Hamptons Epicure: Top 18 Things I Ate in 2018

A scene from dining on the East End. Photo credit: Barbara Lassen

Eighteen is a small number to reduce an entire year of consumption down to—but, for the sake of delectable oversimplification, here goes. These items are excerpted from my monthly “top five” picks. I couldn’t possibly put these in order of deliciousness—just read it and eat

1. On January 28, I headed to the Springs Tavern for a Jackson Pollock birthday celebration (he would have been 106), with pretty low expectations. I’d never eaten at the newly revamped Springs Tavern and I was aware that a Jackson Pollock sort-of-cookbook came out in 2015. But how well did this starving artist eat in the mid-20th century? Well. If he and his wife, Lee Krasner, turned out the goods like the Springs Tavern kitchen did that night, he must have been a true gourmand! One of the simplest of offerings was the most outstanding, the Cross-Country Johnny Cakes (named for Pollock’s trip across the U.S. during the Depression with his brother and a bag of cornmeal) served piping hot with butter and maple syrup. I’d welcome Jackson Pollock and his kitchen know-how to my table any time.

2. Anthony Nappa Wine’s Rosato. It’s the first certified organic wine produced on the East Coast. Equally significant to many, it’s an outstanding rosé. Dark, savory, versatile—everything I most like in a rosé AND IT’S ORGANIC—like everything else on my locavore table. At last! Bonus points: Nappa’s organic wines are bottled sans capsule (that thick plastic sleeve over the cork, finish and neck), which means their entire package—glass bottle, linen label, cork–and–beeswax stopper—is recyclable or compostable. And his organic wines are affordably priced!

3. I always try a restaurant’s carrot soup given the opportunity. I’m rarely disappointed. But when I found a special offering of roasted carrot soup with pickled ginger and crabmeat at Buoy One in Riverhead I was especially taken. It had never occurred to me to “beef up” such a soup with seafood. The crab was a good choice. The pickle-y-ness of the ginger made for an interesting balance.

4. A distinctive taco in the sea of bland tacosameness, the chicken taco at Azao Café in Hampton Bays is the real deal—dark meat and skin cooked into tender submission. International cuisines embrace the dark. (You know that China ships all of its chicken breasts to the U.S. for the chump market, right?) Azao Café is in the former Orlando’s Café space at 40 West Montauk Highway, under new management. Same fabu menu.

5. Claude’s at the Southampton Inn, has been revamped, and its kitchen now holds Chef James Carpenter and many good things. His Satur Farms Little Gem Salad contains fennel fronds, micro greens, slightly pickled cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, radishes, pea shoots, tiny beet greens and, of course, Little Gem lettuce leaves, in a light shallot sherry vinaigrette. It’s summer on a plate.

6. Was there ever anything better than dinner at Starr Boggs restaurant in Westhampton Beach, followed by a show at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center? Not if you started off with the Grilled Shinnecock Calamari. The dish’s fresh-as-can-be squid in its spicy dressing with roasted peppers, grilled red onions, mesclun, orange supremes and shaved fennel remains among the best calamari in the world, bar none. (And the nostalgic fabu of orange supremes cracks me up every time.)

7. Oreya’s panisse. The little wonders they doled out at Dan’s Taste of Two Forks Presented by Farrell Building Company—with heirloom tomato salad, Meyer lemon aioli, kale gremolata and olive oil were to die for. (I didn’t get in line repeatedly for more only because I was wearing my official nametag.)

8. Dessert took the cake! When 14 chefs and hundreds of foodies gathered to celebrate Claudia Fleming’s contributions to the East End dining scene at the Halyard, outside Greenport, on July 7 at Dan’s Chefs of the North Fork event, it was all about love and dessert. A James Beard Award winning pastry chef and co-founder of the renowned North Fork Table & Inn, Fleming took the night off and allowed other dessert masters to shine in a post-dinner buffet. I was particularly taken with the Elderflower Olive Oil Cake with local blueberries and lemon mascarpone crema from Lombardi’s Love Lane Market, which was served by Lauren Lombardi herself. I’ve never been a big fan of olive oil cakes—they seemed second rate as compared to buttery confections—until now. I was drawn in, like a bee, by the violas garnishing the dish. The cake was in perfect balance—light but not fluffy, just sweet enough.

9. Slices of melon look like smiles for a reason! A honeydew melon from Quail Hill Farm. Yes, all melons are amazing when they reach the peak of their season, and honeydew is fabulous. But it wasn’t just the juicy lusciousness of this perfectly ripe muskmelon that seduced, it was also its size. As soon as I spotted this little baby at the Sag Harbor Farmers Market I knew it had to be mine. So small, so round, with its natural sections protruding outward like an overblown volleyball. I sniffed its stem end, still moist with the morning dew, or was it moist with longing? Perfection. Fine wines can only aspire to smell this good.

10. And a week later Quail Hill Farm’s watermelon looked particularly luscious. And it was!

11. The lowly donut is not lowly at all direct from the production line at the Milk Pail Fresh Market in Water Mill. I researched this. The tender, warm inner crumb wants to pop right out and into your mouth.

12. Head for the hill! It’s rare that I touch down at an eatery and think, “Wow, several of these dishes are top-five-worthy.” Rarer still is a beet salad that passes muster. But, happily, it can happen. The new Green Hill Kitchen on Front Street in Greenport was the site of just such a miracle. What qualifies their beet salad? The beets are pickled to just the right level to tastily contrast with the dab of Greek yogurt, the toasted hazelnuts and the crisp watermelon radish slices.

13. Their käse spätzle is mixed with corn and zucchini chunks, which you’d think would lighten the dish and maybe not in a good way. But no, it’s not noticeably lighter than a straight-ahead noodle dish, but somehow Chef Wolfgang Ban has prepared the vegetables in a way that enhances the lusciousness of this gruyere-driven dish.

14. The tuna with wasabi microgreens brought some welcome heat and the cauliflower with its bright salsa verde, pistachios and lemon zest was just right. Definitely worth a return trip soon.

15. When my husband and I headed into Lucharitos in Greenport for the first time I decided to order the most plebeian thing on the menu—a veggie Frida’s Salad. I’ve avoided Lucharitos for years despite many reports of favorable dining conditions. It looked like über trendy hipster bait and too-good-to-be-true with its whacky wrestling-cartoons-meet-vintage-bathing-beauty art and anything-goes atmosphere. If they could make a veggie salad sing I could believe the hype. This mélange of mixed local greens, tomato, corn salsa, salsa fresca and guacamole was outstanding—despite the fact that so little is in season right now. I throw my doubt-drenched towel into the ring—Little Lucharitos in Aquebogue is next!

16. I fell head-over-heels for the good-stuff-they-can’t-actually-call-“Port” from Sannino Vineyards in Peconic. Now I get to complete my locally sourced meals with sips of fine, local not-Port. If the traditional fortified red dessert wine is called Port because it’s from Portugal, let’s call this good stuff from the North Fork “Nort.” Bottoms up!

17. A double: the final course in the recent Macari Vineyards dinner at the Maidstone in East Hampton on November 30 was truly the piece de resistance: lavender panna cotta topped with honey poached pears, paired with Macari’s Block E Dessert Wine. I state for the record, once again, that I’m not generally a fan of eating lavender. BUT the intensity and slight bitterness of the lavender blossoms strewn about the plate were both the perfect foil to this gloriously unctuous pudding and the ideal counterweight to the concentrated tropical fruit flavors in this heady wine. Delizioso!

18. The butternut squash bánh mì at the Amber Waves Farmers Market in Amagansett. These slabs of squash are tasty, fermented? A little pickled? Whatever’s going on, it works swimmingly with the fresh greens, watermelon radish, apple slices and aioli on a big ciabatta roll. See you there come autumn!

Stacy is taking January off from all of this eating and drinking to complete her first cookbook with Hillary Davis. It’s due out in 2020.

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