The ‘other’ Swiss cheese

A 10-pound wheel of raclette sizzled under the panels of an overhead heat lamp. The top started bubbling, stifling the room with an unmissable scent, and Chef Patrice Martineau used the flat edge of a knife to ease the melted cheese onto a waiting plate. “When it bubbles, it’s ready,” Chef Martineau said.

Raclette Night at Bettini Restaurant happens every Thursday from 5:30 to 9 pm. The weekly winter offering is only in its third week, and is already generating quite a buzz at the recently renovated Harbor View Hotel.

So what is raclette? By now, you’ve probably gathered it’s a type of cheese — a Swiss cheese made on both sides of the French and Swiss Alps. It’s firm, pungent, and most commonly used for melting. It’s traditionally fashioned into a wheel before it’s melted and poured onto a plate. It pairs well with roasted potatoes, root vegetables, pickles, cold cuts, and many other sides — it’s cheese, after all.
Chef Martineau joined the Harbor View as executive chef last March. The culinary virtuoso is from Champagne, France, and started Raclette Night at Bettini as a nod to his past. Martineau also worked as a chef in Tokyo for six years — the inspiration behind Japanese Bento Night, another weekly special diners can try every Tuesday this off-season.

From our cozy red booth, we watched Chef Martineau ready the raclette station, which is interactively poised in the dining space for guests to observe. Our two plates had a medley of accompaniments, including Morning Glory Farm fingerling potatoes, shaved M.V. Mycological shiitakes, six types of cold cuts (salami, pork belly cured in-house, prosciutto, chorizo, white ham, and pancetta), caramelized onions, red peppers, pearl onions, mini pickles, and a log of grilled bread. There was also a side salad with Thimble Farm greens, tomatoes, and cucumbers, topped with a classic French dressing made with olive oil, red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, and salt and pepper to taste. The powerful smell of melting raclette filled the expansive dining room, suggesting it was ready. Chef Martineau poured the melted blend over the main plate accompaniments, and a server brought it over to our table. 

Doused in a warm, gooey cheese, everything tasted just as you’d expect — perfect. I hadn’t tried, nor heard of, raclette before, and its mild taste contradicted its pungent smell. It paired well with everything, and we answered enthusiastically when our server asked if we wanted a raclette top-off midway through the meal. 

And while this all may sound rather carby, it’s not at all an overload. French-inspired portions and vegetable accompaniments lighten the load, still offering more than enough food. And full disclosure: I’m a vegetarian. Picking around the cold cuts didn’t leave me feeling shortchanged.

And then came the crème brûlée dessert. Baked under a thick layer of hardened caramelized sugar, the vanilla bean custard center was packed with smooth, creamy, rich flavor — another French classic, and a delicate, sweet end-of-meal bonus. 

Set at $25 per person, Raclette Night includes the main dish, side salad, and dessert. I ordered an $11 glass of chardonnay, which was a light and refreshing accompaniment I’d recommend to readers. 

Amid the soft soundtrack of French-inspired music, dim lights, and the humming conversation of nearby parties, the Harbor View Hotel’s effortless elegance made this regular Thursday feel like a special occasion. Continuing through December, January, and February, there are plenty of opportunities to try this culinary special, and maybe try it again.  

To reserve a table at Raclette Night, call 508-627-7000, or email Bettini Restaurant is located adjacent the Harbor View Hotel lobby at 131 North Water St., Edgartown.

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