Boathouse at Saugatuck: waterside dining in your backyard
Published 10:54 am, Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Though we have plenty of local coastline, there has always been a shortage of restaurants on the water.
This might have a lot to do with the cost of shorefront property or the seasonal attraction of such places. So, it makes great business sense to have such valuable real estate as multi-use.
The Boathouse at the Saugatuck Rowing Club is one of those very bright ideas. The building is home to the rowing club in season, a members-only fitness club year-round, and a formerly private dining room that is now open to the public.
But rather than the salad-and-burger place one would expect from a sports club, the Boathouse shores up the magnificent waterside setting with a menu to match. Executive chef John Holzwarth brings both his fine talent and training, as well as his experience and belief in fresh, sustainable foods honed in the kitchen of the nearby Dressing Room Restaurant.
The towering windows of the dining room add spaciousness to the relatively small space, but in summer, seating is nearly doubled with the possibility of dining on the second-floor deck directly on the shores of the Saugatuck River.
Crisp white-clad tables and a very professional wait staff suggest a menu and service that prove to indeed be sophisticated and contemporary, while still evoking homespun foods and just-picked seasonal ingredients. Even the bread is artisanal, served crusty and warm with a small bowl of emerald olive oil.
Lunch and dinner menus here are small, with only five or six appetizers and main courses on each. But the complexity and range of flavors in each dish suggest a far larger selection.
In keeping with the location, dinner appetizers focus on seafood, with options as simple as pristine oysters on the half shell with pickled shallot mignonette, or a colorful platter of simple pan-seared diver scallops on a bed of candy beets, favas, English peas, pickled cauliflower and a citrus vinaigrette drizzled over all.
This local garden focus also is evident in the Montauk lobster salad, in which huge chunks of perfectly cooked lobster are molded along with diced avocado, shell beans and sliced fingerling potatoes lightly bound with herbed mayonnaise on a bed of frisee. Vegetables also star in the garden salad, with fresh chevre and a composed salad with ricotta crostini.
Prettily presented main courses further reflect the seasonal garden focus. Two quickly seared and glazed chunks of Chinook salmon are jauntily set atop a garden bed of red, yellow and orange baby beets, radishes, cucumber mixed with citrus vinaigrette and crusty chunked croutons.
The house chicken is first braised to a succulent moistness, then quickly roasted to a crisp finish -- a brilliant idea. Served over a bed of lightly sautéed summer vegetables and accompanied by mushroom-studded farro, this is a light but very substantial meal.
Handmade pecorino-filled ravioli in a delicate pear sauce is perfectly al dente, but could benefit from just a touch more herbal accent, such as is presented with the house angnolotti with peas and mint. Other interesting pastas are whole-grain spelt fettuccini with chanterelle and porcini mushrooms, or semolina linguine with Montauk squid, roasted cherry tomatoes and summer squash. But probably the most popular dish we saw go by is the hefty cheddar burger on a house-made bun with pickled onion and herbed fingerling potatoes.
Desserts are as inventive as the rest of the meal. A multilayer caramel almond nougatine torte is imbued with excellent rum, and the golden-crusted pound cake is filled with rhubarb and kumquat compote for a wonderfully unusual and delightful combination. Other options are a selection of homemade ice creams or truffles.
The food, service and natural nautical ambiance at The Boathouse at Saugatuck combine to present a summer meal to remember.
THE BOATHOUSE AT SAUGATUCK Saugatuck Rowing Club 521 Riverside Ave., Westport www.saugatuckrowing.com TELEPHONE: 203-227-3399 HOURS: Lunch: Wed-Sun 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Dinner: Wed-Sun. 5:30-9:30 p.m. Brunch: Sun 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. RESERVATIONS: Accepted CREDIT CARDS: AE, V, MC PRICES: Dinner: appetizers: $9-$16; main courses: $15-$24; desserts: $10.