Muse in the Harbor is billed as “a chef Matthew Guiffrida Production.” This phrase, seemingly borrowed from the opening credits of a movie, I take to mean that Guiffrida has put his personal imprint on all aspects of Muse. If this is true, I would say that, judging by his restaurant, Guiffrida is a man of great taste, given to playfulness and extravagance in equal measure.
I say Guiffrida has great taste not only because he makes fantastic food, but also because on our recent visit, which was the first we’ve made to Muse during daylight, I noticed that the tasteful pale grey color of the napery and menus perfectly matched the tasteful color of my trousers. Muse’s is a very handsome dining room, and I looked great in there. We very comfortably settled in to nibble on the tender, warm rolls that are accompanied by tasty extra-virgin olive oil, sun-dried tomato spread and what my dining companion described as “serious” butter.
Guiffrida’s playfulness comes across in names he gives some of his culinary creations—the Tuna “Ménage A Trois,” a tempting appetizer featuring tuna tartar, blackened tuna and seared tuna, and in “The Three Little Pigs,” a delightful entrée that presents pulled pork alongside homemade bacon and teriyaki-braised pork belly. Then there’s Guiffrida’s playful blending of “high” and “low” cuisines, as in the naughty entrée of Southern-style chicken fried steak (here made with a veal cutlet), and also noticeable in the gentrification of the meatball found with the “Not Ya Mama’s Meatballs” appetizer—a delicious quartet of meatballs in four different national styles.
Then there’s Guiffrida’s extravagance. The centerpiece at Muse is the massive, beautiful aquarium that dominates the dining room, with all manner of tropical fish to feast the eyes upon. You don’t see that at too many restaurants on the East End, with their understandable focus on the bottom line. But the payoff in atmosphere at Muse is huge.
On our recent visit, we were the beneficiaries of Guiffrida’s extravagance and playfulness in the form of the scallop mac-n-cheese appetizer. Once again a clever gentrification of an ostensibly humble dish, here the traditional elbow macaroni is tossed with a fabulously rich, very cheesy white cheddar-boursin sauce and studded with tasty, tender Peconic Bay scallops. It’s then baked in a bread-crumb gratin. This is macaroni and cheese with an exclamation point. It was all I could do to stop myself from eating the entire thing, but I was eventually prevailed upon to share it: I would recommend splitting this for all but the heartiest of appetites.
A spinach and feta “Soup of the Moment” was no less delicious, if a lot less over-the-top. Puréed spinach made for a smooth, light and salty-good base, with the feta providing tang and richness.
Guiffrida’s tributes to American vernacular cooking include the aforementioned chicken fried steak, but we decided to try the “Thanksgiving Meatloaf,” a turkey meatloaf that brings alive the flavors of Turkey Day, and which comes with a side of “stuffing”— polenta seasoned liberally with sage. And why not? Why should the tastes of Thanksgiving be limited to the end of November? The fried onion rings that serve as a garnish were praised as “killer.”
“Killer” also serves as an apt description of the jumbo shrimp scampi, which presents a wooden skewer of tasty, juicy, perfectly grilled shrimp over a bed of penne carbonara made with pancetta, shallots, spinach and sweet peas sauced with parmesan and beurre blanc. Less garlicky than many iterations, Guiffrida’s read on scampi is an expert blend of the salty and the sweet and the sinfully rich.
We found ourselves too full for dessert. I should note that Guiffrida’s playfulness and extravagance continues on the dessert menu, it includes a dignified take on the s’more as well as a mandarin whip “shortcake” that sounds very intriguing. Next time!
Muse in the Harbor, 16 Main Street, Sag Harbor, 631-899-4810, museintheharbor.com