Archive for June, 2004

The Hamptons…where to eat now

Wednesday, June 30th, 2004

The Hamptons, a group of beach towns on Eastern Long Island, is a popular escape from NYC during the summer months, and although the beaches are consistently beautiful, the restaurant scene is ever changing. You don’t need to be a historian to remember restaurants that disappeared: 95 School Street, The Independent, Karen Lee’s, and American Bistro to name just a few in Bridgehampton. The truth is that the best place to eat is your own backyard, but occasionally it is fun to go out. To help navigate the restaurant scene between Southampton and Easthampton this season, here is an update…

With all the money in the Hamptons, you would think that there were dozens of restaurants rivaling the top crop from NYC. Actually that is far from true. Fortunately there are a few very good restaurants. My favorites are Robert’s, Della Femina’s, and Nick & Toni’s. Robert Durkin, the former chef of Karen Lee’s, opened Robert’s a few years back in Water Mill. He utilizes the freshest local ingredients to produce consistent, high quality dishes. The cuisine is a mix of Tuscan and contemporary American. Robert has spent many winters traveling through Italy which has resulted in a constantly changing menu, and a well selected Italian wine list. Della Femina’s of East Hampton is a big open airy room that is buzzing by 7 o’clock. Thetall white walls are adorned with caricatures of some of its customers, giving the sleek restaurant a fun, lively ambiance. The food is contemporary American, and it’s complemented by an extensive wine list of over 250 bottles. Nick & Toni’s, also in East Hampton, is a great restaurant offering a cross between Long Island and Mediterranean cuisine. They have a small garden behind the restaurant to grow herbs and vegetables, and strive to utilize the freshest local ingredients. They are know for their wood burning oven, and they always offer a fabulous pizza. But the best dishes from the oven are the chicken and a special fish dish, usually branzino or dorade. The one downside is that it can get very crowded. Celebs are seated promptly, others….hmmm, would like a drink at the bar?

Alison's Restaurant

Alison's Restaurant

Alison’s is a new restaurant located in Bridgehampton that has promise. Alison Hurt closed her successful restaurant Alison’s by the Beach of Sagaponak this past winter and reopened in the location of the former 95 School Street. Although it is very new, open only a couple of weeks, Alison has a knack for running quality restaurants, and my guess is that it will be above average. Initial feedback is that the food is very good, and the service is young and inexperienced.

There are two other excellent restaurants, but I classify them a little differently because they can be stuffy. The American Hotel in Sag Harbor serves outstanding American cuisine and has the best wine list in the Hamptons. There are several dinning rooms, but they are all rather dated and sleepy. The best bet is to ask for a table in the bar, which is lively and has a good ambiance. Mirko’s of Water Mill is another fine restaurant that suffers from that stuffy, formal ambiance. Although the food is above average, the experience falls short.

As you think of heading to the Hamptons, you fantasize of the beach, the ocean, and all that fresh seafood. The odd part is that great seafood restaurants are nowhere to be seen. The best bets are Pierre’s in Bridgehampton, Jeff & Eddy’s in Sag Harbor and East Hampton Point in Three Mile Harbor. Unfortunately consistency is an issue.

Since none of the restaurants in the Hamptons are going to be winning 4 stars, it is important to have some fun. A lively, happening restaurant can be a great way to escape the pressure cooker of New York City. Red Bar Brasserie in Southampton is a fun spot with good food and great cocktails. Almond in Bridgehampton has a similar feel, and their food is also causal French bistro fare. Beacon in Sag Harbor has an added plus in that it overlooks the harbor, giving you the perfect seat to watch the sunset. The Laundry of East Hampton has also been a perennial favorite for years. The long bar is always packed, and the red brick walls add a warmth to the lively ambiance. My favorite place, however, is Sunset Beach on Shelter Island. It looks like a two story wooden deck with colorful awnings. It is a casual French bistro that overlooks Crescent Beach. For lunch, you can dine on mussels and French fries, sip a Sancerre, and watch the surf…and you can wear your bathing suit. As the day progresses, it becomes a very lively nightspot.

Low key and casual is a great way to go in the Hamptons, and there are many possibilities. Rowdy Hall and The Driver’s Seat are two top spots for burgers. For pizza try Sam’s or World Pie. And for a basket of fried shrimp or a flounder sandwich try Nichols or The Dockside Bar & Grill. Also, let’s not forget breakfast, the Candy Kitchen has been a favorite for many, many years. Isn’t that Roy Sheider sipping his coffee?

The Seafood Shop

The Seafood Shop

If you forgot to make dinner reservations, or don’t feel like leaving the pool, don’t despair there are plenty of options. The Seafood Shop in Wainscott is excellent. They have the freshest seafood, a wide selection of live lobsters, and many prepared dishes. Citarella of both Water Mill and East Hampton prides itself on fabulous seafood, although their meat and cheese selections are also very good. For bread, Levian is my favorite, their ciabatta is pure perfection.

Loaves & Fishes

Loaves & Fishes

Loaves & Fishes is a tiny shop in Sagaponak, but they have everything you need to serve a meal. There is a wide selection of frozen appetizers, cheese, or pate to get you started. For side dishes, there are several salads, a half dozen vegetable choices, and their coleslaw is the best in the Hamptons. Entrées are superb: chicken roasted on the rotisserie, filet mignon with a horseradish sauce, and poached salmon steaks to name a few. Their food is all prepared, and it is excellent…and very expensive. The best retailers, however, are the farm stands with fresh picked corn, heirloom tomatoes and bushels of lettuce. My favorite is Pike’s farm stand on Sag Main St. in Sagaponak.

Hey, summer is here – Buon Appetito!

Arthur Avenue – Italian Food Mecca in the Bronx

Friday, June 25th, 2004

If you are not able to get to Italy this summer, then take a trip to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. It is a tiny Italian neighborhood that has changed very little over the years, and that is what is so great. Pasta is made fresh all day long. Every third store sells sausage and Parmigiano Reggiano. A fishmonger shucks clams on the sidewalk. And the espresso shop reminds you of Italy, not of Starbucks. Arthur Avenue has maintained its authenticity, with many fabulous stores. It is alive, and worth visiting just to see how the neighborhood has maintained its culture. But it is also a mecca for fresh, high quality Italian food, with the added bonus of being very reasonably priced.

Biancardi's

Biancardi's

Although there are many excellent stores in this six block enclave, there are a few that I always visit. For meats, Biancardi’s is outstanding. There must be 10 butchers working here, they offer everything from lamb chops to guincale (meat from the cheek of a pig). The quality is great, and the prices are a steal compared with Manhattan. Calabria Pork store is another butcher, and sausage is one of its specialties. Just look up at the hundreds of dried salumi hanging from the ceiling and your mouth will begin to water. For pasta, Borgatti’s Ravioli and Noodle shop can’t be beat. They make fresh pasta all day long right before your eyes, and their cavatelli is my favorite. Down the block is Teitel Bros, a deli with cans of tomatoes and olive oil stacked to the ceiling. Although they have all the typical sliced meats and cheeses, it is the place to stock up on canned goods.
Olive Oil & Tomatoes

Olive Oil & Tomatoes

Gallon size cans of olive oil, tins of salt packed anchovies, Italian tuna, and big cans of tomatoes…the prices can’t be beat. Mike’s deli in the main market area is the place for mortadella, prosciutto, and provolone, and they make killer sandwiches for lunch. If you want a more substantial lunch, try Roberto’s for a huge dish of fresh pasta. Madonia Bakery is a must for those with a craving for Italian cookies, or some biscotti. And since you will start eating the cookies before you get home, why not have an espresso to wash them down.

Cocktail Party on the Beach

Thursday, June 24th, 2004

Watching the sunset while sitting on the beach is one of the joys of summer. Why not make the most of it this summer, and have a cocktail party with friends. You can get very elaborate, and have a fancy catered soirée, but you can also keep it simple, easy, inexpensive, yet fun.

For drinks either serve wine or mixed drinks – not both. Barbera, Valpolicella, or Cote du Rhone would be a nice red wine to serve. Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling or Pinot Grigio would be a light crisp white. Serve in plastic throwaway glasses. Or for those looking to get a little fancy, buy reusable plastic wine glasses (available at Crate & Barrel or Target for $2-3 each). For those that prefer cocktails, I think it is nice to serve a choice of two drinks. Earlier in the day premix your drinks, store them in quart containers that have lids, and chill in the refrigerator. Note that carbonated mixers will probably lose their fizz, so it may be best to avoid them. Two good summer choices would be a Tequila sunrise and a Vodka with lemonade. Bring a few bags of ice and serve in plastic glasses.

Food is always a nice accompaniment to drinks, but remember to keep it simple. I would serve only two appetizers. The idea is to have them precut, bite-size, and all pre-arranged on a serving platter. Note that if you cut a thick piece of cardboard and cover it with aluminum foil, your platter is now disposable. Here are a few appetizer ideas: shrimp with a cocktail sauce, crudités of vegetables with a dip, cherry tomatoes stuffed with blue cheese, prosciutto rolled on the end of thin bread stick, guacamole with salsa, or olives.

Too much work? Fine, grab a bottle of champagne, some plastic cups and a blanket, and head off to see the sunset.

Wine of the Month: Villa di Capezzana Carmignano 2000 ($22.00)

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2004

Carmignano is a small wine region of Tuscany just west of Florence. This region has been producing wines since the 1400s. The predominant grape used is sangiovese, consistent with the rest of Tuscany. What is different about wines from this region, as compared to Chianti, is that the producers have more flexibility on the grape varieties used. Although 50% of the wine needs to be sangiovese, it is common to use cabernet sauvignon or cabernet franc. In other words, the wine maker can make blends like the “Super Tuscans”, but the wines are at more reasonable prices. Villa di Capezzana is a terrific example of a well made Carmignano. This wine is a blend of 80% sangiovese and 20% cabernet sauvignon. It is a deep ruby red, fat and dense, with a well balanced acidity. The lush fruit fills your mouth with layers of flavor. You can taste ripe berries, spice, with hints of chocolate and leather. This is a tasty wine that I plan to drink all summer.

Sampling California’s Sauvignon Blanc

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2004

Sauvignon Blanc is a light, crisp white wine that is perfect for those sultry summer days. The 2002 Sancerre from France is a perfect example of a well-made Sauvignon Blanc, but California also puts forth a fine effort using this grape. Although I have probably tested over a hundred Sauvignon Blancs over the years, I thought I would utilize a different methodology for this tasting. I read recent tasting reviews from The Wine Spectator and The New York Times, then visited five reputable retail stores in New York asking them for their best selections under $25. The result was 9 wines ranging from $11 to $23. My biggest surprise from the tasting was that a number of the wines were aged in too much oak, which I feel makes them too heavy. The three wines below were the consensus favorites, each displaying a delicious crispness:

Honig 2002 ($13)
A pale yellow wine displaying clean, crisp citrus aromas. The high acidity was well balanced with bright fruit showing hints of grapefruit and lemon. This was the hands-down winner, the perfect
complement to a sunny day.
Frogs Leap 2002 ($21)
Also pale yellow in color, this was a bright, lively, refreshing wine with an essence of mineral and slate on the nose. The wine displayed layers of citrus, and had a long pleasant finish.
Ironstone 2002 ($11)
A light straw color with a vibrant scent of lemons. The wine is well balanced with hints of melon and honey. Not as crisp as the first two wines, but very refreshing.