Finding the perfect team to work with you in the kitchen is almost like finding housing on the Island — nearly impossible, typically out of reach, and focused on word of mouth. Robert Sisca, a newcomer to the Island and executive chef at Garde East in Vineyard Haven, had been searching for a few months. “I had two to three tastings with other chefs I can’t name,” he said, describing the process of finding a sous-chef. And since the universe works in mysterious ways, Carlos Montoya, previously of Sweet Life Cafe, applied for the job and they hit if off immediately. Even though the chef circle is small on this Island, they had not met before; after Carlos’ tasting, they knew they would be working together.
When you step into the kitchen at Garde East for a behind-the-scenes look at dinner preparation, it’s incredible to watch them almost dance in perfect harmony on the line. The kitchen is small but precise, and both of them look happy, which is tough when you’re in a hot kitchen.
Garde East is one of only two waterfront restaurants in Vineyard Haven, this one overlooking Vineyard Haven Harbor near the marina. The decor is refined and simple, with whites and light blues that let the view shine — deep blue waters and floating wooden boats. The menu is described as “French-inspired seafood for a New American dining experience,” and showcases the freshest seafood they can get their hands on. The menu is divided into three sections — crudo, second, third, and a section for sides. It’s not an immense menu, which allows the chefs to stick to what they know and what they do well.
I recommend ordering from the crudo section; you’ll taste some of the freshest fish on the Island. The Black Sea Bass ($14) was a delicate crudo, served with finger limes that burst with flavor, atop a green garlic emulsion that was silky smooth. As a seafood-focused experience, you’ll notice the variety of ways the fish is prepared. Crudo, poke, tartare, and sashimi were just some options on the menu. Here’s a quick rundown of the terms:
- Sashimi, an ancient Japanese preparation and probably the simplest; it consists of expertly sliced raw fish, not marinated, served with minimal garnishes.
- Poke, from Hawaii and pronounced POH-kay, is typically a bowl of cubed raw fish tossed in an Asian-inspired sauce. Poke’s popularity has grown over the years on the mainland, and it’s something you’ll see a lot of on Island menus this year.
- Tartare, a dish originating in France in the early 20th century, and typically either raw beef or tuna, heavily seasoned. At Garde East, the offering is for vegetarians, with Cauliflower Tartare ($11) served on a harissa yogurt. Packed with flavor, it resembles a classic tartare for the non-meat-eaters.
The menu contains many sharable dishes, but the second section really shines. The Beetroot Gnocchi ($16) was a delight to the senses, and its bright red color made it the most photographic dish of the night. Made with beets and aged goat cheese, the little clouds of pasta melt in your mouth. For continued indulgence, order the Foie Gras & BBQ Torchon ($24), but make sure to share it with a dining buddy. It’s rich, and the most decadent dish you’ll taste. Paired expertly with pickled green strawberries that cut through the richness, foie gras is always a pleasure to have.
“We’ve really worked together on dishes, combining what we both know to showcase the best product in the best preparation we can,” Carlos shared as he plated up a dish. For the octopus lovers, the Spanish Octopus ($19) is wrapped in Iberico ham and served with a smoked bacon aioli; the octopus is so tender with the ham gently hugging it, coaxing out the great flavors.
Garde East has a long wine and beer list, and the selection of wines by the glass is impressive. There’s a variety of local New England craft beers and ciders; you’ll find something for everyone.
Garde East utilizes the Martha’s Vineyard bounty from both land and sea to create some outstanding dishes, including a clambake packed with lobster, scallops, prawns, mussels, clams, chorizo, corn, and potatoes (market price; currently $37). Sure, a clambake might be more fun on a sandy beach, but if you’re visiting on a rainy weekend, this restaurant’s location is the next best thing. But seafood isn’t all that they do. Whether you order the Crescent Farm Duck Breast ($37) served with sweet corn croquettes with a molten interior, or the Rib Eye Steak ($42) served with bone marrow, pommes frites, and a black garlic bordelaise, the non-seafood lovers will be satisfied.
Everyone can agree on dessert, and one sweet treat I will come back for all summer is the Hazelnut Mousse ($12) with a feuilletine crust and an M.V. Sea Salt ice cream. As you take the first bite, the classic Ferrero Rocher will come to mind. As the new chef de cuisine, Carlos brings his experience on the savory side, but the dessert menu is a true collaboration of what Robert and Carlos look forward to doing all summer long.
Garde East is currently open for dinner at 5:30 pm, Wednesday through Sunday. Check out the website for full details at gardeeast.com, and follow them on Facebook for daily specials and updates at facebook.com/Gardeeast. With onsite parking and gorgeous water views, it’s the place to go for a special meal.