Friday, June 28, 2013

Vacationing In Provincetown: Dining & Drinking (Part 3)

Before going to Provincetown, I was immensely curious about its culinary scene, whether it would be a mass of tourist traps or instead whether it might offer some intriguing finds. The restaurant world in Provincetown is relatively small, with about 30+ seated restaurants and a number of more fast food/counter spots. You will find plenty of seafood and American fare, however you will also find diverse cuisine such as Thai, Japanese, Mexican, French and more. Forget McDonald's and Taco Bell, as you won't find any of those restaurant chains in Provincetown. In fact, the only chain that you will find is Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream, and that really isn't a typical chain anyways.

Overall, I enjoyed plenty of delicious food in Provincetown, at high end restaurants as well as small cafes. Many of these places would be welcome additions to the culinary scene of Boston. Besides the food, I was pleasantly surprised by the wine lists, which were far more diverse and interesting than I expected. In fact, they were more diverse and interesting than some Boston restaurants I have visited. Wine prices were also generally lower than what you find in Boston. Though I only scratched the surface of the culinary world in Provincetown, I was impressed by what I found and want to explore it more, maybe at the Food & Wine Festival in October.

On our first day, we began with a cocktail reception at the Harbor Lounge, located on Commercial Street and facing the ocean. A small lounge, I still was pleased at the diversity of wines available by the glass. They have a full bar and I chose to drink a Dark n' Stormy, with Goslings Black Seal Rum. We received a large platter of cheeses, meats, dips, crackers, grapes and more. Fresh, high quality and tasty, this was a pleasant way to start off our evening. With a great view, this is a nice spot to stop by for a cocktail or glass of wine.

Our first dinner was at The Mews Restaurant & Cafe, which is co-owned by Ron Robin, who we met during dinner. Known as Rockin' Ron, he also works as a radio personality on Dunes 102.3 FM. The original location of the restaurant, in 1964, was discovered to have once been a stable, and the old English word for stable is "mews," hence the restaurant's name. In 1993, the restaurant was moved to its current location.

The upstairs area is for the bar and cafe, while the downstairs is the main dining area, though the downstairs is really at street level and you have a great view of the beach. All of the art and stained glass windows in the restaurant were created by local artists. Local carpenters also designed the tables and benches. The dining room has a cool and casual vibe, a homey place which will appeal to couples, families and groups.

The wine list is interesting, though I was especially impressed with their vodka list, which contains over 260 selections from all over the world. Who would have thought you would find such a vodka selection in Provincetown? I enjoyed a couple of vodkas, including a Chopin Rye and Belvedere Rye, which I had never tasted before. I could come here dozens of times, just to taste through the intriguing vodka list.

Executive Chef Laurence DeFreitas has worked for The Mews for 24 years and Ron mentioned that the chef seeks to create "flavorful food," and not "vanilla" cuisine. Despite his lengthy position at the restaurant, Chef DeFreitas is not dwelling in the past and his menu remains fresh and interesting, often relying on fresh and local ingredients. A number of the dishes have an Asian flair to them. The menu is divided into Starters ($10-$16), Salads ($9-$14) and Mains ($22-$35). Begin with a Starter like a Wild Boar Naan Pizza or a Tuna Sushi Tempura and move onto a Main like Mongolian Style Grilled Lamb Chops or Pork Vindaloo.

Some fresh bread to start the meal.

I began my meal with the Lobster Dumplings in a Miso Broth ($13), three plump dumplings in steamed shumai wrappers. Each dumpling was filled with fresh lobster meat, ginger, scallions, and oyster & sherry sauces. The dumplings skins were just firm enough and the interior had plenty of sweet and flavorful lobster, enhanced by the umami of the savory miso broth. An excellent starter.

A Special that evening was a Venison Carpaccio dish, topped by thin sliced cheese. Though I didn't taste it, it looked fantastic and the person who ordered it enjoyed it very much.

I continued with The Wedge ($10) a salad of baby romaine, topped by cracked black pepper & Parmesan vinaigrette strewn with pancetta crumbles. Fresh romaine with lots of salty pancetta and a very pleasant vinaigrette. Simple but tasty.

For my entree, I selected the Shaking Beef ($31), a Vietnamese inspired dish with chunks of beef tenderloin, wok sautéed with scallions and red onions over watercress with a lime black pepper dipping sauce. Very tender beef, with a compelling sauce and a minor bit of heat. There was plenty of tenderloin and I definitely would recommend this dish. Everyone was very happy with their own dishes too. The Mews was a winner!

For lunch the next day, we stopped at the Patio American Grill & Cocktail Bar, which is also located on Commercial Street. It serves plenty of seafood dishes, New England cuisine, and sandwiches. It serves breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as a wide range of cocktails and wines. I enjoyed a glass of Albrecht Cremant d'Alsace Brut Rose with my lunch.

We sat on the outside patio, allowing us to people watch everyone walking down Commercial Street. It was a fine, sunny day so this was a great spot for a leisurely lunch.

We started off our lunch with The Monument ($88), a large seafood sampler, which can easily feed four people, and includes 12 oysters, 6 littleneck clams, 6 jumbo shrimp, snow crab claws, shrimp ceviche and a whole chilled lobster. I gorged myself on this very fresh seafood, including the huge, plump shrimp and sweet lobster. The ceviche was also quite tasty, with nice citrus and spice notes. If you want a piece of New England, the seafood in this dish will give it to you.

After that, I tried the Corn Chowder ($8.95) with lobster, tarragon and chili oil. This seemed to me to be more like a bisque than a chowder as the corn was essentially liquified. However, it tasted good, with a strong corn flavor complemented by sweet lobster and the hints of heat from the chili oil. For my main dish, I went with another New England dish, the Fried Ipswich Clams with fries. Plump clams, with a clean, crunchy coating certainly hit the spot.

I wasn't going to have dessert, but they brought us a couple dishes anyways, including a Strawberry Shortcake ($8.95). This was a superb dish, with fresh whipped cream, sweet berries and a soft, fresh cake. I probably could have devoured this entire dish by myself.

After a whale watch, we made a brief sojourn to The Purple Feather Cafe & Treatery, where you can find lunch, gelato, desserts, chocolate and more. It is owned and operated by Peter and Ann Okun, year round residents, and Ann has about 25 years of chocolate making experience. The Purple Feather has gone beyond just chocolate, selling a wide range of enticing sweets.

There are lots of intriguing chocolate concoctions, like the tasty Sweet & Salty Coconut Pretzel, a crispy pretzel dipped in caramel and chocolate, and then covered in toasted coconut. I thought the components were well balanced, especially as I am a fan of the combo of sweet and salty. The Chocolate Bacon contains thick sliced bacon covered in dark chocolate, providing more of that delicious sweet/salty combo.

They also have an assortment of Gelato and Sorbetto, which you can have in a bowl or cone, in a shake/smoothie, or between two cookies of your choice.

That evening, after a tour of the dunes, we went down to one of the beaches for a traditional New England Clambake. It was a beautiful evening, though a bit chilly for some, though we had a fire set into the sand. The clambake was catered by Ptown Parties, and they did an excellent job in arranging the event, as well as providing plenty of delicious food. For example, they had blankets for everyone, in fact two per person, so that you had one blanket to lay down atop the sand and another to wrap around yourself if you were chilly.

We began with bowls of Clam Chowder, and frankly it was one of the best chowders I have had in quite a while. It was the right consistency (not too thick or thin, just creamy enough), full of flavor, and contained plenty of tender clams. I enjoyed it so much that I had multiple bowls. Next up were Littleneck Clams, sauteed with onions and linguica, in a wine broth. Again, this was another delicious dish, the linguica adding a nice element to the clams, and I once again had multiple portions of these clams. Sitting on the sand beside a fire, with the ocean a short distance away, and eating these clams was just such a New England thing.

The main dish was Steamed Lobster, though they were accompanied by jerk chicken, roasted potatoes, grilled veggies, and jalapeno corn bread. A smorgasbord of culinary tastes. I am generally not a fan of eating a whole lobster at a restaurant cause it can be very messy, and water can squirt out when you try to crack open the lobster, and sometimes it shoots where you don't want it to go. But in the fire-lit darkness, such problems become much less visible, and you can dig into the shells of your crustacean. With the briny smell of the ocean as a background, the sweet lobster meat tasted even sweeter.

The cost of such a clambake is roughly $62.50 per person, with an added cost for the staff, dependent on the number of people at the clambake. There are plenty of extras you can order as well. In addition, they have a more budget option, for only $47.50 per person. For this type of event, and the quality of the food, I think the prices are reasonable. We had plenty of delicious food, and the setting and experience are quite memorable. If you want a true New England experience, then you have to have a beach side clambake.

We even had two coyotes stop nearby us on the beach, wanting to join our clambake, but they simply watched us from afar.

The next morning, I was on my own for breakfast, and after receiving a couple recommendations, I chose to eat at Cafe Heaven, which turned out to be an excellent choice. It is a small, casual spot, with windows looking out on Commercial Street. Their breakfast menu has plenty of the usual offerings, with some of their own more unique items, from homemade English muffins to linguica. Everything is reasonably priced too.

On the walls, you will find a number of breakfast and lunch specials. I tried the linguica, a large piece of a slightly spicy and flavorful Portuguese sausage. The homemade English muffins were also very good, with plenty of nooks and crannies for butter, and the consistency of the bread was just right. They are larger than the typical English muffins you buy at the grocery store.

For my main dish, I went with one of the specials, Corn Bread French Toast. It sounded so enticing, and I had never seen any other restaurant make this dish, so I had to try it, hoping for the best. Well, it was superb! The corn bread was thinly sliced, moist and with a delicious, sweet corn flavor. This would have been delicious corn bread on its own. Adding the eggy batter to its grilled goodness, enhanced and elevated this dish and I was extremely happy that I had ordered it. It had no faults and I would love to see other restaurants trying this as well.

The recommendations for Cafe Heaven were spot on, and I add my own hearty recommendation for this restaurant.

For lunch, we dined at a small casual spot, Lucky Dog Ptown, which primarily sells gourmet hot dogs and lobster rolls. They sell ten different hot dogs, the the hot dogs are made from their own special recipe. You can get your dog ($4.95-$10.95) topped with items like chili, mac n' cheese, slaw, bacon, baked beans and more. There are six different lobster rolls ($15.95-$19.95), made with simple mayo or butter, or topped by items like bacon or mac n' cheese. You'll also find a few other sandwiches, from pulled pork to sausage, as well as sides, such as baked beans, potato salad and chili.

I went with the Bacon & Blue Dog ($7.95), with smoked bacon & blue cheese and wasn't disappointed. The meaty dog went well with the crunchy, smoky bacon pieces and the tang of the blue cheese well accented the meats. You really need a fork to eat these dogs as they are so full of toppings that it is too difficult to just pick up and eat. Everyone else also enjoyed their dogs or lobster rolls and I would return here in a heart beat. A simple menu, they invest their passion in the items they create and it comes out in a well-made and delicious product. Highly recommended.

I thought these plastic utensil dispensers were so cool! Rather than have a cup filled with plastic utensils, where everyone can be touching them, these dispensers help keep the utensils more sanitary. You just dispense the utensils that you need, and never touch any others. Would love to see these used in many more restaurants.

On my own, I also stopped at the Provincetown Portuguese Bakery, which not only is a bakery but also serves breakfast and lunch. With Tibor Bago as the main chef, the bakery sells a variety of appealing Portuguese pastries, breads and more, and they all look enticing. I had to order the Malassada, a type of Portuguese donut which resembles fried dough, and it was well worth it, especially if they are still warm. It is far better than a carnival fried dough, being lightly sweet with a great, flaky pastry. This is a must stop if you visit Provincetown!

If you are a food and drink lover, then you should consider Provincetown as a culinary destination. From a killer Portuguese bakery to a voluminous vodka list, from a hearty tower of fresh seafood to a a unique French toast, you will find plenty to appeal to your palate.

Mews Restaurant & Cafe on Urbanspoon
Patio American Grill & Cocktail Bar on Urbanspoon
Purple Feather on Urbanspoon
Cafe Heaven on Urbanspoon
Provincetown Portuguese Bakery on Urbanspoon


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