Sunday, June 23, 2024

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EATING ON THE EDGE: Cantina 229, ‘world fare made local’

Last summer, the Cantina opened its doors one night a week for Taco Tuesday and it was hit! This year they re-opened and expanded the menu to “world fare made local.”

New Marlborough — The food grapevine has been abuzz with word of Cantina 229, and for good reason. The architecturally interesting restaurant is located at 229 Hartsville-New Marlborough Road, just down from the New Marlborough Green. Owners, Josh Irwin and Emily Rachel, have created a picture perfect site for their enterprise.

Josh Irwin and Emily Rachel, creators of Cantina 229 in New Marlborough.
Josh Irwin and Emily Rachel, creators of Cantina 229 in New Marlborough.

As you enter the restaurant you can’t miss a large oval pendant light, made of the purest white feathers, that draws your attention to a cathedral ceiling showcasing the original wooden beams. The entire front of the restaurant is glass, creating a clear transition from inside to outside with a view of the wonderful pastoral setting the couple so deliberately designed. An herb and vegetable garden to the right, a lovely lawn — home to picnic tables — and beyond there, a field colored with wildflowers. You may even see chickens and goats wandering around like pets, and you get a distinctly homey, farm, feeling. Whether you choose to dine inside, or surrounded by nature outside, there isn’t a bad seat in the house.

Last summer, the Cantina opened its doors one night a week for Taco Tuesday and it was hit! This year they re-opened and expanded the menu to “world fare made local.”

Let’s begin with the flagship Taco Tuesday.

Upon sitting at the bar, I was welcomed with a basket of house made corn chips and a delicious ramekin of salsa made of roasted corn, roasted peppers, and tomato. A great way to begin the evening.

For a starter I chose jalapeño poppers. What a delightful surprise! Nothing like the common bar food. These were fresh jalapeño peppers, stuffed with a blend of cheeses, wrapped in bacon and garnished with local kraut. What could be bad? Nothing! I was primed and ready to continue on to tasty tacos.

The carne asad taco. Photo; Anne Dwyer
The carne asad taco. Photo; Anne Dwyer

My first was the Blackened Fish taco, served on a warm flour tortilla with cilantro, baby radishes, cherry tomatoes and mustard greens. A bright chipotle aioli pulled all the flavors together. I continued on to the Jamaican Jerk Chicken taco, with melted cheese, cabbage and roasted corn. Very nice.

My favorite, however, was the Carne Asada, thin slices of flank steak covered with dirty beans, scallions, and melted cotija and cheddar cheeses, complimented with a lime wedge to bring out the fullness of flavors. This was so good I considered ordering a second but instead decided to move on to dessert.

Mexican churros, made as Belgian waffles with chocolate and hazelnut drizzle.
Mexican churros, made as Belgian waffles with chocolate and hazelnut drizzle.

I opted for their version of Mexican churros. They made theirs as Belgian waffles, with a chocolate and hazelnut drizzle and just a little cinnamon sugar. Such a sweet ending to a fine Mexican meal, and the portion was generous, so I was able to take half of the order home to enjoy before bed. Gracias.

On another occasion, we were a table of four so we were able to try practically every dish on the menu. That evening a number of Asian-inspired dishes were offered, reiterating the “world fare” as promised.

For appetizers we had the Pa Jun, Squash Fritters, Squid Crisps, and Jamaican Banh Mi.

Korean Pa Jun.
Korean Pa Jun.

The Pa Jun was a Korean green onion pancake, made with leeks, scallion, and chive, served with local Hosta Hill Kimchi and a soy dipping sauce. The contrast of the slightly sweet, eggy pancake, studded with green onions, and the salty soy sauce with spicy orange Kimchi made for a balance of spicy-sweet flavors. Then there were the Squash Fritters. Made with cheddar cheese, fried to a glistening brown, and served with the best lemon aioli I’ve ever tasted.

The Jamaican Banh Mi was a new dish for me. It’s a Vietnamese sandwich with pickles, black jalapeno, cilantro, aioli, and — true to its name — Jamaican jerk chicken (just that would have made a nice lunch).

Now, the Squid Crisps. So good. Sautéed squid rings, served with bean sprouts, crushed peanuts, a hoisin sauce, garnished with chopped chives placed on crispy wonton triangles. Did I tell you they were really good? They were.

For “bigger bites.” or entrées, we each had a different dish to allow us to sample them all.

Cantina cheeseburger.
Cantina cheeseburger.

One was the Cantina cheeseburger. Sandwiched between a sesame seed bun were grilled onions, pickles and a beef patty topped with Swiss cheese. The fries on the side were great, especially dipped in yet another aioli.

The Chatham Scallop dish was placed in front of me and I could not have been more pleased. Being from the scallop capital of the nation I know a thing or two about scallops. These were beyond fantastic. Seared to golden brown with the perfect wet center, they made me long for the fishing docks of my past. Piled in the center of the plate, on a smear of puréed carrot and roasted garlic, were caramelized cauliflower florets, local mustard greens, and fennel. We all agreed it was amazing!

A first for me was Bibimbap. A classic Korean dish of crispy rice. The rice on the bottom of the bowl, was golden and crispy (much like the socarrat of a paella), covered with local marinated vegetables, Kimchi, hot sauce, a choice of either jerk chicken or ginger beef, and a 60-minute egg! It was as beautiful as an artist’s palette. These flavors and textures were layered in a way that allowed you to taste — and feel — the individual components with the egg as the final touch. (A 60-minute egg is an egg cooked at a temperature of about 140°, for 60 minutes, to achieve the feel of a soft boiled egg, but better.) This was real cooking!

Tahitian rice pudding brûlé. Photo: Anne Dwyer
Tahitian rice pudding brûlé. Photo: Anne Dwyer

After all of that deliciousness we moved on to desserts. The Chocolate Tart had the most silky chocolate filling, flavored subtly with coffee sea salt and topped with a generous dollop of fresh vanilla High Lawn Farm cream. The shortbread base had a very delicate crumb that can only be achieved by a light touch. Bravo.

The Tahitian rice pudding brûlée was a crême brûlée like none I’ve had, with the addition of a little rice, smooth and rich, the brûlée crust cracked as I tapped it with the back of my spoon.

There were other offerings as well and the menu changes daily using the freshest local provisions. I am confident all would be very good due to the obvious attention each and every dish was given.

When you go to Cantina 229 — and you should — give yourself enough time to relax and enjoy the thoughtful environment they have given you, like a beautifully wrapped gift.

The Cantina 229 is open for dinner Friday through Monday and every Tuesday is “Taco Tuesday.” They suggest you call for reservations as the tables book quickly. They can be contacted via phone, 413-229-FARM (3276), or email 229Food@gmail.com.

Visit their website, it’s great!

Enjoy the experience!

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