PROVINCETOWN -- Chef Anthony Bourdain eloquently nailed Provincetown's food scene in his gritty, witty memoir, "Kitchen Confidential." P-town was where, in the '70s, he developed his culinary chops. Back then, he wrote, seafood was fried or paprika-blasted and "broiled to death." Bourdain left town to finesse his craft in Manhattan. Too bad. He missed out on the subsequent culinary surge, now masterfully expressed at Chester, a handsome establishment on Commercial Street.
Named for their beloved late Airedale terrier by owners Jay Coburn and John Guerra, Chester sets the senses blazing long before the food part begins. The diffused lighting, dark woodwork, and burnished yellow walls are luscious. Even though it was fully booked at our 8 p.m. Saturday seating, the ambient sound was remarkably muted, making every table an oasis.
The menu at Chester is awash in tough choices. Coburn and Guerra refer to their food as American, with an emphasis on local. (The restaurant grows organic produce and herbs in the backyard.) After soothing our angst with a glass of wine -- there are 170 vintages to choose from -- we started our meal with lacy cod cakes served with a remoulade of celery root and capers ($12), and a trio of beets: beet tartare, thinly sliced with capers and shallots; beet Napoleon, red and gold beets layered with goat cheese and arugula coulis; and a cluster of beet greens drizzled in white truffle oil ($12). We shared them with all the grace and good will Chester might have exercised while in possession of a meaty bone.
For entrees, I selected the Provincetown lobster with creamy orzo and spinach ($36). It arrived in white and green layers, topped with the red and pink of 1 1/2 pounds of shelled lobster. When I dug my fork into the sweet, briny dish, a soft plume of mascarpone fused with lobster broth oozed onto my plate. My companion's choice was a pink-marbled sirloin, dotted with dried cranberries and an earthy foie gras and truffle butter. It was served atop herb-and-bacon mashed potatoes and artfully braced by crisp, steamed green beans. I don't recall much of our conversation. We were too busy eating.
To our surprise, we demurred at the suggestion of dessert. Their simplicity -- New England cheeses, homemade sorbets, a lemongrass and apple creme brulee (all desserts are $8) -- suggests that the depth and complexity of the entrees leave little room for more. For details on Chester, see the Provincetown itinerary.
Pippin Ross is a freelance journalist living in Western Massachusetts.