You never know when sensory memory will rear up and take center stage. On a recent night in Water Mill, the son of a son of a butcher found an artful plate placed on the table before him—potato crisps rising up from a rectangle of raw beef, topped with a quail egg yolk glistening like a tiny sun—as cause to reminisce.
Decades ago, his father and his father would stand in the kitchen of his childhood home, cutting and dicing a cherry-red cut on the chopping block, mixing in some onion, a bit of pickle and mustard, and of course the raw egg yolk, as a glass of wine was raised or a foamy-headed Schmidt’s was poured into a pilsner glass. Mystery and homespun mastery was at work, the wonder of how such basic ingredients could be crafted into a whole so much more delicious than its parts. That, and how much simple joy came from passing the finished dish around for a taste.
The superlative steak tartare is certainly not the only way to begin a meal at The Garden at Water Mill, but is no doubt a memorable one. And memory—those of the past and new ones to be created—really is at the heart of this place. When siblings Siobhan and Joseph Miller opened the restaurant, their first culinary venture together, early this past summer, the vision was to take a lifelong love of dining out with their own family and inject some fun into the notion of fine food and drink, to take things familiar and make them anew.
Reimagining the iconic yellow house that was formerly home to Robert’s restaurant, Siobhan and Joseph have taken great care to take grand advantage of the space. The inside goes for comfort and coziness, the minimalist farmhouse charm accented by original wood beams above and the fireplace at the west end of the dining room. At this time of year, however, the outside space particularly shines. Al fresco dining is a treat not to be taken for granted on the East End. Its season is far too fleeting, even as it seems to extend deeper into fall each year, so enjoy whenever and wherever you can. At The Garden, that can mean sitting at one of the communal family-style tables on the side patio or in the backyard, beneath tall trees and strings of café lights, or even strolling to the tree-canopied far back corner of the property. The entire space clearly has sharing—food, drinks, experience—in mind.
Now, soak in the surroundings and raise a glass. For those putting every effort toward hanging onto summertime vibes—and hey, why not?—the Sunburst Margarita is a beach-worthy nod to the classic tequila cocktail, adding orange to the traditional lime, while the Ultra Violet’s smoky and floral notes hit you with visions of bonfires even before that first sip of mezcal, crème de violette, lemon and agave. The namesake Garden is a bright blend of gin, cucumber, mint and lime, perfect for sunny afternoon sipping, and the Bitter Squeeze’s mix of dark rum, Angostura and lime seems somehow to make it easier to acknowledge that the sun sets a bit earlier each day now. Lest you need further proof that this isn’t your granddaddy’s cocktail menu, there are “Large Format” options such as the Garden G&T Cooler—gin, rosemary and tonic—and a fruity mix of rosé, Framboise and strawberry that you can have at your table simply by uttering the word “Unicorn.”
Small plates are a perfect approach to the kind of shared meal The Garden’s large-group seating encourages (but small groups go just fine with small plates, too). Keeping a raw theme going alongside the steak tartare, a tender octopus crudo with togarashi, yuzu and sea salt is the most exotic of three crudos on offer—tuna and scallop currently rounding out the trio.
Burrata has become a staple on myriad local menus, all too often being passed off as a replacement for mozzarella di Buffala. Here, the burrata gets elevated rather than relegated, surrounded not by tomatoes or red peppers but by a gaggle of strawberries reduced down with sugar and a touch of basil into a preserve-for-the-gods that perfectly balances the creamy, slightly salty cheese. “Did you ever have a cream cheese and jelly when you were a kid?” Siobhan asked two diners who were wondering aloud about the origins of the pairing. Sure, but never like this! You will want to scoop up every last drop of that strawberry concoction, so indulge in the house-made bread assortment, plated warm with herbed butter. And be prepared to be talking about the goat-cheese-filled brioche in reverent tones for days to come.
Under the guidance of chef Sam Sherman, the menu promises to play with a variety of flavors—witness an amuse-bouche of yellowtail crudo, watermelon and jalapeno with a touch of maple—while also evolving seasonally. Autumn’s arrival welcomes cornmeal fried Montauk Calamari, Crescent Farm Duck Ragu with paparadelle and goat cheese cream, and seared Long Island Striped Bass with red pepper puree, three sisters ragu and grilled cantaloupe, and Sherman’s face breaks into undeniable glee when he talks about heading down the road to the nearby farm for inspiration and ingredients.
A sea-salted breeze blowing through the gardens at The Garden reminds guests that the ocean is not far off, a fact underscored when the lobster risotto arrives and does what too few seafood risottos do—allowing the crustacean to come forward. It is comfort food taken to a higher level. Earthy hints from the peas, balsamic and pistachios are welcome, but there is no mistaking that lobster is the star, as it well should be.
While visions of that tartare dance in your head, remember that not all steak is meant to be consumed without being cooked, of course. The 180 Day Dry Aged Ribeye proves there are certain things worth waiting six-months for—served sliced at a perfect medium-rare with warm green bean salad, mushroom ragu and crispy-on-the-outside-smashed-soft-on-the-inside rosemary potatoes. Pair it with a glass of Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon, take it by the stem and raise it up here in this vibrant place where you will surely return on crisp, quiet fall nights and swirling summer weekends alike, whenever an oasis beckons. For those who have not taken the toastmaster class, may we suggest the words of poet Minnie Aumonier:
“When the world wearies and society fails to satisfy, there is always the garden.”
One you won’t soon forget, one that feels like home.
For more on The Garden at Water Mill, 755 Montauk Highway, Water Mill, visit