Take a drive along Suffolk County's "restaurant row" and you'll come upon Mirabelle (which is widely regarded as one of L.I.'s top restaurants, Kitchen - A Bistro (a BYO championed by area chefs as their favorite spot to eat), Bella Vita City Grill (a highly-rated Italian-American), and Oscar's of St. James, where Nena and I dined a little over a week ago.
Top-to-bottom, it was one of the best meals we've ever had.
From the moment we arrived on what was a wet and dreary day, we were welcomed by Oscar's elegant beach house ambiance. Hardwood floors, white walls with white wooden chairs and white tablecloths over navy striped ones set the stage and add to the summer house feel of the restaurant.
The walls were adorned with orginal works by local artists -- adding just the right amount of color to the room.
We were greeting warmly at the door and taken to our table promptly, which was a bit of a shame because I would have enjoyed a drink at their beautiful bar (I guess that will have to wait for our next visit--and there will be many I think).
Once we were seated, bread with roasted red pepper butter was brought over as was water in a glass bottle with a rubber stopper. The bottle, instead of the usual carafe was a nice touch...and it's always the "touches" that make a restaurant memorable.
Our server, George, was warm, friendly and attentive from the get go and I thank him for it. He guided us through the menu, offering suggestions and telling us about the amazing sounding specials. I hope to sit in his section when we return.
While I perused the impressive wine list with spectacular pricing (more on that in a bit), George brought over a single seared scallop with jerk aioli as an amuse. Because I'm allergic to shellfish, I couldn't enjoy mine, but Nena didn't mind one bit -- she ate hers and mine. The scallops were expertly cooked and the well-spiced aioli was a nice counterpoint to the sweet scallop. Nena's exact words were "This is so fabulous."
Once we knew what we'd be eating, we discused what wine we'd enjoy with dinner and settled on the Vina Echevveria 2001 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile. The greatest part of their wine list (besides it depth and breadth) is the pricing. Fed up with paying $50 for a $15 bottle of wine, owner Alan Kelley, is doing something great with his wine program--charging retail plus a nominal corkage fee (usually 5-10 bucks). That means that the $30 bottle we ordered was probably a $25 bottle instead of a $10 bottle like many restaurants.
The wine itself was a nice, full-bodied New World
Cabernet, with nice ripe berry fruit up front and layers of cocoa,
tobacco, spice and vanilla that changed and evolved with each sip and
each bite. It had substantial tannins, but they were wonderfully
integrated and not harsh in the least. Nena particularly enjoyed the long, lingering spicy fruit finish.
The wine list, while a main draw that makes Oscar's a new favorite, is matched by the chef's eclectic, interesting and well thought out menu.
To start, Nena chose the super-fresh house salad while I headed to the southwest with a chorizo-ratatouille tostada. Both were pleasantly portioned (meaning not too tiny but not "American" either), perfectly plated and absolutely delicious.
When it came time to order our entrees, Nena quickly narrowed the field to a grouper special that appealed to her, but on George's suggestion, went with the grilled filet mignon with pan-fried blue cheese-potato-bacon raviolo, brocoli rabe, onion marmelade and red wine sauce.
The filet was tender, though perhaps a bit past the medium-rare she asked for, and the star of the dish was the raviolo, which reminded me (as a native Pittsburgher) of a pierogi. Nena, not usually a fan of brocoli rabe, enjoyed it at Oscar's because of a sweet spice (nutmeg?) that counteracted and bitterness in the green. This is an entree to remember and one that will get our meat-eating friends to join us at Oscar's in the future.
I had a much harder time choosing my main course. It's usually a bit easier on me because I don't eat seafood, but between the duck, lamb and filet mignon...Iwas truly at a loss. That was until George uttered two words that I always like to hear included in the daily specials -- veal chop.
This was a nice cut of meat, 16 ounces of delicious and tender veal. Again, it was a bit beyond medium-rare but not overly so, and was accompanied by wilted spinach, a fontina-crusted portobello mushroom and sitting on a bed of pureed, carmelized onions with a red wine reduction. This veal chop is in the back of my mind even now--a week or so later, and was absolutely perfect with the wine.
As we finished our meals and sipped the last of our wine, George returned to find out if we wanted to order another bottle of wine and, despite being tempted beyond belief, we decided to forgo another bottle and head straight for dessert.
Nena loves ber dessert (love isn't even the right word) and after some debate, we decided to share a slice of their rich, decadent chocolate-peanut butter pie which candied bananas. It, along with the dessert wines we sipped, Macari Vineyard's Block E Ice Wine and Grand Maison Monbazilliac, served as the absolutely perfect finish to a wonderful dining experience.
After we were done eating, Alan came over to talk about their wine program a bit and we learned that he was heading to his native Baltimore the following with his chef to spend a few days learning more about the regional fare and wine pairings.
Turns out they are going to have three-course regional wine tasting dinners on Sundays this summer. Future menus will feature the cuisine of Miami and Santa Fe.
This is a very exciting restaurant and Alan is obviously an inspired owner who wants to bring great and truly unique experiences to his customers. He asked that we come back for one of his wine dinners.
Like there was any doubt.