Every time I go to the Olde Salt House in Cohasset, I feel like I’m on vacation.
The outdoor restaurant is not much more than an attractive deck with wooden tables and umbrellas that overlooks a small, picturesque cove in Cohasset Harbor. There are gorgeous flowers everywhere. The friendly college kids waiting tables are cute and enthusiastic, if not exactly polished. And the menu’s emphasis on fresh, local seafood reminds me of the classic, cheery seasonal restaurants dotting the harbors from the Coast of Maine to tip of Cape Cod.
In my book, there is no better place to have some great seafood close to home in a get-away-from-it-all setting.
If it’s a gorgeous day or evening in late spring or summer, I can’t help thinking: “Let’s go to the Salt House,’’ as it is known. Of course, if I’m thinking that, so are a lot of other people, so be prepared for a wait during peak hours and on sunny weekends.
The Salt House doesn’t take reservations, but there is a rustic indoor bar area with a few small tables and a small patio where you can cool your heels and wait your turn. Or, you can stroll along the public space by the cove, and one of those fresh-faced college kids will track you down when your table is ready.
On one recent evening, we took our seats and enjoyed nearly panoramic harbor views, including a good shot of The Oaks, the 45-room mansion across the harbor owned by businessman Peter Roy, which went on the market last month for a staggering $55 million. If you’re interested in buying the estate, the Salt House and Atlantica, the more formal restaurant next door, are part of the deal. But back to reality.
The menu has all of the items you’d expect from a seasonal seaside restaurant, with some surprises thrown in. We started with the corn-fried full-bellied clams ($11) and were delighted by the granular topping and homemade tartar sauce. (And, yes, you can still get “regular’’ fried clams, too.)
We also tried the Mongolian tenders ($11). Our server told us it’s a crowd favorite, and I believe it. It was a delicious combination of tangy chicken tenders with a chili barbecue glaze served with a cool, coconut crème fraiche dipping sauce. Both appetizers were generous enough to have served as an entrée at lunch.
Salt House devotees, and there are many, will notice some additions and subtle modifications to this year’s menu. They are the influence of Christian Pieper, the new executive chef, who was most recently the executive chef at the Mills Tavern in Providence.
Pieper is bringing a subtle French-bistro twist to the classic seaside restaurant vibe that has been the Salt House’s modus operandi since it opened in 2000. The moules and frites ($13) are a perfect example. An intriguing combination of mussels, a tomato broth, and healthy chunks of chorizo were a hit at our table.
Next we tried the “Diana Too’’ lobster salad ($22). The vessel Diana Two is moored in front of the Salt House, and local Ricky Barrow keeps the restaurant stocked all summer. The salad featured large chunks of fresh lobster dressed in just the right amount of champagne vinegar. It was served atop a corn, arugula, and avocado salad.
The swordfish in the Grilled Atlantic swordfish kabobs with fresh pineapple ($24) was impossibly fresh and perfectly cooked. The grilled flavor of the meaty fish blended beautifully with the sweetness of the grilled pineapple. We also enjoyed the crab melt ($16), which was served on an oversized sourdough English muffin with Swiss cheese and sweet teardrop tomato.
We wrapped things up with a brownie sundae ($7) that was nothing special. But that was OK; we were pretty full.
The Salt House opens on not-so-nice days, too, since the oversize umbrellas keep diners dry. But it’s a good idea to call ahead, especially if the forecast calls for heavy rain.