Superlative scallops worth the trip
By JOHNETTE RODRIGUEZ  |  March 8, 2006

With the gallery scene hopping, the New Bedford area definitely bears exploring for its culinary standouts. A legendary one among locals as well as those who travel from Rhode Island is Margaret’s, named for the mother of the previous owner. (A new venture just next door is called Elizabeth’s, after the current owner’s young daughter.)

The awnings on the front of the building give a European bistro feel to this eatery, as do the small dining rooms. There are just six tables in each low-ceilinged room, which are completely separated from each other by a narrow hallway, so the restaurant still feels like a house. Despite the official-sounding location on “Main Street,” Margaret’s is in a quiet residential neighborhood, almost next door to the fishing docks.

The seafood here tastes as fresh as if it came off the boat just hours before (which it probably did). Scallops dominate the menu, cropping up as grilled with linguiça, potatoes, and kale (Portuguese overtones); reappearing in a salad with apples, bacon, and mesclun greens; and starring among the entrées in several preparations. Pan-seared, they meet up with broccoli and fresh fettuccine. Fried, the scallops are served with French fries and coleslaw; baked, with mashed potatoes and veggies. Roasted, their friends are shrimp, cod and fennel, garnished with lemon aioli and sweet potato sticks. Sautéed, they are sparked by garlic, white wine, bacon, spinach, butternut squash, and smoked cheddar.

There are also meat items at Margaret’s, including chicken breast, tenderloin tips, and smoked pork loin. But when you can smell the ocean as you step out of the car, there’s no choice but seafood.

For a starter, I decided on the grilled vanilla-poached pear salad ($5.95). Bill stayed with the seafood theme and got the fried calamari ($6.95). My salad was excellent: the pear was firm-poached, its slices still attached to the stem, with accompaniments of goat cheese, dried cranberries, and spiced pecans, all on a bed of mesclun greens with a strawberry and orange vinaigrette. It was quite delicious.

Bill’s squid rings were tender and crispy, with linguiça slices, chopped plum tomatoes, and plenty of garlic and hot peppers. He was thoroughly pleased. And he was absolutely bowled over by his entrée ($16.95), calling it “the best seafood dish I’ve had in a long, long time!” It was picked from the nightly specials, though our waitress assured us that the chef repeats these items. Pan-roasted shrimp and maple-smoked salmon chunks were served over a delectable risotto that contained cream, white wine, asparagus tips, fresh tarragon, and strips of prosciutto. As if the smokiness weren’t enough to send Bill into a culinary nirvana, the whole was garnished with diced cantaloupe and chopped pistachios. Did I say he was in heaven?

My entrée, the sautéed scallops mentioned above ($16.95), was also good, though it stumbled in a couple of places. It was described as sautéed with spinach and butternut squash, but the spinach seemed to have been added only as the dish was plated, for it was not cooked at all. The squash had been parboiled or simply overcooked, so it was watery and flavorless. The cheddar was clumped on one side, so I couldn’t find it at first. The scallops, however, were large sea scallops, expertly cooked and wonderfully sweet.

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