When I was a young art student in New York City, I followed Gael Greene’s restaurant reviews in New York magazine with an avidness and longing. What a job that would be, I thought.
My fantasy came true last Friday evening when Barbara Davis and I dined at Salvatore’s Ristorante on Union Street in Vineyard Haven. Barbara is a copy editor at the Martha’s Vineyard Times. I am a writer for the paper and for Arts & Ideas. We are friends. Our editor at the Times, Connie Berry, said, “Why don’t you write a restaurant review?”
There was a light breeze that evening. Barbara had reserved a pretty table out of doors for us. The awning overhead kept it cool, and afforded some separation and privacy from the sidewalk, but still allowed the pleasure of people watching. It felt sort of cosmopolitan. Gael Greene might have had just such an evening in New York.
Our experience was better than anything I could have imagined. Since I rarely eat out, my standards are rigid; I want it to be perfect if I was going to go to the trouble and expense, especially during the summer. I want the food to be extraordinary, meaning something special that I couldn’t or wouldn’t have at home.
Another requirement was that it not be so noisy that we couldn’t hear each other or talk in a quiet voice. We didn’t hear loud music or other diners, and I hope they didn’t hear us.
On Salvatore’s website, the following introduction gives a sense of the spirit and intention diners can expect. “In Italy, meals are never rushed. Italians take the time to enjoy their meal and spend time with family and friends. At Salvatore’s Ristorante, we celebrate authentic Italian food, Martha’s Vineyard, and the Italian way of eating.”
That was exactly as it was. It never felt like a busy midsummer night. Our waitress made us feel like we had as long as we wished to sit at our table, to drink our prosecco, to savor every morsel of our dinner, to talk, talk, talk with each other. She was attentive and thoughtful, never overbearing; she neither hovered nor abandoned us; she was charming and engaging. Perfect.
We started with glasses of prosecco, to sip while we carefully read every item on the menu. The descriptions were tantalizingly written. Barbara ordered a prosciutto appetizer made with imported prosciutto that was aged for 24 months, with burrata mozzarella, baby heirloom tomatoes, and a drizzle of a balsamic glaze. I chose squash blossoms stuffed with ricotta and Parmigiano cheeses, also with an artistic drizzle of the balsamic glaze. Both appetizers were served on rectangular white plates, simple, elegant, an edible still life presented to each of us.
A second glass of prosecco preceded our second course. Then it was risotto primavera for Barbara and lobster ravioli for me. Barbara’s risotto was full of crispy vegetables; my ravioli was full of lobster, garnished with lobster. We were both very happy with our choices.
Sadly, we were too full to eat dessert, tempting as the offerings were.
I hope this will be the beginning of my restaurant-reviewing career. I have learned from this first outing. Gael Greene brought a full table’s worth of friends along, so that each person could order something different, and she could sample everything. She had to be able to write about it, after all, and trying a bite or two from a wider selection gave her and her readers a better overview of the menu offerings. A larger group would probably have prevented us from dining at our table for two outside under the awning, though. Would that be a worthwhile tradeoff?
Barbara and I have agreed that we need to go again. There are so many as-yet-untasted possibilities. I am already wondering what I will order next time. We still have to have dessert.
Salvatore’s Ristorante, 20 Union St., Vineyard Haven. 508-687-9457; salvatoresristorante.com.