The Wauwinet Hotel’s Topper’s Is Tops on Nantucket.
Usually, when one refers to a review by the ubiquitous restaurant guide Zagat, it means their “surveyors” have eaten at and rated a particular establishment. And like the coveted Michelin stars for a Parisian bistro, a good rating in Zagat means business for an American restaurant. So it is that gourmands may be slavish to Zagat while ordinary travelers, simply looking for a good meal, trust it will take them safely to a place that fits both their tastes and budget.
Topper’s Bayview Terrace
overlooks Nantucket’s Harbor Head.
It is true that the latest edition of the Zagat Survey rates Topper’s at The Wauwinet on Nantucket as best of the Cape and the Islands. In this case, however, our headline refers not to the guide itself, but to the guide’s owners Nina and Tim Zagat and, all right, to the one and only fashion designer Ralph Lauren.
Let me explain. On a recent weekend at The Wauwinet (See the accompanying feature: The Wauwinet: Nantucket’s Most Elegant Hideaway) we found ourselves settled comfortably onto Topper’s Bayview Terrace, a glass of 2001 Bourgogne Blanc Aligote in hand and a delightful looking plate of Topper’s tasting-style luncheon awaiting our review. While I’ve used Zagat guides for years, I couldn’t recognize the Zagats themselves in a lineup. But on this day, as apparently is very often the case, the gregarious Tim Zagat was stopping by tables to pick up spontaneous reviews on his way out of the restaurant. As he approached our table, his hand extended, we shook and said hello, but this time I was able to turn the tables, so to speak. After letting him know that we were “working” I asked his opinion of the meal he just finished and whether he could give me a quote for the story. “I will tell you this,” he began. “Very rarely do we eat at a restaurant more than once, but this is our third time in a row at Topper’s,” he said with a satisfied smile. “I agree with our surveyors that this is the best on the Cape and the Islands, so why go anywhere else?” he concluded. Before the weekend wound down with Sunday brunch, we would encounter the Zagats on several more occasions and we would come to realize just how serious he was. By then we had seen Nina and Tim Zagat eat three more meals in a row at Topper’s!
Waving adieu to the Zagats we turned our attention to the tasty $28 Prix Fixe luncheon before us, consisting of four, small-portion sizes, mine being the Nantucket Lobster Salad on Toasted Portuguese Bread, Seared Sea Scallop with Cucumber, Fennel and Ginger, Warm Saffron and Orzo Salad with Calamari, Prosciutto and Rosemary, and Lobster Crab Cake with Smoked Corn, Jalapeño Olives and Mustard Sauce.
An evening at Topper’s is a celebration of fine cuisine.
We were not long into the savory bites when a splendid looking, gray-haired man of modest height passed close by our table and we noticed that his Platinum American Express card was dangling halfway out of his pocket. We feared it would tumble onto the ground without his notice. In this case, the man, dressed in orange parachute pants, bright green Polo shirt, blue cable knit sweater and white tennis sneakers was easily recognizable. In a moment he was joined by two attractive, fifty-something, blonde women and another equally handsome man. The two couples ambled casually from Topper’s toward the great lawn of The Wauwinet followed only by the gaze of remaining guests. Looking much like one of his trademark ads, Ralph Lauren and friends might just as easily have stepped off the pages of Town and Country Magazine. Shortly, and to the delight of most of the diners (some deliriously so) he returned to sign the check having discovered in time the precarious position of his Platinum AMEX.
Considering these two unexpected encounters we decided, at least for the weekend, we would dispense with the notion that the grass is always greener. This time, by golly, we were in the right place at exactly the right time. We returned enthusiastically to our fresh seafood and chilled white wine for another hour of delightful dining in the unhurried atmosphere that is Topper’s and The Wauwinet. Before long, we too would embark on a visit to the great lawn, slipping softly into sumptuously-cushioned, white-wicker lounge chairs so as to sail through a dreamy afternoon in the Nantucket sun.
Revived and ready for another meal we dressed for Saturday night dinner in the more formal Topper’s dining room. Every space in The Wauwinet has been meticulously designed by New York-based Kuckly Associates aiming, the Kuckly’s say, “to create the feeling of a country home at the seashore,” incorporating English and Irish pine, wicker, antiques, stenciling and chintz.
On this night we will sit at a candle-lit setting for two; a five-foot long table turned sideways with couch-style seating on one side and a cushioned armchair on the other. Oil paintings that depict summers on the shore or equestrian portraits hang on every wall. One distinctive countenance is the restaurant’s namesake, owners Stephen and Jill Karp’s former Welsh Terrier, Topper. Bronze horses in full gallop stand on pedestals that divide the diners. Gentleman in summer-weight blazers attending beautifully-coiffed women in pastel or print dresses, and toting Nantucket Baskets, completes the scene.
Executive Chef Chris Freeman has earned
Topper’s numerous national and international awards.
Every dining detail from the china and flatware to the linen and glass — not to mention the award winning menu — has been carefully considered by Executive Chef Chris Freeman with a goal to creating an experience that can’t be found anywhere else on the island. Now in his seventh summer at Topper’s, Freeman, a seemingly modest man for his profession, says, “Every year we try to get a little bit better. We begin preparation months before our May opening and then we work to set a new standard for ourselves and the restaurant.” That work has earned Topper’s numerous awards; among them the Wine Spectator’s Grand Award and the Wine Enthusiast’s Award of Excellence.
The centerpiece of Topper’s evening repast is Chef Freeman’s magnificent six-course Tasting Menu that features fresh, local ingredients in dishes that celebrate seasonal foods. Each course is accompanied by Cellar Master Craig Hanna’s pairing of fine wines chosen from a cellar of over 20,000 bottles and 900 vintages. The Tasting Menu is $185 per person or $95 per person without wines. Our choice was the alternative Three Course Prix Fixe Menu at $78 per person beginning with Poached Hudson Valley Foie Gras with Rhubarb-Pepper Compote and Portuguese Bread served with a sweet sauterne and Wild Mushroom and Rabbit Terrine with Mushroom Escabeche and Herb Salad.
Topper’s dining room décor is a rich blend of fabrics,
New England antiques and oil paintings meant to evoke a country home by the seashore.
After a consultation with Sommelier Hanna we settled on a bottle of Sancerre Clos la N’eore from the vintner Edmund Vatan. At $55 the Sancerre is a smooth, dry white that paired wonderfully with our main course of Seared Sea Scallops with Lemon Fettuccine, Clam Shell Mushrooms and Peas and Chef Freeman’s Signature dish of Nantucket Lobster Navarin with Morel Mushrooms and Spring Vegetables. We indulged ourselves in Topper’s atmosphere which is both sophisticated and relaxed staying for almost three hours as each course became an event to savor without notice of time. For dessert we shared a Hazelnut Dacquoise with Chocolate Hazelnut Ganache and Coffee Ice Cream and three of the Artisan Cheese selections: Mahon, Coach Farm Chevre, and Westfield Farm Classic Blue.
As the only Relais & Chatê aux property on Nantucket, The Wauwinet surpasses the rigorous standards for which the 50-year old international hotel and restaurant association is recognized. Innkeepers Eric and Bettina Landt have made an art of their service, so at Topper’s, and indeed throughout The Wauwinet, the staff is superb — both friendly and knowledgeable — with many returning year after year from their winter season stays in Caribbean resorts. More than a few have come back to Nantucket for a decade or more and their ease and professionalism is an irreplaceable asset. When asked, some will tell you that for them The Wauwinet is home and for a short while, if only for an exquisite culinary experience at Topper’s, you may feel as though you have come home as well.
Wauwinet’s tender shuttles dinner guests
to and from the island’s central harbor.
Topper’s at The Wauwinet is open daily May through October with lunch served from noon to 3 p.m. and dinner from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Reservations for both lunch and dinner are recommended; call 508/228-8768.
Ask about The Wauwinet Lady’s daily cruises from the Nantucket wharves to Topper’s.
Topper’s At The Wawuinet
Reservations – 508-228-8768
— Feature by Jim Hollister, Jetsetters Magazine Luxury Travel Editor. Photos by Jim Hollister and The Wauwinet.