When Pierre and Susan Guérin bought The Sweet Life Cafe in 2007, they had some big shoes to fill. Now in their fourth season, they have unmistakably risen to the challenge, which was no small task considering that this was the Guérin’s first venture as restaurateurs. They had long shared a passion for food and wine, and now they had an ideal venue to create a superb dining experience. Add one talented chef to the mix and they had the perfect recipe for success.
Circuit Avenue is the proverbial life of the party on Martha’s Vineyard. At night, the sidewalks overflow with human spillage from shops, movie theaters, bars, and restaurants. But at the top of the street, juxtaposed with the hoards of pedestrians ambling willy-nilly into the street, disrupting the constant stream of cars desperately seeking parking, is the lovely Victorian house known as The Sweet Life Cafe.
The moment you enter, chaos is replaced with calm as you’re graciously welcomed and shown to your table in one of three intimate dining rooms, or outside in the garden. Despite white linens and antique furniture, there is no pretense whatsoever. The garden is surrounded by a hedge, which provides an effective buffer from the ruckus of the street, and a curtain of twinkling lights after dark. The service is attentive if not doting. Servers and bus people weave between tables like a well-practiced team whose goal is to satisfy your every whim.
Lavender Limeade, just one of their festive specialty drinks, is a good drink to start with. But if you have any inclination toward wine, you’ll want to have some here. Beginning with family meals in France and developing into over 20 years of professional experience, Pierre Guérin has an extensive background in the fine art of wine selection. He has designed a wine list that is food and consumer friendly, reaching out to casual imbibers as well as connoisseurs. Wines by the glass range from $8 to $16.
Clearly the stars were aligned when the Guérin’s met their executive chef, Scott Ehrlich. His dishes are creative without being esoteric and they’re as pleasing to look at as they are to taste. The flavors are clean and vibrant — never overpowering — with a good balance of comfort and decadence.
While the restaurant is primarily French-American, Asian and Italian influences are also represented on the menu. The spinach-wrapped tuna appetizer ($14) is seared on the outside and sliced into medallions revealing the brilliant red interior. The accompanying crisp marinated cucumbers and the warm spices of the garam masala sauce with just a drizzle of pistachio oil will have you reaching for a bit of crusty sourdough baguette to sop up every drop.
Entrees range from $32 to $42 and include a delicate sautéed halibut served over sweet pea risotto surrounded by marjoram beurre blanc. The slow-cooked short ribs and beef tenderloin — both on one plate — are so tender you’ll barely need teeth to eat them.
Remember to save some room for molten chocolate cake and a glass of port. Or something a bit lighter, such as lavender crème brulée or a glass of Sauternes.
While it’s hard to imagine a marriage proposal going awry in this elegant and romantic setting, The Sweet Life is not just for lovers. It’s a place for everyone to celebrate great food, great wine, and great company.