Of all the new additions to the Montauk dining scene, Swallow East is the one that has captured this reviewer’s heart. Chef James Tchinnis is a man who clearly enjoys what he does, providing innovative food and drink in an atmosphere that is a little bit Cajun, a little bit Reggae, and a lot of the best of both Old and New Montauk.
The venerable Lenny’s on the Dock has been transformed into a breezy open space that is up-to-date and comfortable. The arched ceilings are rife with barnwood. There are no-frills aluminum tables and chairs mixed with rustic farm tables and benches, and the patio still overlooks the slips of some of Montauk’s best charter boats. An open kitchen is visible from nearly every table, and there is a sushi-style counter, so, if you’re into that sort of thing, you can chat with the chefs in action.
The name Swallow is derived from the classic nautical tattoo of a migrating bird that mates for life, which makes sense considering the chef is covered in ink and the restaurant is situated in Montauk harbor.
With a rotating selection of infused liquors and all the latest in boutique booze, there is an impressive offering of cocktails. My personal favorite is a jalapeño margarita with cucumber and mint. It is refreshing, delicious, and packs a punch in more ways than one. It costs about as much as one of the menu’s small plates, all of which hover between $12-16. That being said, there is a fine selection of bottled and draft beers, which cost as much as beer does most anywhere else in Montauk ($5-6) and there is also a respectable wine list.
All of the plates at Swallow are “small plates,” inspired by Tchinnis’ training at Manhattan’s French Culinary Institute and his previous experience at several bistro-type restaurants on Long Island’s North Shore. This includes the original Swallow in Huntington, which opened in 2010.
Everything is fresh and artistically presented and, when appropriate, local. The butternut squash cappuccino soup ($7) is topped with creamy foam laced with truffle – it looks exactly like a cappuccino and is the most divine, sweet, buttery and delicious squash soup I have ever tasted. The mozzarella salad is not really mozzarella – it’s burrata, which is all the better. A halved ball of sinfully delicious cheese, crowned with microgreens and perfectly ripened multicolored cherry tomato, rests on a layer of pesto with crunchy pistachios and drizzles of balsamic heaven.
Swallow also boasts a selection of tacos, all of which include creative pairings that bring out the flavor in the main components beautifully. There is no need to squeeze gobs of lemon onto the fried clam tacos because the perfect amount of lemon and cilantro has already been added to the pickled jalepeno tartar sauce that accompanies the dish.
How the chef manages to achieve a fried calamari that is so crispy, even while coated in a perfectly balanced sweet and spicy glaze, is one of the great mysteries of the world. The dish is served in a Chinese takeout container, and garnished with peanuts and scallions. Let me assure you that should you decide to consume the rest of that calamari whilst standing before your refrigerator upon returning home from work at midnight, it will be equally as delicious.
The Angus sliders are awesome. They come with brie and this sweet and tangy tomato jam, and you don’t have to ask for them rare because the chef is smart enough to know that’s how they should be served. Orzo mac and cheese is served in an adorable ceramic pot, with a lid to keep it warm – and is appropriately mixed with peas and bacon.
Aside from a raw bar that includes shrimp, seaweed salad, crab, and oysters from both coasts, there is a selection of seven different mussel broths – from the standard white wine and fresh herb to the more exotic andouille sausage spice.
With an innovative approach in practically every respect, the food at Swallow is not to be missed. Stop by on a Sunday for live Reggae music, and check it out for yourself.
Swallow East, 474 West Lake Drive, Montauk, 631-668-8344.