June 7, 2010 | BITE: My Journal

Hampton Eats: Summer on the Half Shell

Navy Beach’s Seafood and Chips is an upgrade on the classic. Photo: Steven Richter
Navy Beach’s seafood and chips is an upgrade on the classic. Photo: Steven Richter

        As if to make up for all curses unleashed upon the Hamptons commuter – stock market cyclone rides, Madoff, sluggish real estate, too many charity benefits – the weekend’s predicted storms backed off on Thursday. The morning air was fresh and cool. An entire holiday weekend without rain, oh, maybe a few drops: A miracle. It was as if humidity had not yet been invented. Lunch at Navy Beach, an old spot on the beach in its newest incarnation was a miracle too.

       We are staying with friends who live year-round in an East Hampton cul de sac. It’s bliss, a thousand miles from the summer rat race.  We decide to ignore the voice of the GPS looking for the odd turn-off to the restaurant and get lost in a Dogpatch just west of Montauk’s center. Hmm. And the Post sees Montauk fast becoming the next chic Hampton. 

I suspect this is the last tranquil weekend moment at Navy Beach. Photo: Steven Richter

        Ah, at last. The low-slung rectangle with faux portholes is empty at lunch. (Possibly for the last time this summer.) Drawn by a hazy aura at the front window, sun brightening the grey-blue bay, we traipse out onto the beach, five of us, granted our choice of umbrella’d tables. An intrepid gull patrols the sand. We are given menus, water.  A trio of summer nymphs ignore us, busy stuffing napkins and plastic cutlery into cardboard Corona beer cartons for the anticipated weekend crush.  We have to lasso a server to take our order. But so what? It’s the beach. We’re mellow.

Chef LaBue’s triumph of local clams, chorizo, beans and a hint of butter. Photo: Steven Richter

        Expecting clams on the half shell – I read the menu too fast - I’m mystified by clams in broth with clots of tomato and white beans set in front of me: “What is this?” Till I taste. “Oh migod,” I cry. “This is amazing.”  Everyone looks up, startled. How fresh can clams be? How perfectly cooked? Tomato tang playing against a lush, sweet broth – olive oil glazed by a last gloss of butter, with slivers of fennel and chunks of chorizo. Now all of us are onto the drift of deliciousness.

         Farmed salmon from Scotland with a tamarind glaze is delicately rarish, its bland sweetness showing well on a swirl of garlicky noodles and topped with a frizzle of slivered snow peas, shisho sprouts, micro pea shoots and carrot strings. “Seafood and chips” arrive in a basket on a tissue of fake newsprint, with tartar sauce and decent fries alongside: two filets of cod and more splendid shrimp and scallops than you’d expect for $20 in a delicious bubble wrap of slightly sweet and greasy beer batter. Everyone is aggressively attacking a side of truffled macaroni and cheese – cavatappi double loops in a rich sludge of Cabot cheddar, Danish blue and gruyere
arguably too much cheese, I suppose and the truffle is elusive (that’s a plus in my book).  But the  $10 bowl is huge so it’s just as well I’m forced to share.

Ice bucket, white wine, seduction in the sand at Navy Beach. Photo: Steven Richter

        Today’s whole fish is local fluke, cooked the way my friend Howard likes it. He bones it himself and offers me a piece. So fresh. Given these triumphs, the listless corn and clam chowder is a surprise. 

        No one really wants dessert after such excess, but I insist.  My “just one” sundae with home made marshmallow needs more chocolate and peanuts toasted so they’re not so soggy.

       There’s a reason the food is so shockingly good. At the door we meet the chef, Nick & Toni veteran Paul LaBue. He reminisces about cooking alongside Jonathan Waxman, learning from the laid-back master.  Now he’s enjoying Montauk folk ways. “Here they bone the whole fish themselves and don’t ask to have the head cut off like they do in East Hampton,” he says. The recently failed Laundry on the highway was LaBue’s last stop, so the timing was right when the partners here called.  Leyla Merchetto of Scuderia in Soho and her fiancé, Franklin Ferguson, with Frank and Kristina Davis, had talked of bringing in a chef from Napa. Now they realize what a plus it is to have a Hamptons veteran in the kitchen.

16 Navy Road, Montauk. Call for directions. 631 668 6868. Saturday lunch noon to 3 pm. Sunday lunch 12:00 pm to 3 pm.  Limited menu at the bar 3 to 6 pm. Dinner seven days 6 to 11pm.  Weekday lunch starts the last week in June.


Wei More Fun: The Grill on Pantigo

Toot East Hampton turns out for Kevin Pener’s classics at The Grill. Photo: Steven Richter

        Just because Meisterbuilder Ben Krupinski and his wife Bonnie, own most of Easthampton and he has a lock on contracting to the stars, doesn’t mean they haven’t got time to try again on Pantigo Lane with The Grill, hoping to erase memories of Wei Fun, the spot most everyone hated.  By way of insurance they’ve stationed Kevin Penner executive chef at both 1770 House and Cittanouva, to do straightforward American menus at moderate prices. The handsome space with a wall of glass looking out at the terrace helps.  A shiny reflecting ceiling disguises how low it is and old mill gears from France look like archeological treasures on the wall.

        On Saturday night, a lot of suits patrol the floor. Massimo, on call from 1770, seems to know everyone in the room. That’s essential in a town full of the entitled. And tonight the room is full of Hampton first nighters.  Flo Fab and hubby Richard are with friends in the booth in front of us, enjoying a “stupendously good veal chop,” she later emails. 

Baby artichokes, crunchy, not too greas,y to dip in lemon aioli. Photo: Steven Richter

        My expectations are low after discouraging reports from friends and family tastings.  And sure enough, I’m sending back the bread, strangely ice cold, asking if it can be warmed. But then quickly, I’m happy with the crunch of fried baby artichokes to dip in lemon aioli and the briny pow of the complex clam broth of Steven’s linguine. That’s an extra tribute since the clams themselves, teensy New Zealand cockles, are overcooked and tasteless. “New Zealand?” I later ask Penner. “Isn’t this East Hampton?”

A marvelously briny broth cries out for better clams. Photo: Steven Richter

        At least he has the grace to be embarrassed.  “I would have preferred Manila clams,” he concedes. “My fish guy didn’t have Mahogony clams from Rhode Island, but local clams are too big.” How about chopping them raw and warming them in the toss, Kevin?

       Does the iceberg wedge with blue cheese and bacon need to be so small? Well, the Caesar is good enough, though timid. Sensational double cut lamb chops, rare as requested, have real flavor, a cut above rather listless skirt steak. A Crosby Merlot from the pinchpenny end of the wine list is better than I expected. Alas, it takes both knife and fork (a chisel perhaps?) to free soft shell crabs from a thick, hard crust of beer batter. This is a mistake that surely will be corrected. But I’ll be back for the sensational Tavern Meatloaf: veal, pork and chuck with a mash of roasted garlic and some panko crumbs. And I’ll want the baked macaroni too, a lot like Mom’s, and just $5, though it could be crustier.

Rack of lamb, rare and full of flavor, wants a side. Photo: Steven Richter

        Indeed, all sides are $5 (except for $6 sautéed mushrooms) as they ought to be, considering entrees $14 to $35 come with little more than a garnish, half a roasted garlic bulb perhaps.

          At 10, as the older folks exit, the music shifts to disco in hopes the late shift will either be young or at least feel young. A big slice of marvelous devil’s food cake, layered with chocolate ganache, puts us in a benign mood… remembering meatloaf and clam broth and lamb chops, agreeing The Grill’s too newly hatched to really judge on a holiday weekend Saturday night. Of course I’ll be back though Krupinski homeowners alone could hog the prime time tables till long after Labor Day. I guess we’ll be by for the off-season specials.

203 Pantigo Road. Easthampton. 631 329 2600. Dinner Sunday through Thursday 5:30 to 10 pm,. Friday and Saturday till 11.


Race Lane Revival

Race Lane’s lush sesame-tinged tuna tartare on avocado. Photo: Steven Richter

        The timing is not ideal. Ideally I should come by later in the game plan. I can feel the tension and I admire the early rehearsal bounce of our server at Race Lane still days away from its official debut that Sunday evening. It was the Laundry for decades, then briefly The Lodge, with the romantic modernist design by architect Norman Jaffe. Now Jay Plumeri, owner of 41 Greenwich in the Village, and his wife Rowaida had moved in, softened the look, expanded the outdoor dining area and tonight are testing the menu on intimates and friends of friends scattered about the room.
         So let’s call it a preview. What are they thinking? Simple American favorites (what else is new?) Chilled jumbo shrimp, shellfish twer, crab cakes, veal chop, ginger baked salmon, key lime tart at prices that seem a bit high but aren’t for the Hamptons: entrees $19 to $45, but mostly $28 or less. Desserts at $6 to $8 include cheese cake with local xstrawberries and lamington cake dipped in chocolate and coconut, a bow to Rowaida Plumeri’s Australia

I wouldn’t mind some bacon in my lobster man’n’cheese. Photo: Steven Richter

        Portions are huge. Tonight’s tentative wahoo fish taco could use some work, two tortillas rather than one, to make it easier to eat, but a huge bowl of chopped salad is ready to go:  corn, provolome, salami, olive, red onion, tomato and cucumber. The citric edge on the scallop carpaccio needs to be balanced with some olive oil.  Fussy about his tuna tartare, the Road FoodWarrior likes this one, and so do I. The blowsy iceberg wedge is delicious excess especially compared to the Grill’s modest offering. Exquisitely cooked lobster sits on salad needing a rescue from too much, too messy green lettuce. Cubes of honeydew provide a summery note with the chopped avocado, tomato and red onion rubble attending seared sea scallops. The dried out pork chop isn’t even close to medium rare. But macaroni and cheese fiends like me will thrill and then struggle to choose between bacon or lobster, lots of lobster with tomato scatterings as as add-on. Lacking seriously ripe tomatoes, these need to be oven dried with a pinch of sugar and olive oil. It seems the Plumeri are actually listening to friends and family. Rowaida just called to say Taconic bay clams will soon replace west coast cockles in the lingine. I’m impressed.

31 Race Lane at Gingerbread Lane. East Hampton. 631 324 5022. Brunch Saturday and Sunday (begins June 19) 11 am to 3 pm.  Dinner 5:30 to 11 pm.


Providing a continuous lifeline to homebound elderly New Yorkers

Cafe Fiorello