The first time I ever made the trip to Shelter Island’s 18 Bay was six years ago, during my first summer out east. I met fellow friends from the wine industry for what was supposed to be a short dinner. That wending meal, which included a roasted puck of rare meat and a 1991 Tenuta La Meridiana “Campo delle Piane” Boca, lasted hours, well into the night.
The closing server, sweeping the floors, indicated that it was time to pack our things and go. But 18 Bay had proven an unintentional point, which is that time can get lost in its dining room.
Husband-and-wife team Adam Kopels and Elizabeth Ronzetti opened the restaurant in a Victorian-style building erected in 1893 by decorated Civil War hero Marcus Duval. Duval’s family had deep roots on Shelter Island, and the building itself was the Island’s original post office and general store, selling everything from ice to butchered meat to lamp oil. The street-facing windows are original, a nod to that historic character.
It’s impossible to talk about 18 Bay without discussing the food — but it’s equally impossible to talk about the food, because the food is always changing. I remember, quite distinctly, one meal I enjoyed on the restaurant’s front porch, where an intermezzo of fresh pasta with crab, jalapeño, and toasted breadcrumbs disappeared in a flash.
Each week, the chefs announce a new fixed menu, consisting of an antipasti plate (four tiny bites on one composed plate), a pasta course, an entrée course — guests choose one — and a dessert.
The menu tracks the seasons. As I write this, the antipasti includes duck confit with stone fruit mostarda, I&Me Farm field greens with wild rose vinaigrette, fried local squid with chili and mint, and fluke crudo with agretti and Wickham’s rhubarb. The pasta course is a hand-cut fettuccine verde with oysters, pancetta, and breadcrumbs. Diners can choose between a roasted striped bass with summer vegetables and green tomatoes or grilled porcelet with local sour cherries and fennel for their entrée. And for dessert? Lemon olive oil cake with roasted stone fruits.
The restaurant also operates a “crudo bar,” which opens each day at 3 PM and serves whatever happens to be freshest from the sea that day, but raw.
Did I mention the pasta tasting? Keto dieters, beware: It’s a five-course menu, which changes daily. Hand-made pasta. Five courses. Imagine, if you will, the infinite possibilities. Is there anything more indulgent than a meal composed entirely of pasta?
18 Bay sources its meals as locally as possible, using Wickham’s Fruit Farm, Zombie Free Farms, The Farm Beyond, Terry’s Farm, P&H Soda Company, Sang Lee Farms, and Southold Fish Market as its purveyors.
The magic of the restaurant, I have determined, lies in the ephemeral. No matter how many times I return to 18 Bay, the experience is always unique. You can’t fall too deeply in love with a particular dish, because no dish is long for this world. In the normal circuitry of a restaurant, this is counterintuitive. Restaurants want you to fall in love with certain dishes. They want you to come back and order those dishes over and over again.
But that’s not the point at 18 Bay. The point is that every single time you walk through the doors, it’s a reinvention. You get to be a different diner, and the kitchen gets to put on a different performance. Maybe that’s why it’s one restaurant I am committed to eating at every single year. I need to see its latest interpretation of the season. It doesn’t even feel like a choice.