June 1, 2007 | BITE: My Journal

Just Before the Heat Strikes Tutto il Giorno

 You can keep an eye on your boat from Tutto Il Giorno's bar.

    We hounds of the Hamptons never think of East Hampton as off the radar. Self-absorbed as we are in our sublime insiderness, how could we even guess? But now I know. Desperately needing to escape the chaos of my office once I finally got this site open Friday, I left piles of neglected projects and hopped on the jitney to visit friends who live year-round in a bucolic cocoon just outside this precious village.  “We’ll go to this little shack on the water in Sag after the movie Friday night,” Fran had emailed me. “It’s small and sweet and what I love most about it is that nobody knows it’s there.”

    Friday night.  Bum movie. “Where did everyone come from?” says Fran, wide-eyed to find her sweet little undiscovered Tutto Il Giorno has been staked out by the A-minus crowd.  “Who are these people?” she asks, as Howard goes off to find their friend Scott who promised a table. There are no reservations here.  It’s too tiny.  Just thirty-four seats inside and twenty more in the garden.  But my pals seem to know the man. Trying not to seem anxious, we hug the walls of the bar where a taggle of media folk must feel happily validated by the marina-view from the only barroom table.

     "Too bad it’s raining and they can’t use the garden,” says Fran, clearly not used to waiting here. “The place was empty last week at lunch,” she says.  “We came a couple of times.  I had the fabulous pea soup.”
    And suddenly there is Howard with Scott and Scott turns out to be Scott Conant, unrecognizable for a moment without his chef whites (actually his whites are a chic New York black). And…out of the fog of this rainy night, the plot gels. I get it. This is the ballyhooed Steve Florio venture, in partnership, I learn with Maria and Larry Baum from the shop next door. They sell Italian imports and the color-splashed pottery that stars on each table.

     I have read all about it.  Scott, between stoves, having bowed out of his partnerships at l’Impero and Alto in Manhattan, planning to cool out at the beach with his fiancée till his next gig, is “helping Steve out.”  It’s his menu, his coaching, and that’s okay with the chef de cuisine Benito Tompetta, a veteran of Il Buco, Industry and earlier, Mario Batali’s tiny kitchen at Po.
Showing off the pretty pottery.

    Fran is right about the chilled pea soup with its float of herbed goat and tarragon crouton in a deep bowl. Very good.  Burrata, a fresh buttery mozzarella with cream at the core, has become the melting chocolate cake of the moment.  I almost swooned at a friend’s table in Venice the first time I tasted that richer-than-Croesus ooze just off the train from Naples.  I don’t like to suggest that anything edible is wicked but at the time I imagined it tasted like original sin.  Now that effluvial ooze is everywhere, less wicked, still deliciously scary. Tonight its rides with a basil salad, cherry tomatoes bursting with tomato flavor and a slice of something that might have tasted more like a tomato if it had showed up in late July.  Still irresistible.

    This bright soaring room with its fireplace and cheery landscape paintings, sunny feeling even at night, is welcoming though the noise is painful and my hard wooden chair could use a cushion.  And I love the food we’re eating from a modest preview menu so much that I find myself strangely annoyed with the tiny flubs.  Why is the bread so boring?  Why cut bread so far ahead?  Why the overflow of sauce and unseasonal truffle essence on otherwise marvelous creamy polenta with mushroom fricassee, a Conant signature.

    Where is a cut of lemon for this fabulous fritto misto with its fried lemon wheels and crisp-fried herbs, easily an appetizer for the three of us.  It would be ever better with a reinvigorating squeeze or two of lemon juice as it cools. The gorgeous artisan pasta circles -- calamarata it says on the menu -- tossed with mussels, shrimp and clams, could use a bit of broth. The house made spaghetti would be fulfilled if the chef cheated a little and threw in some of those savory cherry tomatoes.

    Still I cannot imagine crustier soft shell crabs than these draped over a double divan of rustic ciabatta painted with avocado and spicy mayonnaise. Bread is not my idea of dessert but for some nutella in panino is a revelation.  I much prefer the olive oil cake with citrus salad. 

    Best of all, though starters are all in double digits, none of this is really that expensive. There are decent enough wines under $40 for penny pinchers like me. Unlike Graydon Carter’s fiefdom at Waverly Inn, at least the place is actually open for business -- from breakfast till 11 p.m. -- and it has a telephone number. And when the crowds start pawing the porch, flashing their royal lineage to Florio, I still know Fran and Howard who fell in love with the pea soup and got to know this nice guy Scott when Tutto Il Giorno was just yawning itself awake.

    6 Bay Street Sag Harbor 631 7009