Local Produce is King at Bay Kitchen Bar

23
Aug
2014

Hamptons-Magazine

Bay Kitchen Bar docked at Three Mile Harbor in East Hampton in mid-April, and dinner in the snazzy, nautical-look dining room is indeed like being on a cruise ship at anchor. The color scheme is royal blue and white, and the deck is suitably planked and dark; I felt like I should salute upon approaching the hostess podium. The chair backs are diagonally striped in the same blue and white, a signal flag perhaps for “Order when ready.”

The dining room layout has a certain naval show, too: Five ranks of tables (102 seats), two rows inside, three outside on the terrace, with those on the rail putting one right under the setting sand-dollar sun. It throws slants of cinematographer shadow across the dining room, transforming a high-cheeked brunette two tables over into a Craigslist Missed Connection.

But even from the back-wall banquettes (royal blue and piped in pink), one has a prime view of a landscape—receding, slim-fingered headlands, scraggles of pine and squiggles of marsh, the bay lightly chevroned—that just calls out for rendering in brisk, slim, charcoal horizontals.

The owner and chef is Eric Miller, who in this age of talkative toques is disarming in his use of simple declarative sentences—“little twists on classic seafood dishes,” he says when asked to define the cuisine. And then, when I ask about Bay Kitchen Bar’s place in the East End restaurant ecosystem (getting a bit high-church, I admit), he just says, “We thought that there was no dedicated seafood restaurant between Montauk and East Hampton.”

Miller’s E.B. White succinctness (spiced with some New Yawkese) gives no hint of his deep-bench résumé. He started out at The Hemsley Palace Hotel; spent time at La Column d’Or—take a moment to Google it; cooked at Maurice, the great restaurant in the Parker Meridien Hotel, under Christian Delouvrier; owned City Café and Chianti; came out East to buy Food & Co.; and served as a partner and executive chef in the pop-up New American seafood tavern Madison & Main in Sag Harbor. Miller brings foie gras know-how and price-of- beans solidity to this venture, citing André Soltner as his model: “I can’t let it get past me in the kitchen if it’s not perfect,” he says. Like Soltner, he’s on the line, in at 10 am to filet fish, and one gets the feeling that in Bay Kitchen Bar, he’s found his homeport. “I’m going to get old here,” he says without prompting.

Miller’s governing idea is to think globally about cuisine—lobster ravioli (homemade)—and locally about sourcing, with the idea of supporting the local economy as far as possible. Stewarts in Amagansett is one of his seafood purveyors, but he has a friend, captain of a 100-ton boat, who also supplies fish. “You see that guy standing in the water?” he says, pointing to the shallows across the marina. “That could be my clams tomorrow.”

The menu is taxonomic: “raw-and-chilled, small plates, crudo, ceviche, crisp, fish and shellfish, meat, and poultry.” (Don’t fret, carnivores, there is Black Angus sirloin and filet, spit-roasted Long Island duck, and organic roasted chicken.) The dishes are as straightforward as Miller, but subtle, too—technique (but not too much) brought to bear on very good ingredients with judicious small twists: Chickpea flour is used to crust the Montauk calamari, mango, and roasted pineapple salsa under the excellent local fluke crudo with microgreens on top. (Satour and Balsam Farms are the restaurant’s go-to produce suppliers.)

On this menu, the words “small plates” are an understatement. The lobster roll is a berm of freshly shucked crustacean on a toasted brioche roll, and the charred baby octopus is one long tentacle on a bed of Pointillist color, finely diced purple cauliflower, yellow pepper, and fava beans, plus couscous and a liberal rasher of parsley. Both were superb, as was the Bay Kitchen Fisherman Soup, a viscous herbed lake usually studded with tuna, fluke, and striped bass, but also with halibut the evening I dined—the recipe varies with the day’s catch. (“The halibut was caught this morning,” Miller says.) The dish could have been my meal.

The Dayboat scallops were melting and set off by a bed of crisp harvest grains, with herbs and fresh lemon providing the harmony. The striped bass (local, of course) is given a high note through a roasted endive spear topped with caramelized onion and, on the evening I dined, roasted mush- rooms alongside. The only dish that fell a bit short was the lobster ravioli. Somehow that plum tomato, fennel, and saffron sauce seemed to smother rather than sing. But at Bay Kitchen Bar, a swing and a miss only serves to highlight the home runs. 39 Gann Road, East Hampton, 329-3663

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