What a shame, we thought, as we approached the sign outside the old Cockatoo seafood shack at Webb Cove in Stonington. It seemed another one had bitten the dust. Though mainly a takeout place with limited seating (four tables, alfresco, on a small porch), the food was superb. But wait, they're not closed—the sign says they've simply moved! Smiles returned to our faces.
Suzen Carter is arguably the best chef on Deer Isle. Apparently, a wealthy benefactor from St. Thomas, Virgin Islands agrees. So much so that he purchased the erstwhile Goose Cove Lodge, with its spectacular perch overlooking Penobscot Bay, to provide Suzen an environment befitting her cooking.
This was by no means a simple upgrade. It was an overwhelming leap, from a tiny adjunct to a seafood market, to a large-scale, upmarket restaurant. By July of 2007, Suzen found herself running both restaurants while running herself ragged in the process. This year, the small eatery at Webb Cove did not reopen, allowing Suzen to devote her full attention to her new culinary showplace. Her husband, Bradley Carter, a fisherman, continues to operate Carter's Seafood market at the old Cockatoo site on Oceanville Road.
As we approached the new Cockatoo Portuguese Restaurant and entered the reception area, the lovely setting and gracious welcome portended the pleasurable evening that awaited us. Each table in the dining room affords a water view, but ours was among the few with a completely unobstructed ocean vista.
Our helpful waitress started by presenting some rather banal-looking slices of bread. Looks can indeed be deceiving. The moist, warm bread was ever-so-slightly seasoned with a garlic butter, and was an appetizing beginning. Before ordering, we were told that the chef treats her clientèle as family and gives each dish individual attention, presenting it only when it meets her high standards. Thus, we were cautioned, the resulting wait could be significant. Nevertheless, with such appealing bread to tide us over, we were not the least bit concerned. As it turned out, we had barely finished the tasty slices when our first course arrived. (Apparently, timing has been a problem, however. The following day, a member of the Cockatoo staff recognized us. Her first concern, even before asking how we liked the food, was to make sure we'd not waited too long for our dinners.)
Suzen Carter, an Azorean native, spent part of her childhood in Fall River, Massachusetts. Her Portuguese menu emphasizes dishes that take advantage of the Carter family's access to the North Atlantic's bounty. As we gazed about the dining room, we noticed that nearly every table had ordered the stunning, enormous lobster-capped Paelha platter, and wondered whether this was the meal here. Normally, we like to order different dishes for the sake of variety. But, after perusing the menu and hearing the specials, there was just one choice we both felt presented a unique opportunity—the just-harpooned Swordfish Mozambique.
We were similarly like-minded about our starter: clam chowder. We should have realized that we were ordering the Portuguese-inspired New England variety typically served in Fall River, New Bedford, and Providence. Rather than being thick and creamy, this chowder is based on a thin, milky chicken broth. It is not our favorite preparation, but no one could argue against the freshness of the ingredients and the deft hand of its subtle seasoning (both qualities, it was becoming clear, being hallmarks of Suzen's exacting cooking standards).
The Swordfish Mozambique arrived in a beautiful presentation. A generously sized steak lay atop a mound of deeply golden spaghetti, colored by saffron and turmeric, the dish's predominant spices. Tossed with the pasta was a wide variety of perfectly cooked, garden-fresh vegetables, including broccoli, squash, and green beans. The fresh fish melted on the palate, and the spicy noodles were delicious. This is the one dish whose seasoning was decidedly unsubtle, with Suzen's judicious touch keeping everything in perfect balance. We were delighted by the Mozambique style's piquancy and unfamiliar combination of flavors.
Aveleda Fonte Vinho Verde was our cellar selection. This Portuguese "green wine's" light, refreshing, pétillance is an ideal partner to grilled fish. Its lively freshness also makes it a lovely summertime quencher. (Incidentally, verde, or green, refers to the wine's youth rather than to its color.)
Our meal was rounded out by an unusual but thoughtful dessert. After the ceremonial exchange of first slices, a couple was kind enough to share their wedding cake with all the restaurant's guests. Suzen had created a beautiful, tiered white cake with wild blueberry filling for their big day. The quality of her pastry is equal to that of her savory creations. My dining partner remembers fondly the desserts at the former location.
Though the prices at The Cockatoo are not so affordable as those of most of Deer Isle's family-oriented places, they are reasonable for what is delivered. They represent a happy departure from over-inflated prices and their corresponding egos in the kitchen. Fortunately, this restaurant has neither. It is a warm, welcoming destination with food as sumptuous as the views. It is a place that hasn't seen the last of us!
The Cockatoo Portuguese Restaurant
300 Goose Cove Road
Deer Isle, ME 04627 (map)
Open Memorial Day weekend through Columbus Day.