Hamptons Epicure: Restaurant Nirvana – Be Friendly, Not Thrifty

I don’t review restaurants and cookbooks ALL of the time—I was shopping in a thrift store in Southampton recently.

Someone there knew me and asked about the food at a particular East End restaurant. I gave my honest opinion (thumbs down) and another woman launched into her critique of that restaurant and a string of others—she was off and running, what you might call “yelping.” Though we didn’t always see eye-to-eye, I admired her thoroughness and attention to detail. This went on until she realized that I was smiling at her, almost laughing. She finally shut her cakehole.

It dawned on me that I had stopped responding to her observations and instead started to be terribly amused because I—unlike this “prix fixe donna”—do not feel competitive about my restaurant resumé. I haven’t been to them all; I haven’t tried EVERY DISH—I know how to cook, after all. Whenever I can, I go to my favorite Hamptons restaurant in my own kitchen.

I don’t need to impress you with an encyclopedic knowledge of where THE best deals are (though, clearly, I like a bargain—THRIFT store), I just want to share my insights and invite you to have a good time dining out.

It struck me that it might be helpful to share the mechanics of enjoying oneself while dining out.

Firstly, dress up a little. Don’t just throw a cover-up over a swimsuit and twist your wet hair into a blob—unless you’re the one in charge of roasting a pig on the beach. Make the evening special by marking the occasion with a nice outfit, “bling!” jewelry, all the makeup you feel like applying (the room will be dimly lit, I promise)—but not too much perfume.

Like anything else—planning makes perfect, or, at least, better. MAKE A RESERVATION and KEEP IT. As Chef Tom Schaudel will tell you, not everyone on Long Island can eat at 8 p.m. on a Saturday. If you show up early, or late, or without a reservation at all, why should you expect a seat? It doesn’t work that way with your dentist or your lawyer, right?

Don’t swim against the tide. If the restaurant is known for its fabulous, local seafood, why-oh-why would you order chicken cacciatore?

Ask questions and know thy growing seasons. The best restaurants change their menus often to take advantage of seasonal bounty, yet many restaurants, even at the high end, don’t get it quite right. Local strawberries gave up the ghost over a month ago. Corn is only now in high season. If a local restaurant buys a bushel of local mushrooms in May, can they still be serving them around Labor Day? Not according to Bridgehampton mushroom farmer David Falkowski. Give “positive reinforcement” by saying, “Oh, the squash is local, what farm is it from?” Our local farmers will thank you.

Another good line of inquiry is to ask your server what his or her favorite dishes are and why. He or she should have been given the opportunity to try them all. In my experience, servers ALWAYS know which are the best house cocktails…

Did I mention good manners? Didn’t your mother make this clear? Treat others as you would have them treat you. It’s not always your server’s fault when he or she is “in the weeds.” Be patient. Order a bottle of wine for the table to start—this will round off many an edge. Maybe a nice Sancerre or a local rosé. Go with the flow.

Tip generously—especially if you frequent a particular restaurant. The karmic benefits are immediate and multifaceted.

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