Surf Restaurant – Phantom Gourmet

Who needs the ‘turf’ when you can have the ‘surf’?

Chef Michael Buckley opened his first Surf Restaurant in Nashua, New Hampshire back in 2001. And then he opened this fun and funky waterfront location in Portsmouth in 2011, where the food and the atmosphere are lot more trendy than traditional.

Michael Buckley: “When you come into Surf the colors tend to be sea foam greens and blues, light sea blues. We use a lot of colorful lighting. It’s kind of a modern nautical theme.  If you’re sitting there eating seafood, does it taste better when you can see the water? I think it does because number one, we get seafood from locally, from our local vendors right here in the Portsmouth area….

We actually get seafood from New England Fishmongers, which is located up the river here behind us.  Everybody wants to sit with a view of the water. And I don’t blame them. It’s beautiful.”

The menu at Surf is wide-ranging, wildly enticing, and full of international influences. There are fresh-shucked oysters, and hand-rolled sushi, Hawaiian style poke bowls, tropical barbecue shrimp, lobster and brie nachos, and chorizo braised mussels.

Michael Buckley:  “This is what people really want. They want everything on one menu. They want sushi, they want raw bar, they want appetizers, they want entrees. And if you just want to come in, have drinks and appetizers you can have that too so it’s really worked out for the better.”

Of course, a lot of customers come in for the old standbyes, like clam chowder and lobster rolls.

Michael Buckley: “It’s fresh shucked lobster meat right out of water. It’s dipped in melted butter and it’s served on a griddled bun… If you wanted to sit there and dip your lobster meat in butter and eat it, you might as well put it in a bun because that’s what ours is. And as far as clam chowder, it’s fresh chopped clams, it’s whole heavy cream, it’s whole butter, salt and pepper, a little bit of chopped vegetable. I mean does it need to be anything more than that? I don’t think so. You just have to have the right ratio of clams to potatoes and a lot of good heavy cream and butter and you’re good to go.”

If you want a little interactive entertainment to start your meal, check out the Hot Stone Tuna you can sear right at your table. Another popular starter is the New Orleans Barbecue Shrimp served with homemade jalapeno corn bread. Instead of a traditional baked haddock, they do a Roast Atlantic Haddock with lobster mashed potatoes in a Nantucket-inspired pan sauce. And as for the sushi, it’s definitely some of the finest and most colorful on the Seacoast, especially the Wicked Awesome Tuna with avocado and cucumber.

Michael Buckley: “The Wicked Tuna is actually one of our first superstar rolls that we came up with that was just widely received by customers and it’s kind of a combination tuna roll to be honest with you. We have two kinds of tuna.  We have tuna loin and we have spicy tuna. Everybody knows spicy tuna. It’s chopped up fresh tuna with a spicy mayonnaise. A lot of people just have that as a roll but we’ve combined the two. We have the spicy tuna on top. We have tuna loin in the middle. We’ve added the cucumbers and the avocado and we have two different kinds of sauces plus Tobiko caviar. It just makes for a real wide range of flavors all in one bite.”

Another outstanding dish is the luxurious Lobster Kristina, which starts with a fresh-shucked pound a quarter beauty that gets flambéed with cognac, chives, cream, and a plenty of butter. But if you really want to take your Surf seafood experience to the next level, order the Ultimate raw bar sampler. 

Michael Buckley: “An Ultimate we would recommend for maybe a party of 10 or so. If you want to come in and really have a celebration. It’s going to have everything on it. We have oysters, we have clams, we have shrimp cocktail, we have crab meat, we have lobster cocktail, we have smoked trout, smoked salmon, we have scallop ceviche, everything that’s on our raw bar is going to be featured on an Ultimate.”

But if you’re not in the mood for something quite so over-the-top, there’s an underrated sandwich known as the Flueben.

Michael Buckley:  “Flueben is our version of a Reuben so if you think of a Reuben. So It’s fried flounder, it’s our own in house thousand island sauce, Swiss cheese, house made coleslaw and it’s on marbled rye and when you put it all together it’s kind of like a Reuben made with fried flounder. There you have it, Flueben.”

And for some seafood inspired Italy, there’s the deceptively simple Tuscan Spahgetti.

Michael Buckley:  “Tuscan Spaghetti is a dish that I came up with a couple years back. I was visiting my daughter who happened to be going to school in Italy at the time… They treat olive oil over there like a sauce. It dawned on me. This is a sauce to them… So when I came back here, I actually developed this dish with that in mind.  You have the seared scallops, the shrimp. We roast a piece of haddock in the oven and we sear it in a pan with vegetables, white wine, garlic and then right before it gets tossed with the spaghetti we add a couple big ladles of olive oil and chopped olives into the dish, which is what gives it its real essence and flavor.” What we try to offer is seafood at it’s finest. We have great purveyors of fish. We work with people locally. We try to take that seafood, treat it with respect. Not over complicate it. Some of it can be flavorful but that doesn’t mean it’s over complicated. We try to showcase the fish itself.”