27 March 2008

East End Long Island Spring Dining and Wine Tasting

Spring arrives late in the East End of Long Island. To stimulate dining interest, the Hamptons Restaurant Week that starts 30 March allows diners to select tasting menus at reduced prices. We reported on a number our East End favorites in January, and below we provide a few more excellent choices and one acceptable choice:

North Fork Table & Inn
57225 Main Road
Southold, NY 11971

Executive Chef Gerry Hayden, formerly of Aureole, and his wife, Claudia Fleming, formerly of Gramercy Tavern and their partners, Mike and Mary Mraz (also of Gramercy Tavern) have turned this Southold country inn into a fine dining destination.

The contemporary update of the inn provides an open dining area, which has traditional links in wood details and lighting, but provides a comfortable contemporary dining experience.

The menu is also contemporary American, composed of many local ingredients and all of the highest quality. Chef Hayden has taken lessons learned in earlier kitchens and transformed them into his own style which earns rave reviews from both diners and critics.

The relatively short wine list is excellent and composed of interesting domestic and international choices at all price points. Many local Long Island wines are featured and complement the local food products. We selected the Clovis Point Merlot, an excellent example of what can be accomplished in making a high quality wine from the local merlot varietal.

Overall the North Fork Table & Inn is a great choice and worth the drive to Southold regardless of the time of year.

North Fork Table & Inn - Highly Recommended

Stone Creek Inn
405 Montauk Highway
East Quogue, NY 11942

Located on a large lot on a relatively nondescript section of the Montauk Highway between East Quogue and Hampton Bays, this country inn provides exactly the right balance of comfort and style. The entertaining bar area greets diners before being seated in either the smaller front room/porch area or in the larger main dining room which is further along the entrance hallway. While quite different, both rooms have advantages, and both are perfect places to enjoy a wonderful meal.

Chef/Owner Christian Mir's menu is composed of both American and Mediterranean influenced cuisines, executed to nearly perfection by a talented kitchen. Choices include local seafood and Long Island duck, quality meats, as well as local produce when in season.

The wine list is comprehensive with excellent domestic choices and many Long Island winery top tier wines. We tend to go with the Wolffer Chardonnay or Merlot, both of which are quality wines made in the Long Island style (less oak) and both being very good values.

Service tends to change with the season, due to the changes in staff as well as the number of diners. Nonetheless, service is always professional and never really bad as some places unfortunately are on the East End.

We have never had a bad meal and/or bad service after many visits. Rather, we have many memorable meals and some outstanding service. We look forward to each return visit.

Stone Creek Inn - Highly Recommended

Olde Speonk Inn
190 Montauk Highway
Speonk, NY 11972

Just west of Westhampton is the hamlet of Speonk, one of the last locations that may be considered a part of the Hamptons. A roadside inn was renovated within the last two years and is now the Olde Speonk Inn. While the interior design is not nearly as stylish as either the North Fork Table & Inn or the Stone Creek Inn, nonetheless the interior is comfortable in a non-threatening way. Windows on two sides of the essentially one main dining room make it light and airy during the day and sparkling at night.

While the restaurant promotes itself as featuring classic American cuisine, it is only so if classic American cuisine consists of largely Italian and other European influenced dishes. The bigger problem is the chef/kitchen seem to have no focus on what is either on the menu or how it is prepared. While the food itself is made from high quality, fresh and frequently local ingredients, the execution is muddled. Stick to simple steaks, poultry or seafood, and avoid any special preparations as they are far from special.

The service by both waiters and runner/busboys is real amateurish and not even close to the better dining places on the East End. Further the managers, many from Tiderunners in Hampton Bays, seem to care less about the dining room than the bar, which appears to be the profit center.

The wine list is mostly composed of unknown Italian and other European wines and an odd collection of domestic and local wines. Selections of poor varietals, poor wineries and poor vintages are the hallmark of the wine list.

Olde Speonk Inn - Acceptable


34 E 61st Street
New York, NY, 10065

Aureole has become a Manhattan institution over the past twenty years. This Upper East Side townhouse restaurant burst upon the scene when Charlie Palmer elevated American cuisine to the levels previously reserved for French and occasionally Italian cuisine. This elegant place has evolved and after a period of "attitude", it has reclaimed its hold on both a high level of service, and very friendly service. Reservations are honored and special requests become an opportunity for the staff to excel.

The prix fixed menu is expensive, but the value is well worth the steep fee. Menu choices are varied and interesting, including seafood, poultry and meats (and vegetarian if you ask). The execution by the kitchen is outstanding. First courses are as large as most mains. And mains are also somewhat over sized, but nonetheless totally satisfying. Desserts are equally large and equally outstanding.

The wine list is long, interesting and while priced high, also has some outstanding values. Interestingly the list is dominated by European wines and not nearly as many American wine choices as we would like to see from such a great American restaurant. We discussed the lack of quality American wines with the wine director and he expressed an interest to strengthen the domestic content of the list.

Aureole will relocate to the new Bank of America building across from Bryant Park, and will have three separate sections; fine dining room, casual dining room and private dining room, to address the fact that a high level of fine American dining is becoming more and more challenging. So if you want to experience true elegance, reserve soon and be prepared for a wonderful dining experience.

Aureole - Highly Recommended

20 March 2008

Accademia di Vino

1081 Third Avenue
New York, NY 10021

Being huge fans of ‘Cesca on the Upper West Side, we looked forward to dining at its Upper East Side family member, Accademia di Vino. The transformation of the former Chinese restaurant into an Italian wine bar on the ground level and a subterranean vaulted wine cellar as the main dining room has be outstanding. While not as warm and inviting as ‘Cesca, the design is clearly a strong point.

The menu has many current and former 'Cesca items, perhaps too many for the kitchen to do an excellent job on all of them. Sampling a number of dishes, while none were bad, our clear winners are the pasta dishes, each prepared to perfection. Nonetheless, none of the food here seemed as satisfying as the food served at ‘Cesca.

While to food was very good, just not up to 'Cesca standards, the wait service is another matter. Whereas at ‘Cesca the service always shines, here it barely exists. From rude front desk staff, incompetent waiters, to lost bus boys and runners, this clearly is the Accademie of un-trainable wait staff. In addition, the audio soundtrack seemed more suited for a Lower East Side bar than what tries to be taken as a serious Italian restaurant. So to us it is all about the limited skills, or lack thereof, by this restaurant’s management.

As note by its name, Accademia di Vino has an outstanding and comprehensive Italian wine list and cellar. The list includes many relatively unknown but outstanding wines priced at reasonable levels. Wine service unfortunately is as bad as the overall service.

Accademia di Vino - Acceptable

Bistro Milano

1350 Sixth Avenue (entrance on 55th Street)
New York, NY 10019

A modern Northern Italian trattoria has established itself in mid-town. This new place is from the management team at BICE and Remi, but here they have selected lower priced fare, while retaining the same focus on service and friendliness.

Bistro Milano’s clear glass French door facade gives it an open and inviting appeal. As soon as good weather arrives a large outdoor eating area will bloom just outside the doorways. The interior decor is somewhat nondescript Italian modern, but not in an offensive way (other than the glaring big flat panel screen above the bar that needs to GO). The simple square room has the potential of being cafeteria like, except that the wait staff assures that while it is busy it is remains an orderly room.

The evolving menu is pure Northern Italian, featuring pure simple Italian dishes. This is a place to go for Italian comfort food, not any experimental food. The kitchen has been executing the Milanese cuisine with excellent preparations from day one. In addition to all these Milanese standards, the kitchen also offers a small pizza menu.

Currently the service crew is all Italian from the front desk, waiters through the managers which provides a sense of stability and customer commitment that is increasingly rare.

The wine list is short and not memorable.

Bistro Milano - Recommended

08 March 2008


72 W. 69th Street
New York, NY, 10023

Continuing our sampling of Upper West Side restaurants, we recently dined at Telepan.

When Bill Telepan opened his eponymous place it became the top dining place on the UWS, and it was impossible to get in, suffered from overbooking and perhaps an unwarranted reputation of having an attitude.

Fortunately now nearly three years later, the place while still popular is accessible, reservations are honored and the only attitude is one of welcoming friendliness and warmth.

The room has both a modern edge coupled with a country style that reflects the dedication to local products. As we had earlier at BLT Market, we were seated next to one of Telepan's purveyors. In this case, it was the pork and ham suppliers Jennifer Small and Michael Yezzi from The Flying Pig Farm (they referred to themselves as the pig farmers) from Shushan, NY near Sarotoga. When they are in Manhattan (they are frequently at the Union Square farmer's market) they stop in, chat with Bill, and have a wonderful meal featuring their ham and pork products prepared in a multitude of ways.

Telepan's menu is composed of three sections; starters, middle and mains (plus desserts). You can dine ala carte or select one of a few different menus (with or without wine pairings). The menu is American modern cuisine, executed to near perfection. In addition to the pork derived dishes there is organic chicken, fresh fish, pasture fed veal (like tender beef), etc.

Service was very good with one exception noted below.

The wine list is comprehensive, grouping wines by styles and regions. Our first disappointment is that excellent local and regional American wines are not featured. We are continually puzzled why a restaurateur features local produce and has virtually no local wines given New York state has some outstanding wines.

Our second disappointment was that wine service apparently is limited to opening the wine and pouring the first serving. No tables in our section during our recent visit had additional pouring of empty glasses of wine. Not what we expect at a top Manhattan restaurant. Very strange.

Overall this is a wonderful dining place and we look forward to many future visits, even if we have to pour our own wine.

Telepan - Highly Recommended

06 March 2008

Lever House Restaurant

390 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10022

When it opened five years ago, Lever House was one of those immediate trendy places that was the favorite of both foodies and social trendies. Then it seemed to evolve to attracting expense account business types for lunch and too many want-to-bes in the evening.

Well now after the opening of many new places the social moths have moved on, and Lever House in the evening is now in fact a comfortable and enjoyable dining place.

Of course the design and decor of Lever House has been one of its calling cards. The entrance via a Star Trek like tunnel permits the guest to transition from the streets of Manhattan to something that is either the future, or what the future was to look like in the 1950's. The David Rockefeller design does grow on you as the wonderful wood interior and Jetson-like lighting actually works. Clearly the tables/booths along the left side and at the rear are the preferred seating. The endless row of two-tops along the right side is depressing and clearly discriminatory against diners arriving as twos.

The contemporary American menu presents the diner a small but interesting selection of choices which are far more appetizing than the descriptions. There are prix fix menus in addition to the ala cart menu.The execution of Executive Chef - Dan Silverman's kitchen is outstanding, and rivals the best in Manhattan.

The wine list while comprehensive is priced very high. And it was not only our experience but that of the adjoining table that our choice(s) for wine, some of the better value selections, were not available. Never a good sign when they are out of selections at any place and totally unacceptable at a top place. And when the sommelier tried to foist an overpriced mediocre wine on what he suspected was an uneducated diner, it was a clear sign that this side of the house is still desiring expense accounts types and not real food and wine lovers.

So if you love interesting and well prepared modern American cuisine in a unique environment go to Lever House. However, if you are a wine lover, go elsewhere.

Lever House - Recommended

01 March 2008


164 West 75th St.,
New York, NY, 10023

Even though we live in Midtown, we are negligent in dining on the Upper Westside, which continues a recent trend to be the destination location for interesting new places. Over the next few months we will hopefully report on a number of the newer places.

One fine restaurant that has been around a while that has the combination of excellent food, good service and a wonderful ambiance is ‘Cesca. Unfortunately many people know that fact, and therefore it remains a difficult reservation to obtain. But either with advanced planning or willingness to sit in the more casual open front section, it is worth the effort to dine at ‘Cesca.

'Cesca is an outstanding restaurant. The menu is extensive and the food captures Italian cuisine without trying to exactly duplicate what you would eat in Italy. Rather it incorporates local regional ingredients, flavors and recipes to achieve what we consider a perfect balance of American and Italian cuisines.

As an example on a recent visit we started with two excellent salads, both with fresh ingredients; arugula, radicchio, Gorgonzola, pecans, etc,, and dressed to perfection. For mains we had a perfectly prepared duck and one of the best pork chops each accompanied by Italian inspired sides.

The wine list is an outstanding of excellent Italian wines, moderately priced, featuring lesser known but outstanding examples of the various regions. Wine service is casual and could be improved.

Apart from the wine service, the service at all levels is outstanding. Reservations are honored. The wait staff is knowledgeable and helpful.

The decor is comforting and promotes a relaxed and friendly dinning experience. The front bar area has casual communal seating, but in a very pleasant environment. There are private dinning nooks along the aisle past the open kitchen, and a large, comfortable and perfectly illuminated main dining area. The seating is a series of groupings that provides intimacy despite the large area.

In summary, if 'Cesca was in any place other than Manhattan, it would likely be the best in town.

‘Cesca – Highly Recommended