Thursday, July 12, 2012

Bits & Morsels: Summer is upon us

The view from The Surf Lodge in Montauk.

by Erin Frankel

Summer is officially upon us. Now comes the steady weekend mass exodus to the East End of Long Island, aka the Hamptons. If you're palate is as picky out East as it is when in Mannahatta, here are some new and noteworthy choices for your dining pleasure:

Surf Lodge Margherita.
Byron at The Surf Lodge in Montauk: The Montauk favorite for boozing, schmoozing, wining, and dining is now under new management, with new chefs, new owners, and a new aura. Byron is meant to mimic the sensibilities of Byron Bay in New South Wales, Australia, a destination appreciated for its long sandy beaches and surfer community. The only thing lacking in Byron Bay is an impressionable restaurant, which is what Melbourne-born chef Chris Rendell has brought to The Surf Lodge's newest restaurant.

The menu is a combination of the simple and natural approach to Australian cuisine with Asian influences, and a farm-to-table foundation. Chef Rendell aims for a casual approach in his thoughtfully sourced dishes, which are perfectly portioned and priced. Start with the light and refreshing watermelon salad topped with minted garden peas and small pieces of sheep's milk ricotta; the sashimi salad with locally sourced white radish and cucumber drizzled with an East-Asian soy-ginger dressing; or the salt and pepper squid dressed with a dollop of lime and dipped into a jam-based sauce with a tomato-chilli paste for that extra kick.

As for entrees, I suggest you try Rendell's lobster roll, which is typically on the list of specials each day. Large chunks of fresh lobster meat are mixed with celery, mayonnaise, and horseradish, neatly tucked into a toasted bun. Definitely one of the best lobster rolls the Hamptons has to offer this season. Another great staple on the menu is the linguine with fresh roasted tomato sauce topped with mozzarella and basil pumpkin-seed pesto. Or, you can go for the grilled whole fish, caught fresh daily. On our visit, it was a nice, light fluke, prepared with a refreshing lemon herb oil and paired with garlic rosemary potatoes and a gem salad. As for sides, my favorite is the heirloom tomato and burrata salad, a straightforward yet appealing mix of summer flavors.

Byron at The Surf Lodge

183 Edgemere Street
Montauk, NY
Watermelon salad.
The heirloom tomato & burrata.
Salt & pepper squid.
Avocado & seaweed salad with green beans, red peppers, sesame seeds, and shrimp under a soy-mirin dressing.
Sashimi salad.
Linguine with roasted tomato sauce topped with mozzarella & basil pumpkin-seed pesto.
The lobster roll.
The grilled whole fish (fluke) of the day.
The Hamptons Players Club: Finally someone gave the nod to the horsey history of East Hampton. The Players Club, the newest (and quite dapper) eating and drinking grounds in East Hampton, is an equestrian-chic restaurant (which also operates as part-beer garden and part-lounge) all decked out in jaunty polo details (this also includes the employees' swanky uniforms).

The Mediterranean fare here is simple and reliable. There's a broad selection for each and every taste level, from the Tapas sampler as a starter — a nice mix of the Middle-Eastern favorites of tabouleh, hummus, bruschetta, tzadiki, artichokes, white-bean salad, olives and whole wheat crisps — to the light petite avocado salad with fresh tomatoes, red onion, fine herbs, orange segments, and crispy shallots under a zesty citrus vinaigrette — to the arugula & fennel salad with Belgium endive and grilled tuna under shaved parmesan and light lemon fennel dressing — or the more simple and classic Caesar salad with freshly shaved parmesan and crunchy whole wheat croutons.
Interior and exterior of The Players Club.
If you want something heartier, I'd go for the fresh fish tacos in a warm white corn tortilla with Manchego cheese, avocado, pico de gallo, and a cilantro-lime dressing; or the creamy-licious whole-wheat mac & cheese.

Still, the real reason to come here is for its Polo-themed ambience. From the club's royal blue and forest green colors to the staff's stylish Hamptons-esque uniforms (accessorized by Michael Kors with white denim shorts, aviators, and wedges for men and polo-style grass-green mini dresses for the female hostesses), this fashionable equestrian arrangement is a go-to destination this summer.

The Hamptons Players Club
103 Montauk Highway
East Hampton, NY
The Tapas sampler.
The petite avocado salad.
Caesar salad.
Arugula & fennel salad with tuna.
The fish tacos.
A close-up of the fish tacos.
Almond Bridgehampton: This old Bridgehampton favorite is still thriving. This traditional French bistro operates out of an historic space at One Ocean Road, with 100-year-old tin ceilings and outdoor seating for those who want to see and be seen on the streets of Bridgehampton. The menu remains reliable with seasonal and daily specials. New favorites on the menu include the asparagus vinaigrette, a Joe's fried egg on top of grilled asparagus with house-smoked bacon and Parmesan toile; the fresh summer salad, a refreshing mix of north fork Asian greens, shell beans, and pecorino Toscano under a green goddess dressing; the arugula Roquefort salad, with candied walnuts and fresh beets; the roast chicken drizzled with a light lemon sauce, accompanied by crushed potatoes; and the Le Grande macaroni & cheese entree with bits of prosciutto and chopped truffles.

However often the menu changes, one thing remains the same at this old Hamptons' gem: on each and every evening you'll find Eric, the friendly, outgoing, and most personable owner, greeting each customer (most of whom are regulars) in his polo shirt and blue jeans.

Almond Bridgehampton
One Ocean Road
Bridgehampton, New York
Arugula Roquefort salad.
Summer salad.
Roast chicken with a lemon sauce.
Le Grande macaroni & cheese.
Southampton Social Club: Where the scenesters dine for the experience of seeing and being seen without a nod to the food, Southampton Social Club is their Friday and Saturday evening destination. This upscale restaurant gives diners a good reason to stick around after dessert. Situated in the old Madame Tongs space, the Venetian-styled dining room outfitted with a large Chandelier and lavish accoutrements, is luxurious and garish. There's a Library Lounge filled with oversized banquettes, a large mahogany 50-seat bar, and a spacious lawn with a fire pit and wood furniture amongst the lavish gardens.

You can actually get any seafood-centric dish here — from the mini lobster rolls served in a toasted mini croissant ... to the sesame encrusted ahi tuna on top of wakame seaweed salad, lotus chips and wasabi caviar under a sweet soy reduction ... to the pan-seared Striped Bass Provencal on top of organic red quinoa and roasted local asparagus.

As innovative as the menu might be, Southampton Social Club is over over-priced, and the service could use some improvements.

Southampton Social Club
256 Elm Street
Southampton, NY
Mini lobster rolls.
Sesame-encrusted ahi tuna.
Pan-seared striped bass Provencal.
A pitcher of Margherita.
Banzai Burger: A new outdoor, casual spot has opened on the Napeague stretch between Amagansett and Montauk, providing juicy burgers, locally sourced fish, and an excellent raw bar.

The Argentine James Beard nominee chef Alan Hughes delivers grilled shark on a toasted baguette with tomato confit, frisee and tapenade, and succulent lamb burgers accompanied by a nice serving of French fries, tossed with thyme, rosemary and sage.

Not digging a burger? Maybe sushi? There's even an award-winning sushi chef, Isao Yoshimura, who hails from the NYC staple, East. Yoshimura personally catches the fish on a daily basis for his Japanese concoctions, which include local black sea bass and fluke.

When opening a restaurant on 27 on the border of Montauk, the ambience needs to be laid-back, which Banzai clearly is. The interior has whitewashed floorboards, banquettes in the rear, and a casual beer garden (ask for the rosé!).

Banzai Burger
2095 Montauk Highway
Amagansett, NY
Quinoa salad.
Cheeseburger and fries.
Lamb burger.
A selection of local black sea bass and fluke sushi rolls.