Archive for the ‘Weekend Getaways’ Category

Another Roadside Distraction: Amagansett’s Lobster Roll (Lunch)

July 27, 2009

The oyster pan roast and the lobster roll are two dishes that need to die.  Both used to be poor men’s suppers; both are now willful and wasteful anachronisms.  Luxury ingredients need to be showcased not hidden.  And luxury ingredients gone bad or borderline need to be discarded not disguised.

Such is the case with Grand Central Oyster Bar’s overhyped oleaginous oyster stew.  Their version is all cream, potato, paprika and bivalves on the edge of e.coli overload.  It tastes less of the sea than the sewer, as do the restaurant’s raw offerings on the bookends to the workweek.

For its part, Lobster Roll’s (1980 Montauk Highway E.) version of its namesake dish is undeniably safe and inoffensive but also inexcusably bland.  First do no harm, sure, but then don’t bore me either.  In any case, neither restaurant is more than a road or rail side distraction in its current form, and neither dish merits the time or money.

If you are going to stake your name on a single dish at least do what you do right, as Rebecca Charles does at the West Village’s Pearl Oyster Bar.  Unfortunately, rather than putting me in mind of the superior bread, texture and flavor intensity of her lobster roll, or her oysters for that matter, this Amagansett offering had me reminiscing about the Rt. 9 Westborough McDonald’s seasonal lobster roll. A lesser road and a lesser restaurant on paper but not on the plate.

In both places, the lobster tasted of nothing, the celery in the salad hid what little flavor was in the meat, and the roll was unbuttered and uninteresting.   That said, McDonald’s has much better fries and much lower prices, coupled with much better managed customer expectations.

Yes, Lobster Roll does offer a sense of place.  Blond servers of surprisingly diverse ages—prom queens past and present—speak to a long history in a single locale, and Capt. Jack kitsch décor is a pleasant reminder of old seafood shacks everywhere from Ann Arbor to Anna Maria.  Also, the celebrity endorsement page of the menu is endearingly outdated: “newlyweds Kim Basinger and Alec Baldwin” and seventies heavy—Cheryl Tiegs to Peter Boyle.  And that’s about as good as it gets.

Conclusions: Next time you’re on the Montauk Highway, engage in some Emersonian self-reliance, and hit a roadside fish shop for whatever’s fresh.  Grill it up at your rental, house, or one of the nearby parks (Hither Hills, for instance) and call it a day.  There’s no reason to get off the road for this one.

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Getting Fried in the Hamptons: The Doughnuts of Scoop du Jour

July 23, 2009

Other than providing a conduit to Amagansett, there are few justifications for the continued existence of East Hampton.  Chief among them is the doughnut selection at Scoop du Jour.

The doughnut variety at Scoop du Jour is limited, which makes picking easy: get them all.  Three options are presented: plain, powdered and cinnamon sugar.  The latter two are made by extracting doughnuts from the fryer and applying confectioner’s sugar or granulated sugar mixed with cinnamon, the first by leaving the hot rings of batter in their birthday suits.  In any case, doughnuts and doughnut varietals are generally made to order.  Even if the doughnut comes from the countertop, chances are it’s merely resting from its oil bath rather than going stale from the night before.

Order a dozen–four of each should work–but don’t expect any extras.  No baker’s bonus comes with the twelve-pack.  That said, twelve should be enough for two good eaters.    The doughnuts are relatively small—about the average of a present day mini-bagel and an old-school water bagel—and of the cake variety.  They have a pleasant tooth tickling outer crust crunch and a soft core, not magma soft but definitely inner mantel soft.  The plain doughnuts should have the color, though not the exterior feel of a middle-aged sun worshiper, somewhere in the oaky tan range with a few cracks from the heat.

Don’t restrict yourself to breakfast consumption.  These guys work equally well with morning hot coffee as a wakeup or with mid afternoon iced coffee as a restorative post-siesta treat.   Finally, don’t forget to try the ultimate mash-up by ordering two scoops of vanilla—thus the name of the shop—and a trio of hot plains.  It’ll make for the best park bench dessert you’ve had in quite a while.  Enjoy the view of the Ferraris out front, then get back on the road.  These doughnuts make for a delicious detour, not a destination.

North Fork Table and Inn: Worth a Journey

April 12, 2007

If you have a baby or wish to make one, spend the weekend at the North Fork Table & Inn in Southold, NY.  In fact, if you merely wish to groan, gasp and exclaim, “Oh, baby!”, spend the weekend at the North Fork Table & Inn.  You could just stop by for dinner, but then you’d miss a great night’s sleep and, most importantly, the morning after. 

On any list of foodie fantasies, waking up to Claudia Fleming should rank high.  The woman has skin like a Dove Soap model, a body like a yoga instructor and breakfast treats that provoke reactions in the unspeakable zones.  To have her serve them in the early hours, as is the experience here is, well, a fantasy fulfilled.  To have her then ask “Would you like some eggs?”, is well, better than my meager imagination could have come up with, especially when the egg man is Aureole and Amuse vet Gerry Hayden.

Hayden doesn’t whip up scrams, sunny sides or poached eggs for the matutinal feeding, rather, he makes arguably the best omelette on Long Island, formerly the best omelette on Manhattan Island.  One day I had fingerlings, gruyere, chunks of bacon and ramps snuggled in Catapano Farm eggs.  The next brought just-in asparagus spears.   I won’t pick a favorite.  I will be back for more.

Oh, yes, dinner is pretty great, too.  In addition to Fleming and Hayden in the kitchen, there’s a rockstar front of house crew headed by wine director/innkeeper, Mike Mraz, who channels Flea by way of Josh Wesson, and his wife, Mary, who was arguably the best thing about service at Gramercy Tavern for quite a while.  More on them and the family-friendly atmosphere in an upcoming dinner post. 

In the meantime, I have a tidily wrapped leftover chive biscuit to eat while I ruminate on two of the most restful days I’ve spent so close to the City and so far from City life. www.northforktableandinn.com 

Fat and Happy in the Hudson Valley: 5 Favorites

December 8, 2006

1) Crabtree Kittle House (Chappaqua): Food is easy to like; faults are easy to forgive. Not quite a rural retreat, but at least the golf course views are haute suburban.

Inn is lovely on the outside and up front, a bit run down in the dining rooms, which range from quaint tavern style to banquet hall bland. Still, tables are all pleasantly spaced. No bad spot to sit. Many good ones.GRILLED HUDSON VALLEY FOIE GRAS

Cuisine is new American with some Old World touches.  Grilled foie gras with quail eggs in brioche with black truffle sounds like too much and is, but gloriously so: A melting masterpiece, Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia on a plate meets Miss Havisham’s wedding cake.  This is a chef finding joy in great ingredients and passing it on.

For a little levity at the end of the savories, the Hudson Valley greens salad is superb. No sense of suffering or penitence here, just flavorful vegetables well combined and dressed. Even the raw hamachi is good.

With all the fun, there are a few flaws, especially in the front of house.  Table service can be amateur–some waiters’ English is weaker than it should be for a restaurant with these ambitions–but at least it’s warm. Wine service is also erratic, especially given the importance of wine to this restaurant’s reputation and bottom line.  Kittle House has some very knowledgeable wine stewards and a few trying to fake it; I’ve had both.  Either way, the selection is extraordinary. Go with a strategy (country, grape, etc.), read the wine tome ahead of time, or trust the stewards. The thousands of options are overwhelming.

Also make sure to stay on top of when your wine is served. I’ve had the half-bottle of white arrive well after the first course was served and I’ve had lovely, attentive service with different bottles for my spouse’s and my respective selections. You’ll need to be your own advocate.  Finally, stick firmly to your price range.  I’ve had three different stewards pick something right above my stated upper limit, 80 to a 75 ceiling, 100 to a 90 ceiling, etc. 

Wrap-up:

Great place to eat well, drink better and sleep or snuggle it off afterwards.  Helps to be rich enough to brush off the wine rip-off tricks.   This is not democratic dining.
 

N.B.: Two further warnings. Rooms are fine in the main building, but the annex is Newark Airport motel quality. Morning meal is airport (coach-class) food, so pay your bill and fly off to a better place to break the fast.

2) Flying Pig (Mount Kisco Metro-North Train Station): Best meal I’ve had in an American train station, yes, better than Grand Central. Perfect for breakfast after the Kittle House, or for dinner fresh off the train. This is a joy of a depot restaurant that restores travelers on their way into the Valley, while also rewarding destination diners. 

Great produce in the salads, amazing breakfast hash with, again, a fantastically flavorful egg on top (eggs, both quail and chicken, may be Hudson Valley’s best product these days). Reasonable and well-crafted espresso drinks are just one more way the Flying Pig confounds and exceeds expectations.

3) Blue Hill at Stone Barns (Pocantico Hills): Inspired space, inspiring food. Not the Republic of Berkeley but rather a repurposed old Rockefeller redoubt. Alice Waters East with way better dining and none of the dippy puritanism.  If only it had an inn.

Intention to work in daily slaughter/harvest of products makes for a perpetual Iron Chef challenge. Skilled staff turns the obstacle into an asset, tying together progressions of dishes with ingredient themes (you can also order a la carte).

While much of the food is grown or raised on-site, the Barbers are not afraid to Fedex forage, especially in the winter months. The Barbers also grant fish and citrus a dispensation from the local-only approach, just as they do in Washington Square Park.

After maxing out the menu, take a post-prandial stroll around the grounds, or come back for a morning walk. It’s much more fun than the Purina Farm tour, though I do miss the square eggs.

4) American Bounty at the CIA (Hyde Park): First of all, the best case of swords into plowshares, or crucifixes into cutlery, in the Hudson Valley. Thank God the monastery didn’t last and the CIA bought the place.

The setting is gorgeous, the restaurants are an exceptional value (especially the wine) and the tours are fun. Your nervous server may drop a dish, but he’ll be doubly sure to find a way to make it up to you.

I’ve dined mainly in the American Room, not the most ambitious space, but great for getting a feel of the place. 

The CIA’s collection of restaurants, like NECI’s, are and are not all about the food. It’s the food story that won me over, and the excitement about how much better these kids will be in a few years, and their joy in being here.  The personal interaction with the human side of fine dining outweighs what’s on the plate.   A lot of fun, easy on the wallet and plenty tasty.

5) Belvedere Mansion (Rhinebeck): A great slice of Hudson life. Favored for lodging more than dining.  Cozies are cheap, main inn is beautiful.

For the eater,  dinner is the meal, as breakfast is a prix-fixe after-thought.  The dinner menu is European, well-prepared, decently curated and worthy of at least one meal, if you’re staying overnight.  For guests, it’s a great way to roam a wine list without transportation anxiety. It’s a particularly great start or finish to a long weekend.

The little bar is also beautiful and worth stopping by for a drink, whether you’ve eaten in or out of house.

Honorable Mention 

Café Tamayo (Saugerties): An intimate space in a town centered on the rust and antique belts. The dish that blew my mind was an assortment of sautéed mushrooms. Never liked them as a kid, couldn’t get enough here. Warm light, warm service, with good and reasonable wines, made for a great excursion.  Don’t know much about the B&B part.