Equally important is the atmosphere at the restaurant, engineered by Batista-Caswell as a “story,” with customers being pulled in from the first floor and gradually migrating to the third-floor bar.
“Instead of looking at the building as three floors, I looked at it as each floor being its own-style restaurant, the fluidity of telling a story in that way,” she said. “The second floor can offer the extension of the kitchen, watching the chef work ... then the third floor being that one-stop, either moving from downstairs up to enjoy, or just having another couple stools at the bar.”
According to Batista-Caswell, diners regularly request to be moved upstairs after their meals to enjoy the social bar scene and the windows overlooking State Street.
The road to the award began a year and a half ago in New York, when Soucy cooked for StarChefs CEO/Editor-in-Chief Antoinette Bruno at a James Beard Foundation event. Pleased by Soucy’s nine-course offering and eager to see several other chefs in the city, Bruno decided to visit Newburyport during her “Coastal New England” culinary tour of Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.
It was a rainy Saturday in July when Bruno arrived to rate Soucy and Batista-Caswell. The StarChefs process requires four dishes: two currently on the menu and two “future” pieces that test the limits of the chef’s abilities and might later be added to the menu. Soucy answered the challenge with a salad featuring a cantaloupe-scented “pheasantback” mushroom that he had foraged with his children.
“It was a lobster, (veal) sweetbread and octopus salad with asparagus and pheasantback mushrooms,” he said. “Lobsters and mushrooms are best friends, sweetbread texture versus a lobster texture is really nice. ... So veal, lobster and octopus, which is really such a porky flavor. We cook it with a bacon stock and ... it worked.