Qihong Meng and his wife Keke Wu enjoy a meal at one of Zephrus's outdoor tables: Photo by Susan Safford
Qihong Meng and his wife Keke Wu enjoy a meal at one of Zephrus's outdoor tables. The couple are on their first trip to the Vineyard. Photos by Susan Safford

Zephrus lightens up

By Karla Araujo - July 6, 2006

Zephrus, the restaurant named for one of the Greek wind gods - from which comes the word zephyr, a mild, gentle breeze - has been buffeted in recent years by the comings and goings of several chefs and a devastating fire. Perhaps better named Phoenix for its ability to literally rise from the ashes, Zephrus, in downtown Vineyard Haven's Mansion House Inn on Main Street, appears poised for yet another new chapter with Executive Chef Bradford Stevens at the helm for his fourth summer season.

Mr. Stevens, along with owners Sherman and Susan Goldstein, just completed a redesign of the restaurant's menu to, as he puts it, "offer something for everyone." Gone are most of the formal dinner entrees, replaced by a moderately priced all-day menu featuring light bites, sandwiches, small plates for lighter appetites, full-size servings of the same selections, and several more-traditional dinner entrées. Daily specials add options to the already extensive menu. Zephrus is now open continuously seven days a week from 11:30 am to 10 pm. Chef Stevens said that children are warmly welcomed.

Chef Brad Stevens of Zephrus: Photo by Susan Safford
Chef Brad Stevens in the Zephrus kitchen.

While my dinner companion and I were enticed by the descriptions of lighter "bites" such as crab cakes with Island greens and lemon herb aioli or the grilled thin-and-crispy pizza of the day, we opted for heartier fare. To start, I ordered the chilled cucumber soup with dill, yogurt, and smoked salmon. It was served in a martini glass, the presentation outdone only by its smooth, refreshing blend of flavors. My friend ordered the "Summer Colors" salad, mesclun greens tossed with mixed beets and chevre cheese with toast points and a horseradish vinaigrette. She pronounced it delicious and I, a fan of neither beets nor chevre, also found the texture and combination of flavors very pleasing.

Brendan, one of the Island's most experienced and skilled servers, recommended that we try an entrée special, pan-roasted hot-and-sour Chilean sea bass in an herb mustard vinaigrette served over a carrot and cucumber soba noodle salad. Both my friend and I agreed that the fish was cooked perfectly, moist and flaky, and that the bed of cool soba noodles offered a flavorful complement to the delicate fish. My salmon roasted with honey-dill mustard atop grilled asparagus and risotto cakes - a staple on the menu - was also cooked to perfection. The asparagus tasted tender and fresh-picked, the risotto cakes a satisfying alternative to the traditional rice or potato. A side note: the bread at Zephrus is worth the calories - topped with a honey-sweetened butter, it is crispy on the outside, moist and soft inside with a just-out-of-the-oven freshness.

Zephrus's sockeye salmon: Photo by Susan Safford
This sockeye salmon entrée is from the list of specials.

In addition to the roasted salmon on the regular menu, diners seeking a more complete meal can choose from full or half portions of fish n' chips, steamed mussels, crab cakes or roasted chicken. Full portions of calamari and a 22-ounce Porterhouse steak round out the menu.

On another recent afternoon, the daily specials board featured fried brie with bagel chips and a blueberry drizzle; seared yellowfin tuna with a sushi rice ball, kimchee salad, sweet chili soy vinaigrette and pickled ginger; and a crispy hazelnut encrusted soft-shell crab salad stuffed with herbed goat cheese, accompanied by Island greens. Although I wasn't in the market for lunch, both the descriptions and the aroma from Zephrus were almost enough to lure me back.

Though sated by our meals, we felt a near-moral obligation to order dessert. Choices included "The Ultimate Chocoholics Platter" (a sampling of sinful homemade chocolate concoctions), lemondrop cheesecake, strawberry napoleon, and an oven-baked apple tartlet with vanilla bean ice cream. We concurred that the apple tartlet seemed a responsible choice for two diet-conscious diners, then threw caution to the wind and dove into the sweet cinnamon-y confection, savoring the fresh whipped cream, chocolate drizzle, and white chocolate wafer that garnished the platter.

A full page of imaginative sandwiches completes the new menu at the reborn Zephrus: including chunky lobster salad, grilled tuna steak, Cajun grilled chicken, and a griddled portobello wrap, plus a "Build a Better Burger" with a dozen possible toppings ranging from avocado to roasted red peppers. We have heard that the sandwich menu has become a hit with Main Street business people who are choosing Zephrus for their lunch break for its tasty food, robust servings, and manageable prices.

Don't forget that Vineyard Haven is a dry town - it's BYOB or content yourself with the restaurant's fresh fruit smoothies, cappuccino, espresso, non-alcoholic beer or a wide range of other beverage selections.

Prices start at $6 for sandwiches served with fennel and pickled red onion coleslaw and go up to $42 for the 22-ounce Porterhouse steak. Most dinner entrées fall into the $12 range for the small plate and $19 for a full portion. Soups are $5, salads $7.

What does Zephrus add up to this season? An extensive, reasonably priced, and thoughtfully considered menu. Fresh, good quality ingredients skillfully and attractively presented. A sophisticated, soothing atmosphere with soft lighting, private booths, local fine art, and an attentive waitstaff. An outdoor café for balmy afternoons and evenings. All in all, Zephrus resumes its familiar yet ever-evolving position on our list of options for reliably enjoyable food on the Vineyard this summer.

Zephrus is in the Mansion House Inn at 9 Main Street in Vineyard Haven. Reservations are accepted for parties of 6 or more. Take-out orders are welcomed. Phone is 508-693-3416.

Karla Araujo is a tennis instructor and freelance writer who lives in the Florida Keys and on Martha's Vineyard.