Nantucket South

Lobster was one of the few menu items that I recognized from my first visit earlier that month. (I also remember a baked crabmeat stuffed shrimp for $17.95, dosed heavily with salt). At that time, the menu had been undergoing reconstruction; since then, the selection has been finalized. However, rather than order new menus, leaflets were simply pasted inside the originals. Keeping in mind the price of a lobster, I would have appreciated a classier approach.

In fact, it felt as if Nantucket had been opened in a hurry. A little menu experimentation usually occurs during the first few weeks in the life of a restaurant, but this was a major revamping; while the appetizers remained consistent, like the fried calamari with marinara sauce ($4.95) or the East Ham steamers ($5.95), most of the entrees had been reinvented. Also, three separate styles of chairs littered the floor like garage-sale hold-outs. Staff was overly polite, even while in the process of training.

Our waiter recommended the New England white bean and pasta with mussels soup ($3.95), a generous, stewy brine filled with capellini and large mussels. For a person of less appetite, this and the pumpernickel onion rolls could be a meal. And my partner spoke lovingly of his starter, the steamed mussels ($5.95) with white wine, garlic, and herbs. He dipped their plump bodies in hot broth, then in drawn butter without reservation, admitting however the littleneck clams he tasted on his first visit were a more tender choice.

One explanation for Nantucket's uneasy start could be overextension. Dubin and Billante have simultaneously opened a family-style Italian restaurant in Orlando called The Big Dish, an undertaking sure to rock anyone's boat.

Perhaps this is also the reason for the Italian influences on Nantucket's final menu. Tomato sauces, lemon, olive oil, and garlic are the dominant ingredients. For instance, my companion consumed scallops and calamari Nantucket ($15.95) in white wine and tomato sauce with green peas (though the peas were absent, or had been substituted with garlic). Flavorful and filling, this dish would have been well served over a pasta. Main courses are preceded by a mild Caesar salad; white and red clam sauces ($14.95) are available over linguini. Shrimp are tossed in an olive oil with fresh artichokes, mushrooms, and a touch of garlic ($19.95). The ghost of Porto Bello? More likely, it is Chef Manuel providing the Italian presence, a hold-over from the Mezzanotte kitchen where he worked as founding chef.

It seems Nantucket's main problem is one all growing adolescents face: identity. Marty Dubin says stone crabs and other local favorites are included on the menu because in South Florida, "even the Chinese restaurants serve stone crabs." In the end, it's what sets Nantucket apart, not what makes it conform, that will tell. Personally, I'd enjoy a little more New England, a little less South Florida. But I'll settle for the diverse elements of New England, South Florida, and Italy which, if woven tightly on the Dubin/Billante loom, could well be the yarn to Nantucket's charm. Otherwise, it's just a giant (lobster) trap.

NANTUCKET 1279 N.E. 79th Street, Miami, 751-1200. Open daily for lunch from 11:30 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. Open daily for dinner from 5:30 until 11:00 p.m.

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