Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Hamptons Waterfront Dining: Canal Cafe, Hampton Bays, NY

Living in the Hamptons, we often run into the ultimate oxymoron - great waterfront dining. It is not easy to find. The view is almost always the best part of any Hamptons waterfront establishment. We keep trying to find one that is the whole picture -- great food, great view and reasonable prices.

The Canal Cafe in Hampton Bays comes pretty close. The restaurant overlooks the Shinnecock Canal (hence the name) where one can watch some pretty impressive boats cutting across the South Fork of Long Island.

As you can imagine, a place like this gets fairly packed on weekends and does not take reservations. I had called about 15 minutes ahead to see if there would be a wait at 5:45PM on a Saturday. I was told "no wait now", so I implored JB to haul it. Our car screeched into the marina parking lot where I jumped out of the car to put our name down. We grabbed the second to last outdoor table. Phew.

The setting really is spectacular. If the chairs were a little more comfortable (mine was metal, JB's was wood and little D had a stool), you could sit there all day. Alas they do need to turn their tables and therefore they try to keep the meal pace moving.

Seafood is the name of the game here. The blackboard of specials is longer than the printed menu. Order them fast because once they are erased from the board, they are gone for the night.

JB was in the mood for an appetizer so we opted for the fried calamari. I'd give it a B+, it had the right amount of breading (not too much), the fish itself tasted deliciously fresh, but dare I say it was a little bland. Luckily, they provide a spicy tomato sauce for dipping. They do have another killer looking appetizer on the menu - lobster corn fritters - I'll get those next time.

Our mains were from the Specials Board. I chose the Grilled Tuna Sandwich for just $14. I asked for the tuna as rare as possible. The sandwich was simple - tuna, lettuce and tomato on ciabatta bread. The fish was cooked perfectly and I thought the ciabatta was a good compliment. The dish also came with fries that I generously donated to my boys.

JB opted for the lobster roll which was a fair-priced $22. It was actually listed recently in Hamptons Magazine as one of the best lobster rolls in the Hamptons. He disagrees. Yes, the lobster itself was good, but it was on the same ciabatta bread as my tuna sandwich and it overpowered the lobster. The lobster should be the star which is why the hot dog bun usually reigns.

Our landlubber boys, of course, had a well done burger with some fries, and it may have been the al fresco atmosphere (or the Corona Lights) but I thought it was excellent.

Speaking of Corona Lights, I'd also recommend a kid-free stop at Canal Cafe for a drink, to listen to the live music and watch the boats go by. It is a mini-vacation of sorts.

Lunch, dinner or drinks, go. And go early. The line was out the door when we left.

Canal Cafe
44 Newtown Road
Hampton Bay, NY

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A Pizza Miss: Cafe Crust, Southampton, NY

I had driven past Cafe Crust dozens of times and never gone in.  Located on County Road 39 in Southampton, shortly after Sunrise Highway ends (if you're heading East) is a shopping center that houses among other things, a wine store and a restaurant with a turret-like structure.  I was intrigued. 

The name Cafe Crust represents their supposed excellence in pizza.  I think it should be renamed.  We opted for the Margherita Pizza.  On a first visit to a pizza place, we always try to the Margherita, if done well it is simple and delicious.  Cheese, tomatoes and some basil should be tough to mess up.  Cafe Crust, however, gets its all wrong. 

The Crust, actually, is fine.  It is thin and crispy as should any crust made in a wood burning oven.  What is on top of the crust is the problem.  There was hardly any mozzarella, perhaps one "blob" per slice along with some other mysterious white spots, an overly sweet sauce and an abundance of Parmesan cheese.  Then they try to make it fancy with some basil chiffonade.  Even Litte D, who usually loves pizza, wouldn't touch it. 

For non-pizza people, they do offer grass fed burgers and decent fries.  But this is a pizza place, they should really focus on their craft.  I can get good burgers a lot of places, but good pizza is hard to come by. 
And I would be remiss not to mention the poor service.  I ordered a bottle of Corona Light and the waiter graciously poured the beer into a glass for me.  What wasn't so gracious was that he left a good portion of beer in the bottle and started to take it back to his station (presumably to finish it for himself).  Me, never being one to miss out on my drink, spotted this indiscretion and saved my final sips for myself. 

A disappointment in my book and not worth the stop.

Until our next Berger,

Cafe Crust
850 County Rd 39
Southampton NY

Tip: The pizza on their site looks a lot better than it does in person.  Don't let the pictures fool you!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Ladies Night: Southampton Social Club, Southampton, NY

Don't judge a restaurant by its name. On a Thursday night in July the Southampton Social Club didn't seem that social. There were about 4 tables seated outside (not a soul inside) when our party arrived just after 7:30. The restaurant apparently becomes a lot more social when it morphs into a Hamptons Club just after 10:00. My guess is that on a Friday or Saturday the place is packed with partiers, but the laid back Thursday vibe was just perfect for catching up with the ladies. 

Our meal was pre-heat wave, so we enjoyed our spot overlooking the lawn as we sipped our de rigueur rose and nibbled on the whole wheat rolls. The Social Club happens to have an outstanding pre-fixe deal of 3 courses for $35.  I usually turn my nose up at the salmon/chicken only pre-fixes, but this one has a plethora of choices. 

Appetizers choices range from oysters to salad to sliders.  The entree options include the aforementioned chicken and salmon, but also surprised me with more trendy items like duck and short ribs.  I decided on a rhyming meal of ahi and mahi- and was saddened to hear they were out of tuna that night.  Four tables and they were out of tuna? Nonetheless, I opted for a Caesar salad to start. 

The Caesar was a hasty choice.  The best part of it was the parmesan crisp that covered the romaine. The dressing completely overpowered the lettuce.  With so many options for starters, I could have done better. 

Luckily, the entree was a win. A spicy mahi mahi covered mashed sweet potatoes, done in the lightest of possible ways.  It was the kind of dish that satisfies you without making you full.  No need to groan at the thought of dessert. And, good news for us, dessert was included. 

Two bites into my cheesecake, I had to surrender my dessert.  I was full after all.  And now it was time to go dance it off. 

Until our next Berger,

Southampton Social Club
256 Elm Street
Southampton, NY

A Non-Existent Lunch: Brasserie, New York, NY

Bad dining is usually a result of a bad decision - picking a sub-par restaurant, sitting at an uncomfortable table and the worst mistake of all, ordering the wrong dish.  Sometimes the right dish can right the other wrongs, but the wrong dish almost always ruins the experience.  I had one of those meals this week.

Since moving full time to the East End of Long Island, my NYC lunches are few and far between. Most of them involve a chopped salad bar (even the New York Times talks about the craze this week), and a sprint back to work. So when the opportunity to have lunch at Brasserie in midtown arose, I jumped on it.

Apparently, the entire city decided to step it up for lunch today for as I descended down the steps into Brasserie there was already a line 10 people deep waiting to be seated. 

The line moved briskly and I soon found myself sitting in possibly the loudest restaurant in the history of the restaurant world. The noise wasn't music, it was people - loud, hungry people.

The subterranean space is quite striking.   TV screens line the bar and show patrons walking into the restaurant. Part voyeurism, part efficient.  My eyes, however, were on the food. Massive burgers with oozing cheese kept skating past me as I munched on some crusty baguette with butter.

I stayed strong (burgers were on the menu for a BBQ that night) and ordered the chicken paillard instead. 

Food came almost instantly. The chicken was pale and buried under a pile of frisee encircled by grape tomatoes.  I almost spit out my first bite of chicken. It was not paillard. It was a barely cooked split breast with no seasoning and not pounded thin.  I tried to find a few more edible bites but wound up mainly eating the tomatoes and frisee before surrendering my plate to the waiter.

The food all around me looked amazing: a scallop dish had me drooling, a steak caesar salad glowed and each burger looked better than the rest. 

So I chalk it up to a bad choice, but, hey, at least I saved some calories.

Until our next Berger,

100 E 53rd St  New York, NY

Monday, July 08, 2013

A Casual Seafood Stop: The Crazy Fork, Mattituck, NY

A casual seafood place should not be an anomaly on the North Fork of Long Island.  Surrounded almost entirely by water, there are plenty of them in the former seaport town of Greenport, but moving west towards Riverhead, there was nothing, until now.  The Crazy Fork opened to solve just this problem.  It is the kind of place where you go to get a burger before the movies, except you get a fish sandwich instead.  And we did just that. 

On Fourth of July eve, we found ourselves post-vineyard awaiting an early showing of Monsters University.  The Crazy Fork beckoned.  When I say casual, I mean casual.  A lobster bib would be fancy here. A few tables, a few fans (not sure if they even have A/C) and a bar - conveniently across the street from the Mattituck movie theater. 

What they lack in atmosphere, they try to make up for in food.  The menu has your requisite fried fish baskets and sandwiches, as well as oysters, clams, mussels and lobsters.  Plus, a more elaborate section of the menu offers items like Caribbean jerk mahi-mahi and fig-glazed salmon.

JB chose an oyster po-boy, now I am not a po-boy expert, but I don't think po-boys in New Orleans come on a hoagie roll.  Regardless, JB found the oysters themselves tasty and had no complaints about the fries.

There was a shrimp tacos appetizer as a special, and I felt compelled to continue the never ending quest of the best fish taco on the East End. The Crazy Fork version came with a fresh fruit salsa which kept the tacos on the lighter side.  While Shuckers still wins, I would certainly get these again.

Meanwhile, our boys continued their quest of the well done hamburger.  They were so well done, that I could barely cut them.  No worries, once cut, the hamburger went faster than my shrimp tacos.

They did have some good looking desserts, but we had to save room for popcorn.

Until our next Berger,

The Crazy Fork
10560 Main Road
Mattituck, NY