The Dunes has a new chef who brings a modern twist to traditional fare

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Avocado wrapped ahi tuna. —Marnely Murray

This Island has a sort of magnetic energy that brings people back over and over again. It must be that same energy that enticed Scott Ehrlich, previously of Sweet Life Cafe, to come back to Martha’s Vineyard after spending five years living and working in the Los Angeles area. Now he’s accepted the job as executive chef at the Dunes at the Winnetu Resort in Katama.

Having visited the Dunes in previous years, I was looking forward to seeing what the new chef had created. As we stepped up the stairs to the restaurant, we were graciously greeted by floor manager Jose Cardona. His smile was welcoming as he led us to a table by the window, where we could enjoy views of the sweeping property’s porch, lawn, and pond. We were already dreaming of summer days on that porch, sipping cocktails, but today was a day to try out the menu.

Chef Ehrlich had been working and living in Pasadena, where he was chef at a French restaurant called Cheval Bistro. The eclectic blend of working in a French restaurant while living in California led to developing a creative set of skills, which you can see showcased in his menu. A simple menu with about eight starters and seven entrées, it’s a blend of modern and traditional. I commend Chef Ehrlich and his team for their restraint; it’s nice to see a menu that doesn’t instantly overwhelm you with dozens of options before you can say, “Can I have some water, please?”

Short and sweet, we started off with the Avocado Wrapped Tuna ($19), which was basically like eating art. The perfectly ripe avocado was thinly sliced and wrapped around fresh tuna, sprinkled with kalamata olive dust, and topped with a blue corn tortilla. Nothing says California like a gorgeous avocado, so this was one of the shining pieces that spoke to the chef’s background. If you’re wondering if there’s French inspiration in this current menu, look no further than the Spring Chicken Pâte ($14) served with cherry confiture, brioche, and watercress.

I hate to use the term “melting pot,” because it can signify a jumble of undefined items. What this menu really represents is a combination of cultures and techniques that take the dinner guest around the world in a few bites. As someone who craves Latin and Caribbean food on a daily basis, my excitement was over the top when I saw Ecuadorian Prawn Ceviche ($18) on the menu. The ceviche had a hint of spice in a tomato cilantro sauce, but what really made me happy were the flawlessly crispy green plantains, also known as tostones and also known as my reason for living. My childhood home in the Dominican Republic had a backyard with a dozen plantain trees, so plantains and I go hand in hand. Top each crispy plantain with a mound of shrimp ceviche, have a bite and then a sip of their El Guapo cocktail ($14) and you’ll be transported to warm palm-tree climates.

Can we talk about that El Guapo cocktail for a minute? Because if you know me, you know

I’m not a big drinker. I’ll have a sip of something and resume drinking endless glasses of ice water, but this El Guapo had me drinking it until the last drop. It’s a blend of Milagro Silver Tequila, triple sec, cucumber, blue agave syrup, fresh lime juice, and the real surprise — Fiery Cholula Hot Sauce! That hit of spiciness took that cocktail from zero to 60 in a flash. If you love spice, this drink is a must this summer.

Up to now, we’ve just talked about starters and cocktails, which leads me to believe that the Dunes is a great spot to come with friends and grab some cocktails after work, sharing a few of the smaller dishes and enjoying a casual time. But if you’re thinking more in terms of a complete dining experience, you must check out the entrées as well.

Starting with the Pan Seared Sea Scallops ($37) that rested on the smoothest cauliflower purée, curried kale, and topped with an interesting compote of golden raisins and capers: It was a stellar dish. Thinking outside the box and not serving the scallops on the usual risotto made this dish a favorite of the night. If you’re craving something a little meatier, order the Grilled Hanger Steak ($39). Sliced, tender hanger steak is served with a short rib carbonade (basically fall-off-the-bone short rib), a twice-baked potato, and herbaceous chimichurri sauce. We enjoyed this steak dish that satisfies with two varieties of beef on the plate.

To finish off the meal we chose a lemon curd mille-feuille, or Napoleon, to share. It contained thin, almost shattering, layers of puff pastry layered with tart lemon curd and topped with sweetened whipped cream — a dessert that’s not very common on menus in New England. It was a welcome ending to the meal.

When you’re hungry for dinner, remember that the Dunes at the Winnetu Resort is worth the trip. Follow them on Facebook: facebook.com/winnetuoceansideresort.