Now that the teeming multitudes have ceased to course through our little East End villages, the thought of having a nice, relaxing meal in Sag Harbor doesn’t seem so far-fetched. Parking is no longer an impossibility. Getting a table shouldn’t be a big problem. Dare we say it—it’s our town again!
Thinking of dinner in Sag Harbor, what springs to mind most readily is the American Hotel. A jewel box of a place, the American Hotel overflows with old-fashioned dignity. It projects a mixed air of sophistication and authenticity. Most importantly, the American Hotel delivers on all of its promises—it really is as nice as it looks.
A recent visit confirmed this truth yet again. Our host led us through the clubby barroom, which is a great place to sit and have a cocktail and a light meal if that’s what you’re interested in. Since we were there for more serious eating, we proceeded into the brick-walled dining room beyond, where a glass roof lets in the natural light for a warm but open atmosphere. Gentle operatic music played in the background, and fresh-cut yellow and pink roses completed the picture.
Comfortably seated, we were ready to hit the books. Or book. The wine list at the American Hotel is the size of a dictionary. It kind of has to be, since there are 3,000 selections in the Hotel’s world-class cellar, including many Long Island wines from makers such as Paumanok, Martha Clara, Lenz, and Wölffer. It’s certainly a novelty to have a look through such an expansive wine list, but if you’re not planning on getting a bottle you’re probably better off asking for a recommendation right off the bat. Otherwise, you might feel rather silly heaving the cumbersome book back to the waiter while asking for a glass
of the house white.
Putting off the wine for a while, I decided to start with a gin martini, which arrived crisp and cold, and uncommonly large. No complaints here. My dining companion, nursing a cold, elected to stick with water. I drank to her health!
The American Hotel may be old-fashioned, but the management knows a breakthrough when they see one. Take the self-illuminating dinner menus they’ve started using. These technological marvels have pages that lights up when you open the cover, allowing patrons to read the menu without straining their eyes. Thus aided, we made our selections.
For starters, we ordered up a bowl of the butternut squash soup, an autumnal special that proved quite smooth and very creamy, with a nice touch of sage. A cold appetizer of smoked rainbow trout and fresh horseradish served with toast points was quite delicately flavored, and paired well with the gin martini. It felt like a genteel gloss on a more strongly flavored ethnic dish, where the smoke would be heavier and the bread would be rye, but that restrained gentility jibes entirely with the demeanor of the American Hotel.
That pattern of offering a dignified take on an earthy ethnic dish was repeated in the Long Island Peking Duck, one of the main courses we ordered. Peking duck is of course one of those classics of Chinese restaurants, where the crisp-skinned duck is served sliced, rolled inside thin pancakes with scallions and hoisin sauce, and eaten with the fingers. At the American Hotel, the duck arrives unsliced, garnished with a rosemary sprig and plated with stewed cherries. On the side are exquisitely buttery mashed potatoes and spaghetti squash. All is quite delicious, but really only the crispy skin betrays a hint of the “Peking” origins of the dish. You wouldn’t eat this Peking Duck with your fingers!
Then again, we didn’t come to the American Hotel for exotic eating. The Filet of Flounder Amandine was perfectly rendered, with a pleasing topcoat of slivered almonds, and also came with the buttered bliss of mashed potatoes and squash.
Desserts included a cheese plate with five different cheeses, including two varieties of brie and a tangy goat cheese—a nice tawny port went well with that. We also had the macadamia torte, scrumptious with whole macadamias, white chocolate, and Chantilly cream.
Happily sated, we took our leave of the dignified precincts of the American Hotel.
The American Hotel, 49 Main Street, Sag Harbor, 631-725-3535, theamericanhotel.com