Every summer since we got engaged on the beach, my husband and I find at least a week to escape to his parents' beach house in Montauk, NY. What was once a sleepy fishing town has become a haven for summer weekenders from "the city". It is, in fact, starting to become so popular that I'm afraid it is in danger of becoming an extension of the Hamptons. (That's a note to you, New York Times, and you, Food & Wine Magazine - stop writing about Montauk. It is our little secret! Of course, aren't I now guilty of the same thing?). To me Montauk is synonymous with lazy days and late meals and curling up in bed satiated by both the day's sun and the night's dinner. The positive aspect of becoming a potential East Hampton East, is the recognition of the quality chefs and restaurants, both new and old - Top Chef contestant Sam Talbot and his Surf Lodge, for one. The beach is no longer only for fried clams and ice cream (although any beach trip would be incomplete without having both at least once).
Leading up to our annual vacation, we generally plot out our dinners. Typically, we'd like to leave a beach vacation room for some spontaneity, but the restaurants on Montauk have strict reservation policies/ recommendations: reserve one week out, two days out, reserve day of (phones open at 4:15pm) unless you are a party of 6 or more, then you can call the day before and of course, there are the handful that take no reservations at all. Some are closed Mondays, others on Wednesdays, others (because of the new-found popularity) are just about impossible to get into if you have not arrived by 7:00pm. In one case, the restaurant will stop taking names as early as 8pm if it appears the kitchen will be backed up. Kitchen at said restaurant closes at 10pm sharp. Now, why would we go through all of this rigamarole on vacation? Because the food is worth it.
Here's the low-down on our favorites:
468 West Lake Drive
Montauk, New York
The creme de la creme of Montauk restaurants, in my opinion. This is the restaurant where you have to call at exactly 4:15pm on the day that you wish to eat there. Once you secure the coveted reservation and upon arrival, the owner will greet you and take you to your table which may be outside on the covered veranda overlooking the harbor or within the cozy interior of the restaurant. The menu highlights local, fresh fish with a few non-seafood options. Our favorites: fried oysters, tuna tempura sushi, smoked tuna spread, coconut fried shrimp and/or spareribs for an appetizer and baked stuffed lobster, paparadelle with lobster ragu, any of the fish specials (a recent horseradish encrusted halibut was to die for), and of course, Dave's Original Cioppino as an entree. The cioppino arrives in a lovely light and savory tomato broth complete with scallops, shrimp, clams, calamari, mussels, fish, and a half lobster, plus a toasted crostini for dipping. A seafood lovers delight. And the best part? Chef David Marclay shares his recipe on the restaurant's Web site. At this point, you better hope you saved room for dessert because the Barbara (a chocolate fudge brownie sundae) and the famous Chocolate Bag (Belgian chocolate bag filled with Tahitian vanilla ice cream and strawberry compote, finished with whipped cream, raspberry and mango sauce - served with a steak knife to break the dessert apart) are must haves.
West Lake Clam and Chowder House
352 West Lake Drive
Montauk, New York
The Chowder House, as it is called by the Montaukens (Montaukets?), was a new restaurant for us this year. Suggested to us by friends who always dine there on their first night in Montauk, this was the surprise of all surprises. No reservations, show up early to get on the list, and hopefully before they stop taking names due to the kitchen's nightly closing at 10pm. Be prepared to eat at the bar, if need be - the food makes up for the slight discomfort of the bar stools. And, turn off your cell phones. As posted directly above the hostess stand, they just want you to relax. Upon first glance (and second glance too), it appears that you have stumbled upon the late night fisherman's watering hole of the east end of the island. Bar atmosphere, slightly run down and
cluttered decor was enough to make me think I'd be eating something basic, maybe fried. Imagine
my surprise when I found seared sea scallops over risotto with black truffle essense on the menu. And is that a sushi bar off to the side? They serve both New England and Manhatten clam chowder, and true to their name, they do both with great success. The sushi is delicious and inventive and fresh off the boat.
51 Edgemere Street
Sometimes, just sometimes, you get a little tired of seafood on a beach vacation. When this happens in Montauk, we head to East by Northeast. Specifically for the Long Island Duck. East by Northeast, owned by the same folks as Harvest (another great Montauk find), takes a wordly fusion approach to food - blending flavors from the far east with down-home American cooking. Take the Peking duck tacos for example - one of our favorite appetizers. Juicy shredded duck topped with hoisen barbeque sauce and fresh guacamole held together by a wonton taco shell. And if that's not enough, one of us usually orders the Long Island Crescent duck breast, served with a pinot noir cassis glace and a vegetable spring roll. Also good are any of their steaks. If you can get a reservation early enough, East by Northeast has a beautiful view of the summer sunset over Fort Pond.
Finally, I would be remiss without mentioning some of the more casual eateries - places to get those fried clams, fish and chips, and soft-served ice cream (with chocolate sprinkles, of course). I've already written about Gosman's Dock and Duryea's and their competing lobster rolls. Both have great outdoor seating, under umbrellas, on the water, and come sunset ready. Gosman's Dock also has a gourmet market on site where we generally stock up on sesame noodles, fresh yellowfin tuna
salad, and seaweed salad for snacking. Wok and Roll is the resident Chinese food restaurant. Chinese food? At the beach, you say? Well, Wok and Roll will take your fresh caught fish and cook it up for you. I'm not kidding when I say that you haven't lived until you've had General Tso's striped bass. Yum!