Race Lane Restaurant, East Hampton

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What a wonderful way to end my birthday week. My party decided to go to Race Lane Restaurant on Race Lane in East Hampton. Terrific food, beautiful presentation, trained staff, thoughtful menu and wine list, and attention to detail were just some of the things that made this night a special experience.

The ambiance was chic, comfortable, and romantic. The fireplace in the dining room is surrounded by seats to sit and take in the atmosphere and enjoy your company. The expansive bar allows for mingling, as well as the banquettes that line the lounge area.

The host was attentive, personable, and on the ball. Some of us joined the rest of the party at the copper topped bar. We sat and had red wine all around before moving to our table. We were soon greeted by our waiter, Michael, who was very knowledgable about the menu. Without peeking at a note pad, as I often find waiters doing to remind them of the specials, Michael recited the specials in detail from memory, even answering intricate question about ingredients that comprised the specials. We ordered drinks and examined the versatile menu with raw bar.

As soon as I spotted the foie gras appetizer, I knew I had to try it. Though I had foie gras recently off the American Hotel dinner menu, I wanted to make a comparison. The portion of foie gras was comparable, but I have to say, the ginger-pear chutney with brioche and vanilla became the clear winner, and for $8 less, may I add. I ate the chutney until there was no more on my plate; I couldn’t get enough. It was sweet but not overly sugary, and it had smooth and chunky textures which gave it good mouth feel in contrast to the melt in your mouth foie gras. A friend tried the beet salad special. I can’t remember all the ingredients, but if you order it, know you’re in for a treat. There’s horseradish in the description, but I couldn’t detect the taste of horseradish. It was earthy with candied nuts and a touch of sweetness. The table wanted more. Another favorite appetizer was the octopus with tomato confit, kalamata olives, parsley and pickled red chili. The octopus was extremely tender, which made the dish. The combination of the confit, olives, and pickled chili played perfectly off each other to deliver a bit of a kick, but not to overpower the taste of the octopus. We all shared super fresh, local Montauk pearl oysters with cucumber mignonette and blood orange granita. Plump and simply delicious.

The entrées that shined through as sure bets were the braised short ribs with baby carrots, beets, horseradish gremolata and potato; the grilled Berkshire pork chop with a bacon scallion pancake, zucchini, and cherry mustardo; and the special 14 ounce NY strip steak with caramelized cippolini with burgundy reduction and truffle butter, which we had prepared medium-rare. Some notes on the entrées: the short ribs were a bit too fatty for one of the diners and it was commented that the portion was small, two small short ribs. I agree it did look insufficient. In stark contrast, the Berkshire pork chop was huge, juicy, and very tasty. The best liked out of the three was the generously thick NY strip. It was agreed it wasn’t overly fatty, it was very tender, and through the sauce that adorned it, you could really taste that it was a good tasting cut of beef.

For dessert we tried a little of everything. The strawberry shortcake was the standout winner. It looked so inviting, we all dug in without taking a picture first, so, I apologize for that. The strawberries were naturally sweet and fresh. The pound cake was light and airy. Each bite was savored by all. Thank goodness it was a good sized portion so everyone could have some.

Overall, a well-paced, very tasty and versatile meal. No one was disappointed by any aspect of their culinary experience, save a couple of comments, and expectations going in were high. I highly recommend Race Lane for a special occasion or romantic evening for two. It’s trendy without being ostentatious, and the staff is very accommodating and pleasant. Some items are a bit pricey. But, with everything taken into account, the dining experience as a whole made it well worth the cost.

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PS Sorry the pics are so dark. Was trying not to make more of a spectacle out of our table by using the flash than we already had. LOL

Fresh Hamptons, Bridgehampton

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Fresh Hamptons, simply known as “Fresh” is off of Main Street in Bridgehampon. I’ve heard of this restaurant throughout the summer, but never got around to going. Well, I didn’t know what I was missing. Now I do and I’m sure to be back. There were some bumps in the road with the staff along the way, but overall, it was an enjoyable dinner experience.

The food, oh my gosh! The food is local when possible, in season, organic, and “fresh”. The menu is to salivate over if you like raw, vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free choices. Brilliantly, the chef, Todd Jacobs, has incorporated a wide array of seafood, a chicken dish, braised short ribs, steak, and duck into the menu. So, there’s something for everyone.

Let’s start with the decor. I would call it rustic. It has a comfortable feel with an open floor plan arrangement. There are tables to accommodate larger parties at the ready, tables in the middle and across the side wall, and generously sized booths along the back wall. There’s enough space between the tables that you don’t feel you’re on top of the table next to you. I noticed there were no children throughout our three hour meal, but they do provide a children’s menu. The bar is inviting, though I think they overdid it with the Halloween decorations. We were greeted by a nice enough hostess and led to our booth.

The first thing I noticed beyond decor was there seemed to be more staff than diners. A lot of staff was wondering around, seemingly, with not much to do. We sat, we waited… We waited. Then our waiter appeared. A young man from Mexico who shall remain nameless as not to embarrass him. He took our drink order. I was the designated driver, so I ordered a large bottle of Pellegrino with lemon and lime. My friend ordered a specialty margarita called “the smashing pumpkin”, then my other friend ordered a glass of wine. Our drinks took a while to make it to the table. A lovely young woman brought them over and the waiter followed with a bottle of wine. He had removed the foil from the bottle before asking if this was the bottle we ordered. Rookie mistake. When he approached, my friend reminded him she had ordered a glass of wine, not a bottle. His face dropped. Apparently my friend had ordered a glass of wine off the bottles only side of the wine list. She wasn’t about to drink the bottle of wine herself, so asked he take it back and bring her a glass. We took another look at the wine list and saw the bottle the waiter partially opened was $135. We felt terrible, but from the waiter’s face, not as badly as he felt. My other dining partner made up for it somewhat with the $15 specialty margaritas.

We were given printed out menus on clipboards, something different. There were several pages to study, and the menu has been cut down from the in season menu according to Chef Todd. I’m glad we were occupied with the menu as it took a good twenty minutes before another young woman came over with piping hot rolls. But, as with the rest of the meal, the quality and goodness of the food compensated for the slow service. The rolls must have come right out of the oven. They were crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. You had your choice of plain or multi-grain. No butter was served. So, we used the rosemary infused olive oil that was on the table for dipping. They also keep balsamic vinegar on the table, but no other condiments or salt or pepper. We were told the specials and continued to peruse the lengthy menu, with joy, may I add.

We finally decided on some small plates to be able to try as many things as possible. Unfortunately, I wasn’t with a party of ten or so. There was so much on the menu I wanted to try I could hardly contain my excitement. We ordered a Thai dish: Thai green curry summer vegetables with basil, zucchini, eggplant, string beans, peppers, onions, tomatoes, spinach, green chili, coconut milk, and Thai basil. The first thing that awakens the senses is the smell. A spicy broth, as Thai curries are known for. The flavor was simple and well balanced. Again, it was spicy. But, the spice didn’t detract from the individual flavors of the vegetables. Next we tried the local, organic, Yukon potatoes roasted with duck cracklings, shallots and dill. The potatoes were very good, and they came with plenty of cracklings which was a treat. I believe a hit of salt would have been helpful. Next was the organic, whole grain red quinoa with local, organic tomatoes and fresh sage. A clean flavor with the tomatoes and sage, lending a burst of fresh flavor to the earthy red quinoa. This was followed by the oven roasted, local, organic butternut squash with Indian madras curry, caramelized onions and fennel pollen. This was my favorite. The squash was served in chunks that were fork tender, seasoned with the madras curry which is simply a spice and not a sauce as people often associate with curry. The squash was sweet and savory at the same time. It was not spicy. The onions were caramelized which added to the depth of flavor. We also ordered the crisp, baked, organic kale chips with olive oil and sea salt. My only complaint, they weren’t evenly seasoned. My first kale chip was super salty, yet I went back for more. Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Foods fame on the Travel Channel suggests always trying things twice, two bites, whether you like it or not. So, I went back for another chip. No salt. Hmmm. I suppose I had enough of a lingering salt taste in my mouth to carry over to my second piece. They were nice and crispy, however. Thin and nearly melted in our mouths. Unfortunately, that was the only dish remaining with food on it when we were finished. The main meal, from order to finish, took about two hours. We had a lot of laughs, so, it was well paced for us. But, if I were in a hurry, I would have been frustrated.

Here’s the inexperienced staff part, again. The waiter never asked anyone if they wanted a second drink. We waited patiently and ended up flagging him down. The bartender finally brought the drinks over. We finished the bottle of sparkling water, but was never asked if we’d like another. Flagging down the staff for missing items was a theme to the evening. And, the young woman with the rolls never asked if we wanted another while we were looking over the menu for close to a half hour. We had to ask. After finishing our meal, the food runner, who looked no older that 15-years old, offered us duck and another plate. Wrong table, we told him gently. The one thing we didn’t have to ask for was the dessert menu. The desserts were just as interesting and appetizing as the main menu. We had to order the crème brûlée. Cool, smooth custard with a warm, sugary, semi-burnt top which was, as my friend put it, the best crème brûlée she’s ever had. Then we shared the chocolate crépes with white chocolate mousse filling in a chocolate sauce garnished with fresh mint. For lack of a better expression, OMG! Velvety, thin crépes made of chocolate was genius. The white chocolate filling was slightly cool and refreshing against the chocolate sauce. Unlike my counterparts, I enjoy a little mint with each bite. It made the dessert. I haven’t had a dessert this delicious and well executed since I can remember. It was worth waiting for. Oh yes, the waiter forgot to put in the order for the crépes, but apologized and brought them out fairly quickly. I’m including a picture of the chocolate crépes, but the picture doesn’t express the play on textures and flavors. It’s a sure winner.

There was so much on the menu we were too full to try. So, I’ll go back to try the more hearty dishes like the whole roasted fish and many more. Please look over the menu as it would take forever to describe each dish. The braised short ribs with five spice and merlot wine will likely be on the next order, as well as the Long Island duck. I’m bringing more people next time.

The restaurant offers themed week night specials. Family Night Sundays is a $59 per family dinner package. Serves 2-4 adults or 2 adults and 2 kids. Manly Mondays from 8-10pm at the bar offers a grass fed beef burger or grilled veggie burger and Blue Point draught beer for $10. Taco Tuesdays is served family style and priced at $19 per adult, $10 for children under 12. Wine Down Wednesdays offers any bottle of wine under $100 for half price. World Cuisine Thursdays offers a three course authentic dinner from different parts of the world for $34 per person. I think I may try a Thursday night sometime. Chef Todd is so creative, I look forward to what surprises he has in store.

When we were through with everything, Chef Todd appeared in the dining room and made his way to some of the tables to assess our experience. We expressed our happiness with the meal and menu. He has a humble demeanor and thanked us for our feedback. We decided not to mention the front of the house issues. We didn’t want to take away from what was, overall, a wonderful culinary experience. Shortly after, we were approached by a white-haired woman, dressed in nothing special, who asked us how our dinner was without introducing herself. We couldn’t express our disappointment with the front of the house as we had no idea who she was and left before we could ask her. If she’s the front of the house manager, she has some work to do and she wasn’t present in the dining room until closing. The next time I go, I’ll be sure to seek her out.

We flagged down the waiter for the bill. It was reasonable, save the $15 specialty drinks which I thought was a few dollars overpriced. But, I suppose, that’s where they make a good part of their money. The waiter just needs to learn to build up the check with drinks.

I can definitely see myself going back for more. I recommend this restaurant if you have patience, and don’t mind looking like you’re trying to land a plane on the runway with your arm flailing in the air for the better part of your meal. The food far supersedes the inexperienced staff. Kudos to Chef Todd for bringing his talent, experience, and mouth watering fare to another, hopefully, successful restaurant.

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The American Hotel, Sag Harbor

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This may be my most challenging, yet rewarding, posts I’ve written. The American Hotel is one of the finest restaurants on the east end of Long Island. It’s won numerous awards for their extensive wine list and many mentions as being the cream of the crop of high-end restaurants in the Hamptons.

Most consider Sag Harbor part of the Hamptons, while a few stick to the notion that if it doesn’t have “Hampton” in the name, it’s an un-Hampton. From my experience, Sag Harbor is a bit more artsy, laid back, and less expensive in some respects compared to, say, East Hampton. But, it’s still a Hampton to me. What makes Sag Harbor especially appealing is it’s waterfront. You can dine from several restaurants and look at the yachts and sailboats in the harbor. It’s truly a beautiful place.

That said, let’s move from once whaling town to present day Sag Harbor. There’s a great number of terrific restaurants worth naming in this town and, little by little, I hope to tell you about each one. But my favorite, hands down, is the American Hotel. For years, the American Hotel has been a south fork favorite.

I could write page after page as to why this is such a terrific dining experience. But, I’ll try to curb my enthusiasm and keep it down to a few paragraphs. But please, check out the various links in this blog to learn more about this establishment and it’s chef, Jonathan Parker.

The American Hotel was my choice of restaurant for my birthday dinner last night. We had an attentive staff of four, and our waiter was Dennis. Service was tops. Unobtrusive, yet always available and very knowledgable. We were kindly greeted, seated, and attended to right away. We sat in the garden room, slightly away from the bustling bar crowd. It was beautifully decorated with exposed brick, greenhouse roof, plants galore and lighting reminiscent of Christmas. It’s definitely cozy and inviting with white linen table cloths, polished silver, candles and fresh roses on each table.

The dinner menu is a pleasure to read. Additionally, our waiter told us of five specials in great detail. The funny part was when my seven year old opened the backlit menu and was amazed by the light. None of us had seen a menu like this before. The waiter, Dennis, laughed stating that someday the menus will be interactive and there will be no more need for waiters. It reminded me of something out of Harry Potter.

Anyway, from our beautiful menus we ordered the foie gras sauté potro blanca, $28. It was a good portion of foie gras as I try it whenever it’s on the menu. It was a large piece on toasted points in a grape reduction. The flavors blended perfectly. I think my eyes closed in pure bliss after I savored every bite that just melted in my mouth. I was tempted to get the soupe a l’oignon gratinée. An onion soup topped with gryère cheese and, I believe, sage croutons. Yum! But, I had to go with the foie gras. My husband had the colossal shrimp cocktail. They don’t call it colossal, but five-count jumbo shrimp cocktail served with cocktail sauce and a citrus mayonnaise, $19. Our seven year old son ordered the penne pasta with butter from the children’s menu, $18, which was an adult portion size. He ate well and there was still another meal left over. We all enjoyed the warm Tuscan-like bread, salted breadsticks, and spreadable butter.

If you’re with a party of four or more, I’d suggest getting the plateau deluxe with caviars for $150. This spread of seafood and caviar is one of my favorites. If they’re still serving it the way they did the last time I had it, the food was served on tiers and made quite the optical impression, in addition to tantalizing one’s taste buds.

I was tempted to get the sautéed sea scallops with fall squash and truffle risotto, $38, as I’m a sucker for good risotto. But I’d just had a similar squash risotto at The North Fork Table and Inn the night before. So, I went with the outstanding double cut rack of Australian lamb, $44. You receive two double rib portions along with mashed potatoes that were well seasoned, broccoli rabe, and a purée of root vegetables. The lamb was herb crusted with what tasted like salt, pepper, rosemary, and perhaps a touch of horseradish. My husband had the savory breast of organic, free-range chicken done in a mushroom and bacon drizzle with the same sides, $31. It was moist and full of flavor. There was also a tempting two-pound lobster on the menu and a vegetarian risotto. For dessert I ended with a perfectly made decaf cappuccino. My husband ordered the warm apple tart in puff pastry with homemade vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce, $15, and my son had vanilla ice cream as well, $13. Had I an appetite, I would have ordered one of my favorites, the bananas foster!

As you can see, the prices aren’t outlandish. You get plenty culinary delights for a fair Hamptons price for a restaurant of this caliber. I don’t know if what I’m about to write is either good or bad, but the award winning wine list begs you to order a bottle of wine, which can easily set you back $60 plus dollars. Then there are the after dinner drinks. A single snifter of cognac, of superior quality of course, could cost you $80. Depending on the size of your party, your beverage bill can far surpass your food bill. My motto in this wonderful environment, go big or go home. It’s well worth every penny.

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Bobby Van’s, Bridgehampton

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Bobby Van’s Steakhouse in Bridgehampton is a real winner. Today, for my birthday, my lunch companion and I chose Bobby Van’s for their consistently good food, inviting atmosphere, professional staff, and reasonable prices.

Being a beautiful autumn day in the Hamptons, we decided to dine outside. Service was at the ready. As we were short on time, we skipped over appetizers and went right to the entrées. I had the Shepherd’s Pie. Beautiful to look at and a hearty portion. It was a simple combination of meat and peas covered with mashed potatoes and sprinkled with cheese and scallions. It was piping hot when it came to the table. As I unveiled what lie under the potatoes, I discovered a meaty, juicy, tasty mixture. Peas and carrots were obvious, but I can’t be sure if there were onions in it or not. I saw a touch of celery which I enjoy. If there were onions, they enhanced the flavor and weren’t at all readily noticeable. I thought I saw a piece of corn, but saw no other evidence of corn. It was pure comfort food, of which I maybe ate a third.

My lunch date had a colossal lobster salad that was fresh and sweet and not overdressed with mayonnaise. It was served with greens on a hot dog-like roll, but longer and definitely tastier. Again, a good portion of food prepared well. The shoestring French fries were crispy and nicely salted.

There’s so much more to say about Bobby Van’s. Their menu is well thought out and prepared to perfection. I’ve never had a bad meal nor bad service there. I just love the straight forward food that makes you feel you’re getting a good bang for your buck. The next time I go to Bobby Van’s, I’ll be sure to go over the menu for you. In the meantime, take a look at their menu and, if you’d like, leave me a suggestion of what you’d like me to sample as I believe I’ll be going back with friends next week. A great steakhouse and rival of The Palm.

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North Fork Table & Inn, Southold

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Okay, my blog is about the goings on in the Hamptons. However, I have to tell you about this restaurant on the north fork that’s really come into it’s own, the North Fork Table & Inn in Southold. It’s one of the best restaurants on the twin forks. My birthday is tomorrow and that means I get a couple of days of enjoying my favorite restaurants around the clock. The North Fork Table & Inn is my choice for this evening. Go to their website and take a look at what they’re offering and sign up for their emails for specials. Tonight I’ll be taking advantage of their early bird price fixed offer.

Via email, I see the North Fork Table is offering a three course price fixed dinner for only $45 per person. My dinner party will go with the wine pairing for an additional $30 or so. I’ll let you know for sure when we order. This special is only offered on the slower nights of the week between 5-6:30. Even if, with wine pairing, it turns out to be $75 per person, in my experience it’s well worth it.

I once went for a seven course price fixed meal with wine pairing, but it was simply too much food. The price was high ($125 per person plus $30 for wine pairing), but the food was out of this world and arguably worth the cost. I recommend trying it once for the experience.

Having spent part of my life on the north fork, I have a soft spot for it. The open farm land, the numerous farm stands, the beautiful and award winning vineyards, to some of the best grass fed beef, free range poultry, and farm raised organic produce you can put your hands on. The North Fork Table is known for taking these farm fresh ingredients and using them regularly in their restaurant. On one hand it’s elegant food, yet unpretentious. On the other hand it’s upscale comfort food. This is a sure bet, no regrets, restaurant experience.

I’ll be sure to tell you all about the experience later this evening or tomorrow. I’m really looking forward to tonight. Now that I’ve decided where to go tonight, I’ll have to decide where to go tomorrow in the Hamptons. Nick & Toni’s, the East Hampton Grill, The Palm, The American Hotel… We’ll have to look to see what’s on the menu.

Stay tuned!

UPDATE: I had a wonderful dinner at the North Fork Table last night. But, they must have made a mistake in their email. It wasn’t $45 per person for a three course meal, but $75. It was still worth it to me. But, the service was a touch slower than the last time I was there, and there was a screaming child in the dining room. That’s not the restaurant’s fault. But, it was off putting. It’s not a restaurant for small children.

When we were first seated, it took several minutes to be approached to see what kind of water we wanted: flat, tap, sparkling. We were presented with menus and the price fixed options were described: three courses for $75 or seven courses for $125, with wine pairing an extra $30. What struck us as odd is no one asked us for a drink order until we were ready to order. They have an extensive wine list. We decided to choose our own wines. The Lenz 2010 Merlot was especially bold and earthy with a full bouquet. I believe The Lenz Merlot won some awards for their 2010. Suffice it to say, by the time the wine arrived, we were all thirsty!

For a first course we tried the autumn cheese pumpkin soup with apple mostarda, duck confit ravioli with Provençal black olive oil. It wasn’t too thick as it may sound. You’re presented with a bowl with the ravioli in the middle, then they pour the soup around it table side. The problem it, the soup wasn’t hot. I think it must have cooled from the delivery system, kettle to pourer, pourer to bowl. It was velvety with clean flavors, but I believe it was meant to be served hot. We also had the terrine of Long Island duck and fois gras served with truffled mushrooms, pistachios, frisée salad with quail egg, mustard crème fraiche, and toast points. The terrine was enough for two to share as an appetizer. You could easily cut the bacon wrapped terrine with a fork. The mustard crème fraiche wasn’t mustardy, it was just right. I think too much mustard flavor would have thrown off the flavor combinations. The frisée salad with quail egg was delicately dressed. The truffled mushrooms were very tender and a treat on the side.

For entrées we tried the smoked Berkshire pork loin with sautéed spinach and crispy polenta with what seemed to be small pieces of potato in it. The pork loin was smoked which left it pink and delicious. Though, not so much of a usual pork loin taste as it was like smoked ham. The other entrée we tried was the risotto. Oh my goodness! One of the very best risottos I’ve ever had. It was perfectly creamy, but not mushy. Each grain of rice was identifiable without being underdone. In the risotto were mushrooms and a good taste of what I’m guessing is Parmesan. It was topped with chucks of local squash, cooked perfectly. I highly recommend this meal. I don’t remember the exact ingredients in addition to the ones I’ve mentioned. I’ll have to call the restaurant to give me their description. The risotto alone made the trip to the north fork worth it.

For dessert we ordered the pear crépes and homemade donuts (actually donut holes). The pear crépes were fair to good. The sugar and spice, warm donuts come right out of the fryer to order. We tried one sinful bite and packed the rest to have for breakfast this morning.

The hostess learned it was my birthday and the crépes came out with a candied “Happy Birthday” sign, which I thought was cute. Then she came over with a stack of packaged chocolate chip cookies for my birthday present. Then, she came by with another package of donuts and said that was for tolerating the screaming child in the dining room.

All-in-all it was a wonderful evening and a culinary treat. I highly recommend going.

Babette’s Restaurant, East Hampton

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Babette’s is a small café/restaurant with mostly healthy, organic foods plus juice and smoothie bar. It’s nothing special as far as decor, save a few pieces of artwork. But, the food is delicious. One warning before I begin to explore their gastronomic goodness, it’s pricey. They’re open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner during the season. Days and hours vary during the off season, so call ahead. They don’t accept reservations for breakfast or lunch, so you may very well end up waiting for a table. But, it’s a unique sit down, basically organic restaurant in the Hamptons and worth the wait. But, you should go and be the judge.

Babette, herself, is often on the premises and overseeing the often chaotic operation when it’s busy. They try to be as accommodating as possible when it’s hectic. They have indoor and limited, choice outdoor seating. Sitting outdoors, weather permitting, is fun so you can people watch. Located on Newtown Lane, there’s often a lot of traffic, but it’s often at a crawl and not too disruptive. So, lets get to the food.

I love going here for breakfast. The breakfast menu consists of organic eggs (ask for egg whites if you wish) and many omelettes to choose from, such as one of my favorites, the Champignon: mushrooms and herbs de Provence. There are many combinations to suit most any palate. The sides are wonderful in that you can have turkey bacon, tempeh bacon, turkey pastrami, and turkey sausage, plus fresh vegetables. Another favorite, especially if you can’t make up your mind as to what to order, is the “Jo Mama”. The Jo Mama is one pancake, on piece of French toast, one egg, fruit, steel-cut oatmeal, and roasted herb potatoes. You’ll need a hearty appetite to finish this, or share with a friend. There’s cinnamon swirl French toast and whole grain pancakes. The Woodstock French toast is eight-grain bread dipped in a vanilla soy batter and served with fresh fruit, tahini custard, and granola. There’s a Tuscan Quinoa Bowl with Tuscan kale, butternut squash, and two sunny side up eggs over quinoa. The last time I was at Babatte’s I had the Eggs Romano: poached eggs, crisp polenta, and broccoli rabe in a tomato broth. Scrumptious! There wasn’t so much tomato broth that it overpowered the other ingredients or made the crispy polenta too soggy. It was just enough broth for the bottom of the polenta to soak it up, leaving the tops crispy. It works well when the yolks of the poached eggs flows over the polenta and broccoli rabe. One of my friends tried the New Foo Young: pan seared, herbed scrambled tofu with mushrooms, brown rice, gingered carrot, spinach, cashews, and teriyaki sauce over udon noodles. This was a hit. It showed the chef really understands the balance of ingredients. Try this for something different. There’s steamed asparagus on seven-grain toast with poached eggs, shaved parmesan, and a truffle vinaigrette. A table favorite. There’s a smoked salmon Benedict which is delicious, as well as a nova platter. There’s huevos rancheros deluxe, organic almond maple granola, and steel-cut organic oatmeal.

The lunch menu is a plethora of dishes that are wonderfully delicious, but far too many to list. I’ll tell you of a few favorites on mine and friends. Vietnamese Spring Rolls are crispy and light, made of spicy shrimp, papaya, and minted organic greens in a rice wrap with a piquant dipping sauce. Vagabond salad with free-range grilled chicken breast with blood orange and balsamic glaze over herb dressed penne and greens topped with Gorgonzola and candied pecans. A real winner with the Gorgonzola and candied pecans with a moist chicken breast with a touch of sweetness from the orange and balsamic glaze. Salad of Crisp Goat Cheese Dumplings: roasted beets, haricot verts, baby arugula, almonds, with a preserved lemon vinaigrette. The creaminess of the goat cheese complements it’s crispy exterior and the lemon vinaigrette brightens each bite. The beets are fresh and earthy, and the haricot verts are snap fresh. There are also wraps, sandwiches, burgers and bowls. There’s a free-range turkey burger and a meat and dairy-free lentil burger. Try the Proud Dragon Bowls: steamed seasonal vegetables simmered in Thai peanut sauce, served over organic greens and your choice of brown rice or udon noodles. Top with your choice of grilled, marinated tofu, grilled tempeh, grilled chicken, grilled shrimp or tuna. Sides include BBQ tofu, hummus with pita, grilled tempeh, grilled tofu, sweet potato fries and organic beans. Order several items and try a little of each with family and friends as the choices are all so good it can seem overwhelming.

Now for the dinner menu. Many of the dinner items are similar to what you can have for lunch. Then there are exceptions, such as the halibut, salmon, scallops and tuna. There’s pecan crusted tofu, grilled, smoked tempeh, The Rustic Vegan: blue corn dusted tofu, sautéed vegetables, brown rice and a Korean dipping sauce. (Check for availability in the off season.) The Creole Casbah is a favorite. It’s garlic mashed potatoes layered with bayou style kale, succotash, roasted garlic pecans, BBQ tofu, salsa, sour cream, and baked on Cabot’s cheddar or soy cheddar cheese. Offered regular or vegan. There are a lot of flavors going on here, but they work. For a pasta dish they offer Buccatini Primavera: sautéed broccoli rabe, cherry tomatoes, feta, olives, bell pepper, and basil with your choice of panko crusted tofu or chicken or shrimp. This is only one of two pasta dishes on the menu. I’d like to see more.

Don’t forget about the juice bar which offers both fresh juice and smoothies. They also have a wide assortment of organic hot and cold tea, coffees, and other not so ordinary beverages, such as hot mulled apple cider.

It can get noisy. So, if you’re looking for a quiet dining spot, this isn’t it. However, if you don’t mind raising your voice a little, you should be fine. If you’re especially sensitive to loud noises, don’t sit by the juice bar in the back of the restaurant as that’s pretty loud and runs, seemingly, all the time. The staff is more often than not knowledgable and efficient. There’s a lot of good food to choose from. I go often because I can’t get enough. Or feel free to stop in for just a fresh juice. You’re sure to be pleasantly surprised that this somewhat small restaurant can push out such tasty food in a timely manner. The thing I like best is the combination of ingredients and the many choices. Remember, most everything is organic and healthy. If you’re not sure of something, feel free to ask. The portion sizes are sufficient. The tables are on the small side to accommodate all the dishes and glasses. But, if you can handle some hustle and bustle and, at times, feeling a little cramped, you’ll find this a refreshing treat.

The Harbor Grill, East Hampton

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Okay, let me first start off by saying this isn’t the easiest blog to write. It’s about a restaurant I used to frequent in the summer that was pretty good, save the dull atmosphere. But last night I had dinner there with some friends and it was basically disappointing. The restaurant is the Harbor Grill on Three Mile Harbor Road in East Hampton.

I walked in to a full bar. Good, I thought. A little liveliness. I asked for our table and had my choice of any table in the empty restaurant, and it was 7:30pm. I chose a window seat which looks out onto the parking lot. It looked nice enough with a candle lighting the table. The waitress, not introducing herself as such, came over with the menus. I asked if she was my waitress so I could order a drink. She then identified herself and I received my drink.

When my friends arrived, they were nicely greeted and shortly after they sat down they were able to place their drink order. There was slight confusion with one of the drinks. Even though they offer an array of flavored vodkas and such, it didn’t seem the waitress was all that familiar with, dare I say, old fashioned drinks not listed on the mixology menu. One mojito came to the table not very cold. I was wondering if we were in for a bumpy ride. But soon the specials board was brought over and we were feeling optimistic.

The specials included a mushroom soup as the soup of the day, and, oddly, some items very similar to the items on the menu. For instance, Mongolian chicken wings were offered as an appetizer and Mongolian ribs were a special entrée. Another special was steak and shrimp scampi, perhaps the most appealing on the specials menu. The menu special was a 1-1/2 lb. lobster with sides for $29. Not a bad deal, I thought. But, I wasn’t in the mood for lobster and, honestly, 1-1/2 lbs. seems like more shell than lobster to me. But, still a good deal.

The menu was basically American fare, offering buffalo wings, nachos, french onion soup, shrimp cocktail, mussels, a large variety of burgers, and an assortment of poultry, fish and meat. I’ve had the Mongolian wings in the past and they were decent, but I was looking for something lighter, so I ordered the mussels to start. The white wine and garlic sauce was watery and lacking flavor. The mussels themselves weren’t that flavorful, but would have benefitted from a good sauce. The garlic bread that came with it was delicious, it was just too bad the sauce wasn’t dip-worthy. My friends ordered salads to start which I can imagine being prepared ahead of time. I could be wrong. But, they weren’t impressed. We also ordered baked stuffed clams for the table. The clam stuffing came in individual aluminum, clam shaped serving “things”, for lack of a better word. It was an immediate turn off. I like when I get a real clam shell, not this aluminum thing. Surprisingly, the baked clams weren’t bad. You could taste the clams and it wasn’t overly breaded. Feeling hopeful, we went onto the entrées.

One of my friends had the broiled salmon. It was slightly over cooked for my taste as I prefer it medium rare, but flaky nonetheless. The seasoning was simple but good and didn’t overpower the taste of the fish. We put that in the winners category. I had the Gorgonzola crusted flank steak. It was cooked the way I liked it, it wasn’t tough, and the Gorgonzola crust was delicious. Another winner. We tried the black bean burger for my vegetarian friend. Not bad. We decided this would be considered a winner as well. But let me explain why I’m not giving it thumbs up. Having been a patron at this restaurant many times, I felt I could pick anything from the menu and it wild be up to par, if not better. Now, I feel like I have to make my choices carefully or I’ll be disappointed, which turned out to be the case. Stick with what’s good and familiar and you’ll be okay. Go outside the box of sure bets and you’ll likely be disappointed.

I wouldn’t recommend the Harbor Grill because the food isn’t consistently good, the atmosphere has a lot to be desired, the staff isn’t well trained, and it’s a bit pricey for the quality of food you get. I’d rather spend a little more and go to a much better restaurant. I can’t say I won’t revisit the Harbor Grill again, but I may wait for next summer to see if things have improved.

There’s my first not so flattering review. It feels uncomfortable, but it’s part of being a good food blogger and telling my unbiased opinion to the public. There will be more along the way, I’m sure. I’m a virgin critic. Well, not anymore I suppose. 😉

Their website has been down or you could take a look for yourself. yelp.com reviews have been mostly positive. But, there has definitely been a shift in the restaurant’s food, and not for the better. If you find yourself there, a sure bet is a burger and brew at the bar.

Mexican Food at La Fondita, Amagansett

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La Fondita is a great little find in Amagansett. It’s a Mexican restaurant, predominantly for take out, but with picnic tables outside, weather permitting. What sets this take out place apart from others is that it’s owned by the same people as Nick & Toni’s in East Hampton, hands down one of the best restaurants in all the Hamptons. You can be sure the ingredients are fresh and the cooks behind the line know what they’re doing. It may not look like much from the outside. But one doesn’t necessarily go there for the ambiance. You go for the food. Place your order at the counter, get a number, wait to be called, grab a Mexican beer or horchata (cinnamon rice milk) if you’d like, and dig in. No frills. Just good food.

La Fondita’s menu has a little something for everyone looking for authentic Mexican and Latin flavors. The old stand-bys are included of course: tacos, burritos, quesadillas, nachos, etc. But what makes this place stand out is that they give you choices of meat or vegetarian style meals. There are also vegan entrées and the meat and poultry are all natural and antibiotic-free. The delicious corn is from Balsam Farms (one of my favorite farms locally). Each tortilla is made fresh daily.

At La Fondita, you don’t get one kind of taco, you get a choice of four, from your traditional meat tacos to fresh fish tacos. There are burritos with cod or shrimp when in season. There are soups (I love the pozole rojo: pork with white hominy topped with lettuce and radish), sandwiches, salads and sides, plus a children’s menu.

The prices at La Fondita are reasonable by Hamptons standards. For example, a fish taco is $4. Sandwiches are $9.50. And large, traditional plates such as chayote en salsa verde (squash in salsa verde) is $14.50. The portions are generally a good size, so order several items from the menu and share family style. Don’t forget their Mexican corn off the cob with red peppers, onion, cilantro, mayo, queso fresco, and chili powder when in season, $3.

Service is knowledgable, fast and friendly. The perfect place for super casual attire or take out. Call for off season hours or for catering your next fiesta: 631.324.6932.

Lovin’ Latin at D’Canela, Amagansett

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D’Canela offers Mexican and Latin cuisine in a small restaurant on the Main Road in Amagansett. D’Canela is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and also brunch on the weekends. You’ll find it’s fairly quiet at most times during the week, making it a good place to meet a business partner or have a romantic interlude. On weekends the place fills up, but you can usually find a table, unless it’s in the summer, then larger parties generally will have to wait, so call ahead.

The owner, Luis, is usually in the building and keeping things running smoothly. His staff is bilingual in English and Spanish, and nothing is lost in translation. The staff is friendly, kind, and attentive. They’re unobtrusive, letting you enjoy your meal, but within range should you need anything. The only thing I’ve ever become impatient with is getting the check on occasion. On the flip side, they never make me feel rushed.

The breakfast menu offers typical breakfast fare such as eggs, meat, home fries and toast, as well as Eggs Benedict, various omelettes, French toast, granola, Irish oatmeal, pancakes, and a salmon platter. On the Latin side, you have a choice of several dishes from breakfast burritos to breakfast quesadillas, to tamales and one of my favorites, huevos rancheros, to name a few.

The lunch menu offers some more authentic Latin dishes. For example, the posole soup is one of my favorites with mote (big, soft corn kernels), pork, avocado, onion, cilantro and a variety of mildly spicy seasonings to make a delicious broth to tie it all together. There’s also a very good black bean soup. For appetizers there’s guacamole with chips, nachos, enchiladas, and two of my favorites: tostones (flattened and fried unripe plantain) with guacamole and chicharron (crispy pork), and torttle rolls made of napa cabbage, avocado, black bean purée and jack cheese, made and cut to resemble sushi. Delicious. On the lighter side for an entrée they have a variety of salads, those with grilled chicken, a Cesar salad, a warm spinach salad and more. There are sandwiches and burgers and sides. You’re sure to find something you like. You can also ask for their dinner menu at lunch time and if it’s ready to go in the kitchen, you’re in for a treat.

The dinner menu has similar appetizers, salads and soups to the lunch menu with some interesting and equally delicious additions. The entrées, which are too many to list, all have a unique flavor and stand on their own. They’re not simply four combinations of four ingredients. You’re offered a strip steak with is very flavorful with just enough fat, not too much. You have your typical Latin fare such as burritos, chalupas, enchiladas, gorditas, fajitas, quesadillas, tacos, and tamales. But there are also dishes from Columbia, Mexico and Ecuador, like the bendeja paisa, carne asada, and churrasco, respectively. You will not leave the table hungry. There are three kinds of steak, two kinds of seafood, and a very American children’s menu.

D’Canela will give you good food at a decent price and decent service. I usually go when I want to get away from the hustle and bustle of busier restaurants. They have dancing Saturday nights and great mojitos! Give it a try for lunch or dinner. Breakfast is nothing over the top. I almost forgot to mention, they make a mild chicken curry that’s very good. I’m not sure if it’s on the menu, but ask for it. It’s generally served with their sautéed spinach which is done beautifully with garlic and oil. The stuffed poblano pepper with jack cheese is one of my favorites. I can never finish the carne asada, but it’s worth a shot. Go with several people and eat family style to taste as many dishes as possible. You can’t go wrong. And if you care to, ask for the owner, Luis, he is affable and will remember you.