After twenty-years of eating in Hamptons eateries, I am happy to report that I have finally found a restaurant that offers the same quality of food that you can get in the city. Okay so Southold, where the North Fork Table & Inn is located, is on Long Island's North Fork which technically isn't the Hamptons. And though the restaurant is only around 15 miles away from where I live as the crow flies, going there entails two short ferry rides and the trip takes somewhere between 45 and 75 minutes depending on how long you have to wait in line for the ferries. Driving around the bay is an option, but it's a 40 mile drive that is likely to include some heavy traffic at one point or another. But if you are a discriminating diner and you happen to be in the Hamptons, I recommend visiting the restaurant as the food is good enough to make the schlep to the North Fork worth it.
It's a simple enough concept. You take the Executive Chef of Aureole, and the Executive Pastry Chef of Gramercy Tavern, who fortunately happens to be his wife, and team up with Mike and Mary Mraz, formerly the General Manager of Hearth and the Service Manager of Gramercy Tavern respectively, and then you take a house that Hayden and Fleming already own in Southold and turn it into a restaurant. You then make deals with various local farmers to provide you with biodynamically raised vegetables, locally produced goat cheese, and buy sacks of Peconic Bay scallops, local steamers and whatever else might be swimming in Gardiner's Bay or the Long Island Sound, from local fisherman who wander into the restaurant with their catch. Then you top it off with the best bottlings of the local wineries which are located just down the road from the restaurant. One would think from this description I am talking about Napa but I'm not. This small slice of paradise is located around 90 miles from New York City and one can easily get there by railroad from Penn Station in 3 hours.
I read somewhere that Claudia Fleming designed the dining room of the restaurant. Well if she did she should be commended because she managed to give the dining room a clean and contemporary look while keeping the charm of a country inn. The menu is composed of what I will describe as Modern American cuisine with a slight twist. I started with raw hamachi paired with sauteed foie gras served atop slices of radishes which had been confited in a sweet vinegar. A clever dish, the brunt of the flavor was carried by the turnips and the more subtle tastes of the raw fish and the foie kicked in as secondary flavors. Mrs. P ordered a riff on crab cakes, cod and potato cakes served with a truffled tartar sauce. Also quite good and something I might consider ordering myself when I next visit. A gaspacho of piquillo peppers, pureed until smooth, and served with an avocado mash and Maine shrimp was again, tasty while being slightly different than what you normally see at contemporary American restaurants, and with a deep smoky flavor and just spicy enough but not too. Then some delicious garlic basted Colorado lamb chops served atop a stew of local vegetables. And though I don't have a photo, Mrs. P was raving about her swordfish dish. The added bonus here is that you get to cap off the meal with Claudia Fleming desserts. I had frozen Capitano yogurt served atop roasted figs and rasperries sandwiched between two thin meringues. We also managed to drink well with bottles of 1989 Raveneau Chablis Clos and 1942 Castillo Ygay Rioja which went spendidly with the food. A very good place and one I will return to. I wish it was closer to the South Fork.
Muse on the other hand is a different story and while it shined in spots, was more in keeping with the type of quality that you find in the Hamptons. It's difficult to describe the food in the Hamptons because no one phrase covers it. The best compliment I can think of is "good in spots" and the most accurate description is "erratic." Let's put it this way, Mrs. P and I hardly go out to eat anymore because we find the food we cook at home is better than what we get at most of the restaurants. Still, when a new place opens we are hopeful. Unfortunately the local newspapers always praise new restaurants and we get suckered into trying them which means we have to find out the truth the hard way.
Muse is the creation of Matthew Guiffrida, who prior to opening the restaurant worked as a chef at various restaurants in Suffolk County, most notably The Inn at Quoque. Guiffrida seems to have set out to do something different for the Hamptons. He created a whimsical menu that he serves in a space that has an aggresively modern design given it's location. Unfortunately, when you are in the country and you want to be contemporary, it typically means a minimalist approach to the design of your space. But Giuffreda's space is busy and cluttered, and while not disapleasing to the eye, it is closer to what I typically describe as Suffolk County garish than something that is appropriate for the Hamptons. Giuffida's menu suffers from the same problem. Almost every dish has some type of whimsical catch to it and one can see from reading the menu that it is doomed to failure. Let's be honest about it, if Thomas Keller has no more than 3-4 whimsical dishes in his repetoire, how is Matthew Giuffrida going to have 15 of them? Well he isn't. Still, despite the affectations of the space and the menu, Guiffrida manages to serve some pretty decent food in spots.
The menu is divided into appetizers, small plates and entrees. Given the rave reviews in the newspapers, we over ordered because we wanted to taste a number of dishes. We started with a "BLT Salad" which turned out to be iceberg lettuce, thin slices of pancetta, cherry tomatoes and a gorganzola dressing. Soggy lettuce made the whole concontion not worth eatng. Then "Tuna Palooza" which every newspaper review raved about, which in really nothing more than raw tuna served four ways. Well it was dreadful. Not that the quality of the tuna itself was bad. It was the way they were prepared. We pushed both dishes to the side unfinished. Fortunately our next round of appetizers were better. Scallop "Shooters" were soy roasted scallops served atop a hummus, and a "Soft Taco" which turned out to be a pile of warm masa cooked in the manner of polenta and tipped with pulled barbecued pork. The masa was especially delicious and we asked our server to find out how it was made. Mains were reasonably good as well, Mrs. P had the duck "au poivre" (no photo)which featured a crust of wasabi peas and I had a serving of roast pork belly which was large enough to serve four people. A dessert of vanilla ice cream with Bananas Foster sauce (no photo) was especially tasty. We drank a bottle of 1989 Hermitage La Chappelle which though highly extracted and powerful, needs a good 10 years.
So Muse is more in keeping with our Hampton experiences. A few good dishes and the rest either blah or even poor. Surprisingly, even with the bad review I am sure Mrs. P and I will go back at some point. When it comes to dining out, the pickings out here are that slim and occassionally we need to go out if for no other reason than to break the monotony of eating every meal at home. Now if only I could convince the North Fork Table & Inn crew to move to Bridgehampton. North Fork Table & Inn B. Muse C-