June 2, 2007 | BITE: My Journal
An Eating Weekend in the Hamptons
| Nick & Toni's host a farmers market Wednesday mornings.
In my golden olden Hampton days summer people cooked. We did communal cookouts and screamed at each other about who owed what for the groceries. Ultimately we moved on to seriously superior feasts and challenge-the-chef pot lucks that we photographed and sold to ladies’ magazines. We danced. If you weren’t born yet, you might not be able to imagine how wild and erotic the dancing was. We made love to each other’s boyfriends, married rogues, and the Entenmann’s man in those carefree days between the pill and the plague. There were no competing benefits challenging social debts and genuine caring... not so many parties we didn’t want to go to, but were mortified not to be invited.
But now, between walks on the beach, flea market rambles, afternoon movies when it rains, and dipping into foodie memoirs, we eat out. Friday night I fell into Steve Florio’s Tutto Il Giorno
and was thrilled to score a table without waiting so long my feet put roots into the floor…and then, mostly loved what I tasted. (See Bite: My Journal, June 1).
Wonder where Tutto Il Giorno’s star consultant chef Scott Conant has brunch on Saturday? I interrupted him with his fiancée at Estia, where live jazz at night is now big on the menu.
177 Main Street in Amagansett 631 267 6320
Next day, sun-phobic immigrant that I am out here, I claim a picnic table in the shade on the grassy little mall in Amagansett outside the Hampton Chutney Company. (It must still be off-season if shady spots are available at 2 p.m.) The three of us decide to share my host Howard’s favorite dosa improvisation: curried chicken, goat cheese, avocado, roasted onion and tomato stuffed inside one of those foot-and-a-half long crisp, thin, curled South Indian crepes. It’s funny, I never find myself craving a dosa, but every time I’m actually biting into a chunk of a really good one, I have to marvel at the genius of its construction.
Amagansett Square, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays, except Tuesday. Till 7 on Friday and Saturday.
Living in East Hampton, my pals Fran and Howard are always scouting new tables. For dinner they decide we should try the Mexican menu at 27 Authentic, new on that partying stretch of the highway in Napeague, past Amagansett on the way to Montauk.
As we step into the bar, we almost get blown off our wedgies by the roar of the sun-pinked younglings at the bar. Thinking to escape the loud lash of hormones rising by moving to a table inside, we settle down and order guacamole. Bond trader/owner Alex Gordon gets an “A” for effort here. Shades of the Four Seasons: He’s got an eager young trouper mashing the avocados tableside on a rolling cart of mix-ins. “Do we want hot peppers? More? Lime? How much?”
But the dining room embraces the bar and by the time our tacos land, the crowd is bellowing an anvil chorus. With a snap of the cell phone, Howard snags us a 9 o’clock table at Nick & Toni’s, using my name of course. Not that he doesn’t have pull on his own: restaurants love their wintertime regulars. Still, just in case.
2095 Montauk Highway 631 267 6980
| Wine lovers discover the depth of Nick & Toni's cellar. Photo: Ken Robbins
Well, I’m not going to be anonymous here anyway. I’ve been coming to Nick & Toni’s forever, loving it through ups and occasional slides. But the last dinner more than a year ago was too annoying. Nothing was right. And the Road Food Warrior was indignant that his veal chop was a pygmy compared to what pridefully claims to be a veal chop in Manhattan. I recall this one was $44. Maybe I misremember. Now it’s $48. I didn’t say a word. I didn’t write. But I couldn’t bring myself to go back even once last season.
Inside the sprawling farmhouse, all the familiar staff faces are here, and hugs all around. Partner Mark Smith, who took over after the devastating death of the house’s once so visible partner, Jeff Soloway, sends out a welcoming gift on a wooden board, $18, but more than enough for four: a large island of soft running burrata (buttery mozzarella) and speck (a kind of ham-like smoked pork from Italy’s Alto Adige). The thick slices of toast alongside would be even more fabulous hot. (Clear evidence that restaurant critics who insist on being anonymous doesn’t change the experience, are talking with their mouths full of smoked pig.)
Do the long time loyalists even notice the prices here, or do they just grump and pay? Stalwarts of stage, screen, typewriter, real estate and Dow Jones get their usual tables. (You’ll recognize them across the room even though everyone looks older than we used to). We’re paying $9 to $18 for starters now, $20 to $24 for pasta with entrees $28 (chicken, of course) to $48. But tonight I’m not insulted. Perhaps my fedelini (a thin-noodled pasta) with saffroned mussels and baby arugula could use a little more peperoncino. But the fine King salmon (yes, farmed) sits on a delicious island of red fregola with really fresh fiddlehead ferns tossed on top. That’s a very respectable spice rubbed rib eye with roasted vegetables from nearby Satur Farms. Cocoa powder is the secret ingredient.
As for the marvelous crushed Yukon gold potatoes, roasted and then fried, I could happily make them my starter, dinner itself or even dessert. The house’s new chef, John Baron, tosses them in garlic oil, then sprinkles on oregano and grated grana. Interestingly, both Baron and the chef de cuisine at the new Tutto Il Giorno worked at Po when Mario Batali was in charge.
“What was the one most important lesson you learned from Mario?” I ask.
“Less handling of the food,” says Tutto’s Benito Trompetta.
“Best not to mess up the food too much,” Baron recalled.
A motto to live by.
| Local blueberries launch the fruit season. Then come strawberries.
By the way, Nick & Toni's, always blessed with its own kitchen’s access to local farms, now hosts a Wednesday farmer’s market open to all from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the parking lot. Local cheese makers, vegetable farmers, preserve makers and mushroom growers are joined by the Seafood Shop from Wainscott and The Fish Hatchery from Cranberrry Hole Road. At its own stand, Nick & Toni’s sell salsas, guacamole and house-baked cookies and pastries. The market will grow all summer. By late July and August, lush local fruit and seriously good tomatoes will arrive.
136 North Main Street East Hampton 631 324 3550