- "I called Las Vegas and asked to speak to Rick Moonen," Bruce Buschel
is saying, sitting somewhat haphazardly in a chair at Southfork Kitchen, his new, wood-infused restaurant scheduled to make its official opening debut this Saturday. "He actually came to the phone; I just asked if he had any chefs he could spare or recommend. He gave me Joe."
Chef Joe Isidori of Southfork Kitchen. (Susan Meisel)
And "Joe," for the uninitiated, is Chef Joe Isidori
, most recently the chef at Harbour in New York's SoHo and before that the ersatz major domo of all things culinary for Donald Trump
. Awarded a scholarship to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde
Park, NY, at 21, Isidori was hired as chef de cuisine by the Nemo Restaurant Group in Miami, FL almost as fast as he could remove his cap and gown upon graduation. Three years later Trump hired him as chef for the real estate mogul's golf clubs in New York, New Jersey and Palm Beach. A year after that he was promoted to vice president of food and beverages for Trump's hotels and society events.
So much for Isidori's relatively short, but impressive resume. It is at Southfork Kitchen where the young chef has a license to truly flex his creative muscles, encouraged and enabled by first time restaurateur Buschel, who's relaxed yet focused ideas and approach to opening a fine dining establishment in the Hamptons - copiously documented in his New York Times
blog, "You're The Boss," is, arguably, at once fresh and slightly reckless. To wit: "I hired Joe without ever tasting anything he cooked," admits Buschel.
Southfork Kitchen's Summer Fluke Crudo.
But no matter. Buschel is savvy enough to recognize major talent when he speaks to it, and he hired Isidori on instinct and a gut feeling that he and the young chef could be of one mind in finalizing the Southfork Kitchen's culinary concept, which leans decidedly seaward for the most part. And based on the inventive dishes that came from Isidori's brand new kitchen on Wednesday evening, Buschel is batting a thousand on his instincts for spotting rare gems in a sea of mediocrity.
Here's how Wednesday evening's preview dinner "for family and friends," went, courtesy of Buschel's largess: First came an amuse bouche of fresh lobster salad formed into a round the size of a small hockey puck. Bright, citrusy, sweet and clean, the texture of this tasty tango was given an element of surprise with crispy mini croutons in the mix. Brilliant.
Next up as an appetizer was a thick wedge of Hudson Valley Pork Belly, slightly crisped on top, with melt-in-your-mouth, succulent pork below, served with a Kimchi flavored diced watermelon and cucumber salad. The Southfork Kitchen Clam Chowder was a dark, spicy potage inhabited by soy-cured bacon, garden vegetables and perfectly poached local clams. In between courses a fresh garden salad "for the table" was served - an interesting amalgam of chunky tomatoes, diced beets, roasted fennel and cucumbers in a wooden bowl swimming in a creamy dressing of Evan's buttermilk and Ewe's blue cheese that you tossed yourself then poured into separate bowls of Amber Waves lettuces. A bit tricky, and not a little awkward, but a decidedly novel way to serve salad.
As for entrees, a gorgeously seared fresh slab of Arctic Char sat in a flavor pronounced white miso and tomato "fondue," book-ended by two white balls of poached baby turnips. It was, in short, spectacular.
PEI Mussels Kimchi with cabbage and bacon.
Equally impressive were the Point Pleasant Scallops, nicely seared and sweet, bathed in a North Fork cauliflower foam kicked up with golden raisins and laced with vadouvon - an obscure Indian spice mixture that can include any combination of curry leaves, fenugreek, mustard seeds, garlic and sometimes cumin.
For dessert, tender green figs and tasty Italian prune plums co-mingled in a pool of local sheep's milk yogurt dotted with almond
crumble and Thai basil leaves. More than a little unusual and not something I would normally order but enjoyed nonetheless.
Buschel chose to pour Long Island wines exclusively, though the eventual wine list, he says, will be inclusive of wines from all over, with a heavy emphasis on Long Island producers. Last night, Paumanok's 2008 Sauvignon Blanc, a zesty quaffer with hints of grapefruit and lemon zest, was poured from a tap at the cedar top bar, while 2007 Pinot Noir from Castello di Borghese
was an excellent choice for a local red wine that pairs particularly well with seafood.
With the faint aroma of new cedar permeating the air, the interior of Southfork Kitchen resembles that of an urban modernist's vision of a country barn. The décor is spare and tasteful, mostly masculine in style yet comfortable and inviting. A wood-burning fireplace is built into one of the walls, which will be lit during the colder months.
There is still much work to be done before Buschel's and Isidori's vision of Southfork Kitchen is fully realized (the wait service was a bit awkward and ill-informed of the wines and many of the imaginative dishes' ingredients, but it was, in fairness, a first night run-through). But from the glimpse of this new and iconoclastic restaurant I was privy to this week, expect a bright new culinary star to shine brightly on the East End come this weekend.
Southfork Kitchen is located at 200 Sag Harbor Turnpike in Bridgehampton, 631-537-4700.