Thursday, August 9, 2012

Horse of a Different Color

The Tanger Outlets in Riverhead are a great outing destination for the summer. The long highway ride there gives you a reason to cruise with the top down or sunroof open, and the massive selection of designer shops is a spender's paradise. Newly added are furniture outlets to stores like Restoration Hardware, Pottery Barn, and West Elm, which brings me to why I was out there in the first place.

The couch of contention.
We're redecorating our living room, because obviously, changing our form of seating means that the rest of the room no longer matches and I hate everything. Apparently, this is a normal visceral response (the depression and dislike of everything in the house). I've been assured that shopping will help me push through the hatred of said house and its "outdated" (but not really, when I think with the logical part of my brain) furnishings, and so shopping I went with one of my creative genius friends, Liz, who -- awesome for me! -- also happens to be a full-time and immensely talented interior designer.

After some serious power-shopping, which I emerged empty-handed from, to her great chagrin ("Accessories! You need accessories! And pillows!"), sustenance was needed. I hightailed it to my Yelp app and found a $20 for $40 deal to the Dark Horse Restaurant on Main Street, which boasted gluten-free friendliness (which doesn't apply to me; I just think that's extra friendly. Plus, brioche bread instead of wheat flour bread is just plain exciting).

My first impression was that the name didn't fit. I thought it'd be dark. I'm not totally sure why, but I think it may have been just because of the name of the place. Instead, it was painted a goldenrod yellow with large windows, welcoming black banquette seating (don't walk into them -- I did and skinned my knee, like a dingus), and was bright and modern.

A really impressively elegant New American/Eclectic menu made up the offerings, and although it looks like a relatively short list of offerings, it's clear that quality trumps quantity over here. There just isn't a need for a longer menu--it was more than challenging to make a few selections from the list of options. Everything sounded splendid, from salads to apps to entrees.

Eye-catchers in the starters section included the North Fork Salad (baby spinach, sauteed mushrooms, bacon dressing), bison paté (whaaaat?!), and "Good Ground" New England-style clam chowder. The available entrees made decision-making even more of a challenge, with refined classics like short ribs with house-made pickled onions and smashed potatoes (pickled things are apparently very "in/hipster" right now), duck two ways (breast and confit with blackberry brandy with creamed spinach and almond rice), white bean and white pumpkin ragout, lentil and potato stew, and (dum-da-duuuum!) bison ground steak or Piedmontese beef burger on brioche with hand-cut fries and BBQ sauce.

What to do, what to do? Apparently, ask a whole lot of questions of the first-day waiter who was helping us. After torturing him in the friendliest of manners, I finally decided to start with a cup of grilled shrimp bisque and to order the Brasserie Salad topped with duck confit (only a $5 charge -- the meat add-ons to the salad are SHOCKINGLY reasonably priced, as are the salads themselves). Liz ordered the pork loin with blood orange demiglace.

The soup was astonishingly good. It was richly creamy without being overwhelming. There was a little separation in the soup, but the taste was smooth and comforting with hints of tomato, sweet shrimp, and a nice green flavor that came from the fresh scallions diced on top. Subtle and satisfying, in a nutshell.

The salad was excellent as well. A now-classic combination of baby greens, Gorgonzola chunks, and candied walnuts, this salad benefitted from the addition of sweet, ripe Fuji apple slices and diced beets. I had the dijon-laced French dressing on the side, but used a minimal amount because of the robustness of the rest of the ingredients in the salad. Everything tasted fresh and clean, which was the perfect foil to the rich flavors of the meaty duck confit, a crisp treat for the meat purist. Just a hint of salt was the ideal accent for duck, letting the meat itself steal the show.

The pork loin that Liz got was outstanding. Twice the size of the normal pork loin, this was no mere slices or medallions. This thing was cut like a filet, and seared like one, too. There are few things more satisfying than feeling the slight resistance of a crunch on a thick slice of meat. But one of the things that IS more satisfying than that is when you put that beautifully cooked piece of meat in your mouth and it turns out to be divine.

The blood orange demi wasn't overly sweet, perfectly balanced, and the viscosity of the sauce was enough to grip on to each bite without being actually thick. The grilled zucchini (veggie of the day) was a simple preparation (lightly grilled, very lightly touched with salt), but the lemon-buttered grilled corn on the cob is enough to turn you into an animal, bursting broken kernels off the cob as you tear into the sweetness of fresh-picked, height-of-the-season, local Long Island corn. I didn't even try the roasted potatoes, so distracted was I by the corn.

Although we were in a rush and service was unhurried, we figured there was no harm in taking a peek at the dessert menu. We ordered the ice cream-topped blondie, which turned into a blondie soup of caramel sauce. The tower of whipped cream was nice, but with everything else souping on the plate, we felt a bit ridiculous as we caught ourselves pushing pieces of the dessert into it to get blondie crumbles (yes, the blondie itself melted, too) on the spoon. The peanut butter brittle accents were nice, but not necessary. Off to the side, they were forgotten.

We left feeling satisfied, but not sick or stuffed. The portions were great -- generous without being gluttonous -- and the flavors were so incredibly clean without being overly simple. Preparations were light but refined, and the prices were totally reasonable. Our food bill came to only about $25 or so for two people. I can't wait to go back there with Boy and try some of the other stuff on the menu. After all, I think I may need a few decorative accessories after all ... ;)

No comments:

Post a Comment