Haute Burgers, Dining Trends and Awesome Eateries

I can’t complain about being the person who reviews more East End restaurants than anyone else.

In fact I never complain about dining out—only about “filling out.” I try to keep some perspective on gorging myself in the Hamptons—by occasionally gorging myself in the big city.

Last week a copy of New York Magazine appeared on my kitchen table. In it restaurant critic “Adam Platt Ranks The Top Restaurants in New York in order!,” just as the cover screams. One hundred one restaurants in all. I love that our society just becomes more and more food centric. (His #1 is Eleven Madison Park, but please, keep reading.)

The next day, a copy of The New York Times was waiting for me on my desk at work. In it their retired restaurant critic, Sam Sifton, lists his “Top 10 New Restaurants of 2011.” All 10 are in New York, of course.

No way could I publish a ranked listing of my fave East End restaurants—I’d be eaten alive! On this narrow strip of island, you gotta watch where you step—it could land you in the ocean. I do offer recommendations when cornered. (My facialist, Angelina, has my top five list, which she shares with anyone who asks.)

But I think it’s interesting to note some restaurant trends as we head into a new year. When it comes to Hamptons dining, though our chefs clearly take an interest in trends, we’re kind of a world apart.

Sifton notes in the introduction to his top 10 that “It suggests a strong year for smart-casual cooking, the sort of food that takes a lot of work to prepare but is often served by people in untucked shirts and flash sneakers.” Hmmm, I had to look up what a “flash sneaker” is. Young people can’t afford to live in the Hamptons—so, in the summer, lots of younger people come from around the world to work in our restaurants. It lends some flair when English is improved by fun foreign accents. In the Hamptons they tuck.

Sifton’s #10, Danji, offers “a Korean take on a Japanese izakaya.” That sounds cool, apart from the “fiery taste of downtown,” but I’m quite happy with Matsulin in Hampton Bays and Sakura in Riverhead. Sifton’s #1 is The Dutch in SoHo. I haven’t yet had the pleasure. Apparently it’s largely about the pie. I haven’t found my dream pie in the Hamptons yet—though the Modern Snack Bar’s lemon meringue looks really cool. I hear that a serious pie place may be opening in Sag Harbor Village this summer…

I agree with Platt’s determinations, that is, we are in agreement on the few restaurants we’ve both had the pleasure of experiencing, with one exception. We could agree to disagree about Eataly, apparently I didn’t pay enough to have a transformative experience.

The last time Platt published this sort of exhaustive list was six years ago. He writes that “Farm-to-table joints outnumber fancy Asian-fusion palaces on this version of the list.” This is also the way of it in the Hamptons. Farm-to-table is the hottest of trends, in fact it’s grown into a movement, well on its way to becoming de rigueur among top East End restaurants. The Riverhead Project in Riverhead, Luce + Hawkins in Jamesport and Amarelle in Wading River stand out as being extremely, deliciously local. The fact is, the very best, freshest produce is local— because it doesn’t have to travel far or undergo storage.

An emphasis on “comfort foods” is also a popular trend on this end of the island. Roast chicken and mashed potatoes, anyone?

The local artisanal cheese movement is taking off. Catapano Farms in Southold, Goodale Farms in Aquebogue and Mecox Bay Dairy in Bridgehampton are all crankin’ out award-winning cheeses. And many of our local wineries have matured, also garnering multiple awards. Yum.

Platt’s #14, Minetta Tavern, amused me. He writes, “The faux speakeasy is the dominant dining genre of our recessionary times, after all.” Hmmm, no faux speakeasies out this way—though there may be a few actual speakeasies operating as restaurants from back in the day. “Prohibition cocktails” are a trend in Hamptons drinkeries. Amusingly, Prohibition drink recipes were designed to mask the taste of bad liquor—our Hamptons mixologists now make them from the finest ingredients available. It works.

Long Island gets a shout-out under Platt’s #31, Seasonal. In a list of “impeccably fresh Greenmarket ingredients” Aquebogue’s Crescent Farm duck gets a mention. Summer South Forker Graydon Carter also gets a nod. His Waverly Inn comes in at #95.

The new term “vegivore” gets thrown around a lot throughout Platt’s listings. A locavore who is vegetarian. The Hamptons are a good place to be a vegivore—if be one you must—in the summer. We don’t yet have a lot of farmers with greenhouses to produce produce year-round, but it’s a growing trend. Sunset Beach Farm in Sag Harbor is growing herbs this winter. Other farmers are getting on board as the Saturday Fair Food Market at Bay Burger has shown there is a year-round market for local goods.

I feel intensely, professionally jealous of Platt’s #26, Picholine, because in it he uses the word “fusty.” Damn, that’s a fine word, one that I will likely never be able to use in a review. Hamptons restaurants turn over way too quickly to ever qualify as “fusty.” Even the American Hotel, that bastion of tradition and butter, is not “fusty.” Oh well.

Haute burgers” have landed in the Hamptons, as have sliders. But decent burgers can still be had at old standbys like The Driver’s Seat in Southampton and The Corner Bar in Sag Harbor. If you really “need” a special mix of fat-added meats and spices, I say go to your local meat store like the Village Prime Meat Shoppe in East Quogue or Tim’s Prime Meats in Sag Harbor and grill it up for yourself. I mean, the only reason to pay someone to grill a burger is so that you don’t have to deep-fry your own potatoes. Ooh, local potatoes…

I just don’t know where I can buy a $55 crab cake in the Hamptons—I might have to go to The Four Seasons (Platt’s #52) for that experience! No, probably not. When I’m in the city I mostly stick to my favorite little Indian place on Columbus—that address is top secret.

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