America's summer vacation towns have a unique vibrancy and energy on Memorial Day weekend. Nine months of dormancy end in an instant. Streets flood with bathing suits and pastels. The first smells of barbecue waft through the air. Vacationers from Nantucket to Ocean City to Lake Michigan cheer the arrival of summer.
Each town has its own personality and traditions, as well as devotees who deem their summer spot to be the best. For regulars of Newport, R.I., their case is bolstered by decades of history and tradition. As chef Tom Lyon of 22 Bowen's Wine Bar and Grill puts it, "Newport is the original vacation spot of America." The seaside town has hosted families with the last names Vanderbilt, Astor and Kennedy over the years and is known for its breathtaking historic mansions and fresh, local seafood.
Newport has everything from ultraluxe fine dining to decades-old hotdog stands, but its fresh ocean fare defines the summer season. "Rhode Island is huge for striped bass and the tautog [blackfish]," Lyon explains. "Calamari is huge, oysters, littlenecks, mussels—anything coming out of the water here, people will go crazy for. We're a very seafood-heavy state."
For a traditional Newport-style kickoff to summer, you can never go wrong with a clam or lobster boil, Lyon says. But for a less messy seasonal option, he suggests a recipe for striped bass with summer vegetables, basil couscous and green tomato gazpacho sauce.
The dish can be prepared almost entirely on the grill, so you can stay out of the hot kitchen as the weather heats up. To do this, Lyon says to turn on only half of the grill and keep the other half off. "With the lid down, it will become a holding oven on the cold side, but the hot side will be raging and ready to sear," he explains. On the hot side, you can give zucchini and squash golden grill marks and bring a pot of water to a boil to make the couscous.
The striped bass, however, should be cooked on the unlit side of the grill. "Striped bass is an achievably grillable fish, but it's not like a tuna steak or a swordfish steak, so if you just throw it on the high side of the grill, it'll end up sticking and it will all fall apart," Lyon says. "It doesn't have a lot of fat to it like salmon or mackerel, and it's very delicate and flaky." But cooked with ambient heat, the flesh will separate from the skin, which will stay behind on the grill as the perfectly cooked fish peels right off.
As chef Lyon's cuisine lightens with the season, so does his preference for wine. He recommends a dry white with a bit of body to balance the acidity in this recipe. "It's a very light, acidic, crisp dish," he says. "The sauce is cold and refreshing. There are a lot of herbs, lemon and lime laced through it, plus you get a lot of acidity from the tomatoes." He suggests a white Burgundy from the Mâconnais, Domaine Talmard's Mâcon-Chardonnay, a selection from the restaurant's Best of Award of Excellence–winning wine list, or a similar Chardonnay in a crisp, fruity style.
Grilled Striped Bass Fillet With Basil Couscous and Grilled Baby Vegetables
- 2 7-ounce striped bass fillets, deboned, skin left on
- 1/2 cup dry Mediterranean couscous
- 2/3 cup water
- 1 large bunch fresh basil, leaves removed, stems saved
- 4 each: baby zucchini, pattypan squash, baby carrots, baby bell peppers
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes
- 2 cups baby arugula
- 2 green tomatoes
- 1 English cucumber, peeled and seeded
- 1 avocado
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 shallot, peeled and sliced
- 2 ounces aged balsamic vinegar
- Olive oil
- Juice of 2 lemons, keep separate
- Juice of 2 limes
- Salt and pepper to taste
To make the bass:
1. Prepare grill by lighting high heat on 1 side, no heat on the other.
2. Pat fish fillets dry with paper towel and season with salt, pepper and some torn basil leaves.
3. Cook fish, skin-side down, on cold side of grill until fish can be pulled from skin, around 7 minutes depending on thickness of fillet.
To make the couscous:
1. Bring water, basil stems (wrapped in cheesecloth for easier removal, if desired) and a pinch of salt to boil on grill in a small sauce pan.
2. Add dry couscous, cover and remove from grill. Let steep for 5 minutes until liquid is absorbed. Fluff grain with fork, adjust seasoning.
3. Remove basil stems and fold in half the bunch of basil leaves. Keep warm.
To make the baby vegetables:
1. Wash zucchini and pattypan squash in cool water, and cut in half lengthwise.
2. Peel baby carrots and cut in half lengthwise.
3. Wash baby bell peppers and leave whole.
4. Season vegetables with salt, pepper and olive oil.
5. Start by cooking carrots cut-side down on hot side of grill, moving often to prevent flare-ups. Once a good char has occurred, move carrots to cold side of grill until tender.
6. Repeat previous step for zucchini and pattypans.
7. Place seasoned whole peppers on hot side of grill and treat in same fashion as other vegetables.
8. When all vegetables are at desired tenderness, remove from heat, toss in just enough olive oil to lightly coat and add lemon juice to taste, with a small amount of torn basil leaves, and adjust salt and pepper. Keep warm.
To make the gazpacho:
1. Wash and remove core from green tomatoes.
2. Add tomatoes, cucumber, avocado, garlic and shallot to blender. Puree with lime juice. Add small amounts of olive oil until the puree is smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Keep cool until serving.
Note: You may find yourself with excess gazpacho. Chef Lyon recommends refrigerating and having for lunch the next day.
To make the cherry tomato arugula salad:
1. Wash and halve tomatoes. Mix in bowl with arugula, salt and pepper to taste (arugula is naturally peppery in flavor, so taste often during seasoning), olive oil and as much of the juice of the second lemon as desired.
2. To plate, use a spoon to drizzle gazpacho on the plate. Top with couscous, then fish and vegetables. Top with the salad, which should fall into place and cover the dish beautifully. Serves 2.
Recommended White Burgundies
Note: The following list is a selection of outstanding and very good wines from recently rated releases. More wines can be found in our Wine Ratings Search.
DROUHIN VAUDON Chablis 2014
This is all about texture and balance, allowing the apple, lemon and stone flavors to flow effortlessly. Cleansing and elegant, with a lingering aftertaste of lemon and mineral. Drink now through 2018. 3,000 cases imported.
LOUIS JADOT Pouilly-Fuissé 2014
Ripe and fleshy, this exhibits peach, apple and floral aromas and flavors. There's a citrus element courtesy of lemony acidity, and the lingering finish evokes mineral. Drink now through 2022. 55,000 cases imported.
JOSEPH DROUHIN St.-Véran 2014
Though rich, this is offset by vivid acidity, creating a nice tension to the lemon, apple and melon flavors. Long and tangy on the finish. Drink now through 2018. 8,000 cases imported.
WILLIAM FÈVRE Chablis Domaine 2014
This is delicate, featuring lemon, herb and stone flavors lifted by the fine acidity. Touches of seashore and oyster shell add depth as this coasts to a clean finish. Drink now through 2018. 4,000 cases imported.
LES HÉRITIERS DU COMTE LAFON Mâcon-Milly-Lamartine 2014
Smoke and flint aromas lead off, backed up by ripe peach, apple and lemon fruit. This is rich, with fine acidity imparting focus and length. The mineral element returns on the finish. Drink now through 2021. 2,500 cases made.
DOMAINE GILLES NOBLET Pouilly-Fuissé La Collonge 2014
A balanced, succulent white, with lemon, white peach, apple and spice flavors in harmony with the smooth texture. Seamless from start to finish, lingering with a mouthwatering impression. Drink now through 2019. 5,000 cases made.
J.J. VINCENT & FILS Pouilly-Fuissé Marie-Antoinette 2014
A clean, focused style, this offers peach, apple and mineral flavors matched to a supple texture and lemony acidity. Stays sleek and stony on the lingering finish. Drink now through 2018. 4,424 cases imported.
BOUCHARD PÈRE & FILS Pouilly-Fuissé 2014
Aromatic and flavorful, sporting herb and spice accents to the core flavors of melon, apple and lemon. Finishes with a saline element. Drink now through 2018. 1,000 cases imported.
CAVE DE LUGNY Mâcon-Villages La Côte Blanche 2014
Fruity, offering peach, white flowers and lemon curd notes. Fresh and elegant, with a lingering citrus finish and a hint of stone. Drink now through 2018. 7,000 cases imported.
WILLIAM FÈVRE Chablis Champs Royaux 2014
A fresh, steely version, displaying apple, lemon and mineral flavors. Fades quickly, but has a fine sense of place. Drink now. 5,500 cases imported.
THIERRY & PASCALE MATROT Bourgogne White 2014
Rich and juicy, sporting peach, apple and lemon flavors. Tends toward the racy side, with a mouthwatering, minerally finish. Drink now through 2018. 3,000 cases imported.
LOUIS JADOT Bourgogne White 2014
Spiced apple and melon flavors mark this fleshy white. Vibrant, with a lemon note driving the moderately long finish. Drink now. 12,500 cases imported.
MISCHIEF & MAYHEM Bourgogne White 2013
A lean, racy white, whose lemon, green apple and spice flavors are matched to a smooth texture and vivid acidity. Fine length. Drink now. 2,000 cases made.
DOMAINE TALMARD Mâcon-Chardonnay 2014
A crisp, compact style, sporting peach, lemon curd and grapefruit peel flavors. Drink now. 4,200 cases imported.