Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Almond - Bridgehampton

Goat Cheese Ravioli with Onions Five Ways and Red Pepper Sauce
Perched on a prime corner in Bridgehampton, where the turnpike meets the highway, Almond is taking well to its new location. Relocated there last summer from a more isolated spot along the highway, this Hamptons-chic bistro looks like it has been there for years. Happy Hamptonites, glowing with the joys of summer--but never shedding their New York City sophistication--descend on it to enjoy updated bistro fare and good conversation.

Co-owner Eric Lemonides works the dining room. He is confidently charismatic; the kind of guy you want to like you. Remembering us (or convincingly pretending to remember us) from previous visits to his restaurants over the years, he brought our entrees over himself, greeting me with a warm handshake and my wife with a kiss on the cheek. On the way out, he said goodbye to us by name. These kinds of gestures just make you feel good, particularly in a glamorous place like the Hamptons where some places treat even their repeat customers like an afterthought (or worse, a nuisance), and they really do make you want to return.

House Cured Salmon
So does the food. House cured salmon, cut thin, is draped over crunchy crushed potato chips and served with a puddle of creamy dill sauce. Salmon and dill are a classic combination, of course, and theirs is enhanced by a touch of sour from pickled onions and some brininess from large capers. A carefully composed dish made to look simple, incorporating beautiful contrasts of textures and flavors.

Linguine with white clam sauce, served on Sundays, is a real standout - one of the best versions of the classic I have had anywhere. The clams are the small variety, cooked perfectly and not at all chewy, although a few remained slightly gritty. The linguine is thick-cut, homemade and cooked perfectly, with significant tooth to it. The sauce is smooth, buttery and not completely traditional, flavored with white wine, basil, tomatoes and a dash of hot pepper.

I was disappointed when Lemonides and his co-owner, chef Jason Weiner, closed Almond's Mexican sister-restaurant Almondito, which had some of the best and most interesting casual fare in the Hamptons. It served terrific fish tacos before they became widespread in New York. It also boasted expensive guacamole, of course, and Mexican salad featuring black beans, corn, avocado and Manchego cheese that I have replicated with some success at home (recipe forthcoming).

Linguini with White Clam Sauce
Still, the new and improved Almond, which also has a Manhattan location, is a good substitute. The menu offers classic bistro fare, including steak frites, mussels and roast chicken. It also changes seasonally, offering ramps in the late Spring and swapping them out for squash blossoms in early Summer. To be fair, it is a difficult menu for someone like my wife, a pescatarian who doesn't eat most shellfish. On our last visit, the fish offerings all had shellfish components, although I'm sure they would have made them without. The restaurant ought to be careful about this, as New Yorkers are ever finicky about their food preferences, even when on vacation.

Many are fond of the whole steamed artichoke, served with five dipping sauces. I find a whole artichoke difficult to eat - more work than I want to do on vacation - and I prefer the crispy artichokes with lemon and smokey pimenton aiolli at the Grill on Pantigo in East Hampton, where the restaurant has done the work of separating the edible and inedible parts of the artichoke for you. But the dipping sauces for this healthier version are tasty and the variety makes it fun.

Almond enjoys preparing single ingredients in multiple ways. Goat cheese ravioli is served with onions five ways: shallots, ramps, leeks, pickled onions and cipollini. The pasta is cooked to a true al dente, still with a bite to it, and served with a thick sauce made from red bell peppers.

The atmosphere is bustling with a moderate-high noise level, energetic but tame enough for at least a small party to converse easily. The crowd is mixed, with many fashionable young people dressed for summer, but also with plenty of fashionable older folks dressed for summer. A few outdoor tables for four line the street, partially secluded from traffic by carefully situated foliage. Bridgehampton makes for a delightful stroll before or after dinner. Inside or out, Almond is a fine choice for casual but creative bistro fare in a comfortable setting on a warm summer night.

Almond
One Ocean Road
Bridgehampton, NY
(631) 537-5665
http://www.almondnyc.com/

Recommended Dishes: House cured salmon ($14); linguine with clam sauce ($28); goat cheese ravioli ($26).


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