Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Epicurean Adventures: My First Hamptons Restaurant Week Dinner!

How quickly does time fly. It seems just a week ago that I was mourning missing Long Island Restaurant Week when lo and behold, Hamptons Restaurant Week was already begun! Always a little behind the times here on Long Island (miss you, NOLA network, with your close communication, great PR placement, and worthy email blasts!), I actually got wind of Hamptons Restaurant Week a full week before it kicked off, which was an accomplishment to be proud of. This gave me adequate time to scope out my choices and make the most informed decision possible.

After much poring over maps and menus, only some of which were accessible directly from the site, I chose to make my reservation at 1 North Steakhouse in Hampton Bays. Their restaurant week menu looked like the best bang for the buck in terms of high-end, high quality. Granted, part of the appeal of sucking up the hour-plus drive out East was the option of $19 prix fixe menus, but for food that was a bit more grown-up? Well, the more common $25 prix fixe just made more sense.

I had originally planned to make my reservation for Saturday night, which would allow us to maximize our trip to the Hamptons since most of the beaches out East are dog-friendly until Memorial Day. We could then take Little B (my Baxter Bear) out for some fun in the sun before Boy and I had some grown-up time. However, a particularly horrendous week and my inability to remember to call after 5 pm to make the reservation led to our running off on Friday instead.

One part of the appeal of the Hamptons and Long Island's picturesque East End towns is the rustic country-ness of the whole area. Woods, canals, beaches, towering pine barrens, and country estates and horse property make up this area that is still not (and hopefully will never be) fully developed. But on the other hand, in a world where directions are no longer requested due to our overwhelming dependence on technology ... well, let's just say not everything is yet mapped correctly out there.

I typed into my trusty GPS Juliet (that's her British name; when I switch over to American, she's Abigail) the address of the restaurant - 1 North Shore Road, Hampton Bays - and she finds it effortlessly. Huzzah! Thinking all is well, I do as she says, "taking the motorway" as instructed ... and end up on a dirt road in the woods.

Dead serious ... off a trailer park, onto a one-lane dirt road in the middle of the fucking woods.

Juliet asked me to continue on this for a couple of miles. I was thinking, well, maybe the restaurant is super-exclusive and on the water in a preserve, and said as much to Boy, wondering aloud how on earth they attracted business from such a remote, inhospitable locale as the underside of my car dinged and scraped along mounds of dirt. Boy was less optimistic and suggested that I turn the f- around. I did the next best thing -- I called the restaurant and asked them if, by chance, they were located off a dirt road in the woods.

They most certainly were not.

The host let me know that Juliet had inadvertently led me to what was known as OLD North Shore Road, and that I did need to turn the f- around (although not in those particular words). He very, very kindly and patiently explained to me where to go and offered to move my reservation down. I accepted his gracious offer.

I finally reached 1 North with five minutes to spare for my reservation time, and was pleased with what I found. We were atop a hill overlooking a beach and the parking lot was full. A cozy, Pottery Barn-like beach house style was the vibe of the place, and we were immediately seated. The table was a little awkward -- I do hate sitting at a small table in the middle of the floor (pictured right, but this photo was pulled off their site; the restaurant was pretty full) -- but spacious and neat. Our waters were immediately filled, and menus presented. The full menu was not unreasonably priced, and their steaks came with dry-rubbed, marinated, or plain options.

Normally, I shy away from steakhouses that look to cover up meat flavors, but ... let's just say, I've been J&Rs-ing quite often as of late and am not as much a steak snob as I used to be. And this place had gotten several good professional reviews, so what the hey. And a nice steak dinner for $25? Hey-oh!

Anyway, the bread knocked me off my feet right away - plain or sun-dried tomato and herb ciabatta. I'm normally not huge into ciabatta since it's generally hard and dense, but this was warm and the seasoned one was phenomenal. I'm talking Italian herbs exploding on your tongue with every bite, and flavorful sun-dried tomatoes with a hint of moisture and more than a hint of hot summer sun. Little butter packets are always welcome (although I do like my butter in a cup at a nice restaurant ...), but not as welcome as the FABULOUS fresh green pesto in a cup that we slathered lavishly all over our ciabatta. This was, hands-down, some of the best pesto I've ever had, right up there with the $6/cup Farmer's Market pesto I used to buy in New Orleans.

When we placed our order -- from the prix fixe of course, house-poor as we are -- I was disappointed that Boy didn't opt for the more adventurous route and instead requested the same exact meal as me from start to finish. I'd had my eye on the bacon-wrapped sea scallops over corn salsa with apricot glaze, but it wasn't alluring enough for me to rescind my choice of lobster mac and cheese, something I fell for hard at last year's Taste of the Town in New Orleans (from 5 Fifty 5, Marriott). Sadly, though, it wasn't as good as that. The Gouda added nice flavor, but also a slightly sedimentary feel, and the sauce was tasty but thin. The lobster meat was good, too, but nothing to write home about since the chunks were only fairly sized.

Other nice first course options included lobster bisque and an arugula salad with warm blue cheese croutons, apples, walnuts, and raspberry vinaigrette. But never a one to choose salad over comfort food, what I picked made sense to me. The pasta was firm and delicious and they were shells, which I thought was cute, since it was then lobster and shells (!).

Service was fast here, and the 18-ounce, 21-day dry-aged ribeyes came out just as Boy scooped up his last bite of the mac and cheese. Served on a metal-in-wod plate, I had some trepidation due to my last experience with metal steak plates (Charlie's in New Orleans, much? That was the first time I had to absolutely force myself, teeth fully gritted, to at least remain neutral in a Where Y'at piece), but the blood thinly oozing out the beautiful seared-in grill marks took away some of that feeling. Beautifully criss-crossed on one side and straight-lined on the other, these sizeable steaks were tender and very velvety with the soy-based marinade barely salty and much less sweet than other Long Island steakhouse marinades.

It wasn't of the melt-in-your-mouth prime quality of say, Tellers or Vintage locally; Ruth's Chris, or Mr. John's Ristorante, but it was good. After all, I could barely finish the steak, and 18 ounces is usually child's play for me when it's a cheap steak. Rich and filling, it suited its purpose, though I am ashamed that I did have to reach for my salt shaker.

However, you can't beat the deal that was offered, especially since steakhouses usually offer sides a la carte and for this large ribeye, butter sauteed asparagus and simple but delicious roasted baby red potatoes were also provided.

Feeling slightly daunted, the creme brulee came, beautifully caramelized and not at all burnt, in a deep cup of thick, luxurious custard. The flavor was delicious, but Boy mentioned that it was a bit cooler temperature-wise than he preferred, probably due to the depth of the ramekin. Sadly, I was only able to power through half of it, great as it was, due to a noticeable expansion of my actual ab muscles and the fact that I now greatly resembled a woman with a fetus.

So would I come here again? For a menu like that, absolutely, after a day at the Westhampton Beach with friends -- nothing could be better to close out a day of leisure. However, with places like the aforementioned Vintage and Tellers within reach, I'm less tempted. But no regrets! This place was definitely very good, and I'm glad that this date night worked out much, much better than the last.

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