As someone who lives just west of the North Fork, I've explored the North Fork dining scene much more than I have the Hampton's scene. I'm also much more interested in the food, wine and service than I am any sort of Hamptons people-watching or soulless scenes.
On a recent visit to 1770 House
in East Hampton, however I was given everything that I wanted and nothing I
Joined by my good friend M, we arrived a few moments ahead of schedule and were greeted by a friendly, but not fawning, host and escorted through a warmly decorated lounge and to our table. The décor in the dining room balances upscale sophistication with casual elegance. This sort of balance actually became a theme of sorts for the entire evening.
Seated in surprisingly comfortable wicker chairs, we were promptly presented with menus and the wine list. After some perusal, M and I thought we knew what we wanted until our server, who was attentive and engaging without being in our faces, mentioned a tasting menu with paired wines. Any time that a chef wants to walk you through his menu—displaying more of his talents than a few dishes could convey—I recommend doing it. You won't be disappointed. At least not if you do it at 1770 House under the watchful eye of chef Kevin Penner, formerly of Della Femina, and Matt Birnstill.
Before our artful culinary journey even began, we were brought some of the best sourdough bread I've had outside of San Francisco. Delicately crisp on the outside, tender on the inside, it served as a nice preface to the meal.
Our amuse bouche, a small appetizer meant to tease your palate and prepare it for the meal ahead, consisted of a gazpacho shooter and a micro salad of watermelon, cantaloupe, cherry tomatoes and Manchego cheese. Eating poorly made gazpacho is a bit like eating mediocre salsa, but this was one of the best renditions I've tasted. It was flavorful, gently spicy and brought together the freshness of cucumber and tomato with a wonderful texture. The salad, with high notes of basil and sweet melon, was a welcome coolant for the spice of the soup.
My first course was a black-pepper rubbed, flash seared sashimi of bluefin tuna with a salad of mandarin orange segments, fennel, ginger and soy. The fatty, almost buttery texture of the sashimi was brightened the spicy black pepper and balanced by the fresh, clean flavors of the salad beneath.
M's first course, a tartare of wild Alaskan salmon, Daikon radish sprouts, jalapeno pepper and yuzu was similarly well balanced. Both were paired with a 2005 Albarino, from Lagar de Cervera in the Rias Baixas region of Spain. The wine was served too cold, but as it warmed, the ripe fruit and lengthy finish worked well with our dishes.
Continuing with the seafood theme, I was brought an impeccably cooked piece of salmon atop a mélange of bacon and fennel and a sunchoke puree. The flavors and here were exquisitely balanced and it paired wonderfully with a glass of Talbott 'Sleepy Hollow' 2004 Chardonnay. Again, the wine was served a bit cold, but a few moments in my hand brought it up to the proper temperature.
M's second course, striped bass with pork belly and mushrooms was "put your fork down and lean back good." That's all that has to be said.
Leading into our third course, our server mentioned "We're known for our foie gras." If you like foie gras as much as I do, these words bring delight before the rich, delicious foie even makes it to the table. M's foie gras was served on a round of brioche with a caramelized peach tart and ginger reduction sauce. Mine was served on a slightly sweet pancake with a red wine, vanilla cherry gastric. It really goes without saying that both portions of foie were well seared and the accompaniments both cut the richness and heightened the flavors. I'm not typically a fan of sweet wines in the middle of a meal, but it's hard to argue with the choice to pour us Inniskillin's 2003 Vidal Ice Wine from the Niagara Peninsula in Canada. Inniskillin is a revered maker of ice wines—and with good reason.
The meat course featured one of the items we were going to order anyway-leg of lamb with spaetzle and figs, a combination that worked amazingly well and accented the meatiness of the lamb exceptionally. While M worked on that, I enjoyed a perfectly cooked grass-fed strip steak over a simple arugula salad with porcini mushroom risotto. I've come to love grass-fed beef of late (it tastes markedly different than cattle fed corn or other products) and this was probably the best piece of beef I've had in a long, long time. The wine pairing, a Vistalba 'Corte C' 2004 Malbec from Argentina was just okay and the bottle may have been open a bit too long.
To cleanse our palates, we were brought lemon and raspberry sorbets—made at sister restaurant Citta Nuova—and then we were brought two very different desserts. Mine, a traditional chocolate cake with panna cotta ice cream, was good if a bit typical given the inventiveness of the rest of the menu. It did come with a shooter of chilled hot cocoa, which was a nice touch.
M's dessert was an almond cake made with local strawberry and served with crème fraiche ice cream and strawberry puree. M isn't typically a cake lover, but this was an exception. Our final wine of the evening was Niepoort Colheita 1986 Port, a nutty, sweet wine that probably worked better with my chocolate cake than M's dessert.
If you're looking for a casually elegant meal with some of the best food in the Hamptons, you must make a reservation at the 1770 House. The overall experience was exceptional and it's hard to imagine a better dining adventure.
Note: This review originally appeared on Hamptons.com