marthens rescued and restored it is 1994.  Now the place gleams, its 21 guest rooms spiffed up with flowery wallpapers , antiques and country linens, its public rooms filled with comfortable period chairs and vases of fresh flowers from Anne's gardens.

But the best thing about the Atlantic is its wraparound porch, a deep veranda furnished with white wicker chairs and low tables where guests may enjoy drinks and appetizers or dessert and coffee while surveying the scene below (and sometimes the action on the croquet court).

It was one of the Marthenses ideas in restoring the inn to create a restaurant where island visitors and inn guests could  dine at a relaxed pace even in high season, a time when many restaurants feel the need to turn over their table quickly.  We wanted people to feel that they can make a reservation and be sure that they will be able to sit back and not feel rushed says Brad.

The Atlantic Inn dining room achieves this, taking reservations seriously and offering diners a leisurely three-course meal for a quite reasonable fixed price of $39.  At many restaurants, a fixed-price menu means that the diner's choices are fairly limited and some items may cost extra.  But at the Atlantic, the entire menu is fixed price, and there are about six choices in each category of appetizer, entree and dessert.  (An Aintermezzo of tart lemon-lavender granite - a kind of sorbet - is presented between the appetizer and the main course to Acleanse the palate.

Frequent menu changes

The Atlantic's menu changes frequently, reflecting the availability and quality of different types of seafood and produce as they come into season on the island.  Chef Ed Moon brings a  creative and playful flair to the kitchen; he took over as head chef this year, having been a Sous Chef for several previous seasons.

The appetizer selection on a recent evening includes a gazpacho soup, a salad of arugula and mixed greens, bourbon glazed lobster, grilled quail salad, monkfish rumaki, and basil gnocchi with asparagus, Vidalia onions and a smoked tomato coulis.  Following our waiters enthusiastic recommendation, my dining companion and I chose the lobster and the monkfish.

Both were excellent and beautifully presented.  For the rumaki, tender small medallions of mild monkfish were sautéed with bacon and radicchio greens and served with a creamy-sharp dressing of Block Island honey and mustard. This was a wonderful twist on the scallops-wrapped-in bacon standard and quite delicious.

The lobster was a good portion of very fresh meat - tail and claws - imbued with bourbon and served with  an extremely flavorful and fresh mixture of papaya, mango and chopped peanuts.  The dish was an original and delectable treatment of lobster, but the subtle flavor of the lobster itself seemed a but overwhelmed in the mix.

We shared a salad (there's a charge of $6 for extra salads or soups), and loved the passion fruit vinaigrette dressing that topped a mixture of the freshest greens, grapefruit, dried figs and toasted pecans.

Following our waiter's suggestions again, we chose for our main courses grilled striped bass and pan-seared duck breast.  (Other choices that night included sesame-crusted salmon, pan-fried flounder, grilled rack of lamb and vegetable risotto.)

The bass had been caught that morning and tasted just that fresh, a good portion of the mild-tasting fish grilled and served with an orzo salsa with red wine vinaigrette - again, an original and satisfying treatment.

Our favorite, though, was the duck breast.  Tender, lean pieces of duck, pink in the center, were served with an ancho chile and time sauce that was a piquant accompaniment.  A mound of creamy polenta made a soothingly mild counterpoint.

Desserts and wines

The dessert selection included chocolate creme brulee, ricotta cheese tart, plum crisp, chocolate mousse tartlette and a cookie cup filled with fresh berries.  We chose the creme brulee and the plum crisp, both of which were attractively presented on large hand-painted plates garnished with twirls of sauce and rosettes of cream.  

The plum crisp - light and gooey rather than heavy on the crisp - was served with a scoop of home-made ginger ice cream, an inspired combination.  The brulee tasted like a creamy chocolate pudding under a thin caramelized crust of sugar (this works a little better in a plain custard brulee that with the chocolate, which tasted a bit bitter).

The inn's wine list is modest in length but well-chosen, with the best values in the $35 to $45 price range.  Dessert wines, ports, cognacs and brandies are also offered - and the inn porch, with its peaceful view of ocean and harbor town, is the perfect place to finish a meal at the Atlantic.
Reprinted from The Providence Journal  - Friday, August 15, 1997.