People often tell me that when they read my restaurant reviews they feel like they are right there with me, enjoying the meal. Many people comment on the relatability of my regular dining companions,’ “Husband” and “Teenage Boy,” eating habits picky and voracious, respectively. I didn’t know how popular my “best of” food picks lists were until I didn’t do one for 2016. After a week of staycation, I came back to a bunch of emails asking about the best things I ate in 2016. So here, in chronological order, is my top ten: That Meetball Place’s tzatziki sauce. Made fresh daily, this stuff could probably make a ball of anything palatable. That Meetball Place opened in January of 2014 on Patchogue’s West Main Street.
This is what I wrote about the Soupe de poulet à l’Oriental en croûte at Pierre’s in Bridgehampton in my March restaurant review: “My soup of chicken broth, raisins, potatoes, carrots and coconut milk topped with (crunchy but delicate) puff pastry was a delight. It was very mildly curried. And Pierre’s signature bowls hold quite a lot of soup.” Quality, presentation, quantity, boom!
The Montauk Fishburger at Almond in Bridgehampton. Context is a lot. This burger has a pronounced fish flavor, which came as a surprise. As I wrote in my April review of Almond: “Served on a locally sourced bun with sliced tomato and raw Spanish onion, this burger of local skate and yellow fin tuna and Thimble Islands kelp hits all the marks. Crispy on the outside, smooth and rich on the inside. Served with kim chee made in Almond’s basement and their signature skins-on fries, it was a substantial meal. The kim chee is more about a rolling hit of heat than it is about a ‘hot-and-run’ powerhouse of heat. It should please both the kim chee maven and the kim chee novice.” The Montauk Fishburger Project debuted in January of 2016. That’s when an alliance of East End chefs announced its initiative to reconnect local eaters to an abundant nutritional resource being responsibly harvested from the waters off the East End. This Fishburger, which utilizes only local species of wild finfish that are rated sustainable by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), was created by adapting a recipe from chef Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin. The Montauk Fishburger is also on the menu at Rowdy Hall in East Hampton. I have tasted the future, it is good.
The Barley Pilaf at Ariana in Huntington. It just is. So filling, so balanced in its savory perfection. While you’re there, be sure to have a cup of their signature Mashawa! A vegetarian soup made with mung beans, black beans, spices and herbs. Again, balance is all. Also, hot soup on a cold day is Shazamtastic.
Chef Marco Barrila’s housemade Fagotini at Manna (the former Mirko’s space) in Water Mill. As I noted in my October restaurant review: “These tiny pasta purses in a truffled mushroom sauce, stuffed with gorgonzola dolce, are indescribably good!”
Sometimes a dish is outstanding because it is so new and different, sometimes a dish stands out because you think “I could eat this every day.” The Belgian Endive & Pear Salad at Le Charlot in Southampton is of the latter type of “garden variety outstanding.” I wrote in my December restaurant review: “I started with what, despite the overall high quality of the meal, was a particular standout: the Belgian Endive & Pear Salad. A beautiful study in pale—walnuts, freshly ground black pepper and arugula set against the pears, endive and Roquefort. Of course, its subtle flavors and crunch, against the bite of Roquefort, are what most endeared it to me.”
Licia’s Parker House Rolls from Loaves & Fishes Food Shop in Sagaponack are beyond. My grandmother taught me to make respectable Parker House rolls when I was a kid. I don’t know how these babies have so much structure while remaining soft and light. I think there’s a hint of rosemary, but I know that that’s kosher salt on top. Chef Brian Szostak’s Quinoa Couscous at the Bridgehampton Inn. The question: how to push quinoa past edible and into the sphere of deliciousness? Answer: add little balls of gluten! Both the flavor and the texture of this dish are exceptional!
At Dopo La Spiaggia’s new outpost in East Hampton, in the former Race Lane space, Chef Maurizio Marfoglia offers southern Italian signature dishes, as well as new specialty items. The basic menu is the same as that of the original Sag Harbor restaurant. So I guess you could sit down in either place for the umami-amazing cavolini—shaved Brussels sprouts in a Caesar dressing with toasted pine nuts—as long as the sprouts are in season. As Tina Fey might say, “You want to go to there!”