North Fork Table & Inn

Most New Yorkers wouldn't think of fall as the season to go "out East," which is exactly why it's a great time to go. A tour of Long Island wine country during harvest time will take you to one of the best restaurants out East, in the Hamptons or otherwise. The North Fork Table & Inn in Southold is smack in the middle of vineyard-land.

Using local, seasonal ingredients from the myriad neighboring farmers, chef Gerry Haden, formerly of Aureole and Amuse in Manhattan, created an extensive but focused menu that leverages the bounty of quality vegetables, fish, and game available on the North Fork. Though it doesn't come cheap - the average entree price is about $35 - the food at North Fork Table is worth it.

Unlike so many places in the Hamptons where you pay top dollar to get jostled at the bar and neglected at the table, North Fork Table has the ambiance and service to match its price point. The atmosphere inside the quaint old farmhouse is sophisticated and quiet, with a stripped-down, almost stark interior and ambient lighting throughout. Many of the diners are regulars with houses in the area. Everyone seemed particularly intent on the wine list, which is heavy on offerings from North Fork vineyards. Lest you worry you don't know the terroir well enough to pick a bottle, sommelier and owner - with his wife Mary - Mike Mraz will steer you in the right direction, often offering a taste before you commit to a whole bottle. The Paumanok 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon Grand Vintage was excellent, and Jay McInerney's Long Island favorite, The Grapes of Roth, is also on the list and all it's cracked up to be.

If there were any misses on the menu, we didn't find them on a recent Friday night. Cod and Yukon Gold potato cakes were light and fluffy, served with homemade tartar sauce laced with truffle oil. The assortment of K.K.'s biodynamic heirloom tomatoes were enveloped in a paper-thin slice of delicious Berkshire pork prosciutto. Apparently, K.K. is a local farmer who's rather obsessed with tomatoes, bathing the seeds in all sorts of concoctions before planting them. "She puts a ram's horn in the earth on the night of the full moon," Mraz joked of her biodynamic methods, which are derived more from the Farmer's Almanac than the bioengineering trickery of today. Ram's horn or no ram's horn, the results are amazing tomatoes.

The white asparagus and fava bean salad was out of this world. Somehow the combination of this cool vegetable crunch, the delicate green onion buttermilk dressing, and the campfire scent of applewood smoked bacon made for an incredible trio. When asked where they got the bacon, Mraz said, "Just the local butcher in Southold." Who knew?

Black Angus strip steak was as good as any you'll find in a steak house, and the accompanying glazed baby carrots and truffled potatoes were on another plane entirely. Fresh fig sauce pooled around the succulent duck breast, giving it a similar sweet tang as a traditional cherry sauce, but with an almost grape-y flavor much better suited to a meal served with fine wine.

The piquillo pepper "gazpacho," made entirely with peppers and laced with shrimp, avocado and cilantro, lacked any of the harshness you might expect from a soup made entirely with peppers, because they had been roasted to a point of falling-apart sweetness.

Kudos go to pastry chef Claudia Fleming too, who makes cinnamon beignets light as air and the triple-threat dessert of chocolate mousse, a brownie, and dulce de leche ice cream.

The best you can expect from most restaurants is an attention to detail. The North Fork Table exhibits an attention to minutiae - microfarming, the microclimate of Long Island wine country, and micromanaging everything that appears on the table. If the fall menu, due to debut any day now, is anywhere near as promising as the summer one, we say please, manage away.

North Fork Table & Inn
57225 Main Road
Southold, New York