If anything can be termed "hot" on Nantucket, an island where miniskirts are still revolutionary, Sfoglia is it. Impossible to get into last July 4th weekend, it had calmed down somewhat by this year's Labor Day weekend--because at eight years old, Sfoglia is still considered "new."
The waiting area, where the bench is an old buggy seat (New England was never known for comfort), can get crammed with a mix of regulars and people who make a pilgrimage here. Inside, though, the restaurant doesn't feel overly crowded, even at the height of the night. Open and lofty, the interior is furnished with antiques, and why not? There sure are a lot of them around here. The floors are puritan plank and the whitewashed walls are inlaid with interesting details stashed into bookshelves--island memorabilia and vintage books. A new room off to the right is dominated by an arched marble-topped bar.
The theme is Italian, but this is a new kind of farmhouse Tuscan that would have had the old masters scratching their heads. If you take the Italian principal that every edible local element--from eggs to coxcombs--is potential fodder for a meal, however, Sfoglia stays true to Tuscan ideology. Drawing from Nantucket's substantial farming and fishing resources, Sfoglia combines spaghetti with melon and tagliatelli with sea urchin. The results are intriguing and unusually good.
Dishes that look simple are actually the result of a lot of effort and technique, like the seafood spiedino, skewered scallops that are poached in wine then chilled and garnished with fried capers and a salsa verde. They're not just throwing some shrimps on the barbie here. The afffetati misti was as plain and simple a salad as they come, but also true to Italian cuisine, it was perfectly dressed.
Back to that tagliatelli with sea urchin: Chefs Ron Suhanosky and Colleen Marnell-Suhanosky, a husband-and-wife team who settled on the island after stints at Il Buco and Gramercy Tavern, are obsessed with pasta, so much so that the restaurant was named for an uncut sheet of pasta. The pasta that arrives at our table could compete with the best--we were reminded of Alto--and we're out on "the Rock," not in a major metropolis. Tender, eggy, and springy under a fork, the tagliatelli is simply but lavishly dressed with olive oil, roasted grape tomatoes, parsley, and chunks of sea urchin. Bite into that element and you'll think you've discovered the sea itself.
For traditionalists, every sort of pasta on the menu, including gnocchi and pappardelle, can be made with a basic "scuie scuie" sauce of San Marzano tomatoes and basil. With this one the chefs get down to the essence of the thing and capture the flavors of summer at its peak.
Freshly caught sea bass is a special that night. It arrives at the table as a thick steak cut--not what my delicate friend was expecting--but it's excellent nevertheless, redolent of smoke and char and perfectly cooked. Again Sfoglia turns to fresh local vegetables--in this case Swiss chard and fennel--as groundwork for the dish.
Sfoglia's chicken al mattone--chicken under a brick, the waiter explains--has rightfully earned its title of house special. The skin is buttery and crispy, but the bird also tastes of the light lemony sauce that surrounds it. It's a little spicy from the crushed red pepper, but not too much so. All in all, a beautifully balanced dish.
One of the worst things about traveling is that you can come to crave a dish that's only served hundreds or even thousands of miles away. New York's Sfoglia is no longer considered "new"--it opened way back in 2006--but the Manhattan branch has many of the same dishes on the menu. Not that tagliatelle with sea urchin, however--for that, we'll have wait for another summer and another trip to the Rock.
130 Pleasant Street