Cooking at Quail Hill alongside other East End chefs at the farm’s annual “Common Table” dinner is just as fundamental to my annual plan as cutting the season’s first asparagus spears from my garden during the last days of May. Every year I look forward to meeting new chefs and reconnecting with old friends like Joe Realmuto and Jason Weiner. Last summer, the new “young chef” – the one with the wild eyes – was a man named Jeremy Blutstein. His enthusiasm for the outing was clear, and as I approached and began assembling my station, he was in lock step with Realmuto and Weiner, offering his assistance. Knowing full well that we all need a little help to complete our dishes, I gladly accepted help from this esteemed trio. In no time, my potato/chorizo galette was coming out of the wood burning oven and heading to the welcoming harvest table, which, at first glance, appeared to stretch across the orchard. It was a spectacle!
As the last plates of desserts were delivered to the two hundred guests seated at the table, I had started to pack out, and there again to help me load sheet pans onto the pick-up was Jeremy.
Twenty years earlier Jeremy had been just a kid, often seated at the counter of my first restaurant, Estia, eating pancakes with a bunch of his friends. But that day at Quail Hill, he surprised me when he told me that he had just finished his first season at the helm of the well-known Montauk restaurant, East by Northeast, and he invited me to visit once the season quieted down in September.
For years I’d been aware of the lakeside restaurant. In the beginning it was Asian inspired. The portions back then were large – in a way, a fitting match for the always-boisterous crowd. With a new menu and quieter room, I’ve found the reinvented East by Northeast to be a delightful excuse to make the drive to Montauk and relax at what I consider to be the best tableside sunset view on the East End. Chef Blutstein seems to be drawing more of the northeast’s influence onto the plate. With vegetables sourced from the Amber Waves and Balsam Farms in Amagansett plus his locally sourced fish, meats and fowl, East by Northeast is more unique than ever and perfectly suited to the hip crowds that have recast Montauk as one of the most popular summer resort destinations in the world.
On each visit we started with an order of Jeremy’s irresistible steamed pork buns (my wife Jessica loves to follow the pork buns with a Lolly Pop (crisp) kale salad). On another visit, with a group of six, we tried two plates of the Hoisin duck taco in wanton skins – crisp wonton “tacos” filled with shredded duck in a sweet, garlicky hoisin sauce.
For main courses we shared a wonderful Korean Chicken. It was crisp and fried, finished in a slightly sweet peanut sauce. We also enjoyed a beef short rib served off the bone. It was served in a more American – stick to your ribs – style, perfect for one of our guests who had just spent the afternoon surfing the huge waves off Turtle Cove.
Don’t leave without sharing a few desserts. I emphatically recommend Jeremy’s Ice cream peanut butter bar! Also, your table must share the mini ice cream cones served with different flavors of home made gelato-style ice creams.The sous chef himself delivered my favorite desert! It was his first shot at crab apple candy spun ice cream over home made granola. It was a stunner – both to look at, and as a sweet and crunchy cap to the meal.
I’ve learned to expect the simplest surprises from East by Northeast – tall and frosty beer glasses; a visit from the manager to assure a comfortable start; a salad lighter and more flavorful than any I remember, and a smile on the wait staff that reminds me that it’s ok to ask for something simply out of the ordinary.