On a recent visit to Harbor Bistro on Three Mile Harbor in East Hampton, I asked along two friends who hadn’t been to the bistro before. I have—happily so—many times, so I thought that for a review, I needed some fresh palates to accompany me.
Guest One’s eyes widened upon our being seated on a deck overlooking the water. “Oh, my God,” she said, “I feel like I’m on vacation. This is so beautiful.” The view is stunning at Harbor Bistro, overlooking rows of docked boats and some of the most beautiful sunsets on the East End. Regulars plan their reservations around the time of sunset just to enhance the ambiance of the evening.
One look at the menu and you realize that Chef Damian O’Donnell has something playful up his sleeve. From the appetizers to the desserts, the menu is inventive and classic at the same time. The items don’t have to be translated into English (as is the case at many upscale restaurants these days.) However, the Chef does add a little dash of this or that or combines particular ingredients together, making the menu fresh and surprising.
Our waiter, Patrick, was extremely helpful in pointing us in the right direction. For appetizers we ordered a specialty of the house—Kataifi Crisped-Montauk Lobster Bundles—a must have! Kataifi is a Middle Eastern pastry made from shredded phyllo dough. Inside these delectable bundles are nice chunks of lobster served with Thai citrus slaw and spicy sesame aioli. This is definitely a sharable, hearty appetizer. We also ordered the special appetizer of the night, Croque Monsieur, cut up into bite-size chunks. It was a perfect blend of gooey, warm cheese and sweet and spicy ham. One of my vegetarian guests ordered the Mediterranean vegetarian appetizer plate and was delighted with the hummus, “perfect,” the tapenade, “yummy,” with garlic, peppers, onions, celery, and the Tzatziki sauce (“I like that they made it more cucumber.”); all these dips were supplemented with warm slices of pita bread.
I forgot to mention Patrick’s suggestion for a starting cocktail: The Ginger Pear Saketini. It was a big hit, not too sweet, not too tart. The wine expert at the table started with a glass of Burgans Albarino wine from Spain and with her main course ordered a glass of Argentine Jelu Pinot Noir. As she perused the wine list she was impressed by the quality and price points ($8 to $11 per glass), with selections from across the world and from local wineries.
Though tempted, all three of us skipped over the salads and went straight to the main course. Next time back, I will definitely try the Mediterranean Shrimp-Quinoa salad with arugula, avocado, feta, tomatoes, chickpeas and lemon vinaigrette. One of Harbor Bistro’s most popular salads is the Fuji Apple & Blue Cheese salad with crisp iceberg lettuce, bacon lardon, dried berries and toasted walnuts. It’s a treat, and a display of Chef O’Donnell’s intuitive sense of pairing ingredients so that every bite is an adventure.
The main courses are broken down into three categories: pasta, fish, meat. I went for the swordfish with sweet corn ragout and tomato chipotle broth. I hadn’t had swordfish all winter and the first, perfect taste thrust me right into summer. It was perfectly cooked and delicious. Guest #2 ordered the Pistachio Crusted Tilapia served with crispy risotto, asparagus, and a Tahitian Vanilla-Lobster Nage. I hadn’t ever tried this dish, and I’ll confess, I couldn’t wrap my imagination around all of those ingredients. Wow. Was I wrong. The sweet nage was a revelation and perfectly complimented the light, succulent tilapia. The pistachio crust was not heavy, as I’d wrongly imagined. It added a crisp texture to the tender fish. Guest #3 was in training to run a half marathon, so her eyes went straight to the Dry-Rubbed, Grilled Filet Mignon served with Yukon Gold Potatoes, Haricot Vert, and Cogna Peppercorn Sauce. She was very quiet during this part of the meal and it was clear that her entire focus was on that perfectly grilled cut of meat.
Did we save room for dessert? No. Did we order dessert? Yes. Profiteroles!! I want more! And a very fun Caramel Mocha Latte’ Ya Ya…a concoction of chocolate ice creams, espresso, whipped cream and caramel served up in a cocktail glass with cookies on the side. It’s one of those desserts that leave you singing a la the great Labelle.
Harbor Bistro, 313 Three Mile Harbor Road, East Hampton, 631-324-7300, harborbistro.net.
And Chef Damien O’Donnell’s other establishment: Harbor Grill, 367 Three Mile Harbor Road, East Hampton. See review on page 89.
Check out all the freshest food and food ideas on the East End at Dan’s Taste of Two Forks on July 16. Feature story on page 40 www.danstasteoftwoforks.com. [/expand]