Nick & Toni's
136 N. Main St. East Hampton, NY 631-324-3550
One of the area's top spots for spotting celebrities -- though the real star, executive chef Joseph Realmuto, is the real star -- this chic yet unpretentious restaurant begins with contemporary Italian cuisine, then moves toward Mediterranean and New American fare. (Expect the menu to change seasonally). Be sure to make reservations, especially during summer.Hours: Open for dinner Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, 6 to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 6 to 11 p.m.; Sunday, 5:30 to 9 p.m. Sunday brunch, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Closed Tuesday. Ambience: Very Good Service: Very Good Reservations: Required Credit cards: Accepted Accessibility: Yes
Richard Gere will be honored at the 20th anniversary Hamptons International Film Festival this weekend. Maybe he'll snag a table at Nick & Toni's.
In summer, it's the toughest Saturday-night reservation in town. Nick & Toni's has overflowed with extra-virgin olive oil and boldface notables since 1988. Jagger, Streisand, McCartney, Clinton, Realmuto.
That's Joseph Realmuto.
He's the executive chef, whose performance lifts the H'wood-B'way-D.C. canteen. Realmuto's take on Italian, Mediterranean and New American cuisine stays fresh in-season and off. Nick & Toni's emphasized local ingredients before the term "locavore" reached the dictionary.
This is an unfussy, unpretentious restaurant, especially appealing after the Memorial Day-to-Labor Day frenzy and all the head-turning that goes with it. The spotlight is a bit more diffuse. The decor in the three, haute-homey dining rooms includes children's drawings. The wood-burning oven contributes to the effect, too.
But you can start with a lustrous East End fluke crudo, accented with lambrusco vinegar and red sea salt. Or with a salad made with the last of the local heirloom tomatoes, house-made mozzarella and basil, finished with drops of saba.
Fritto misto, a crisp combo of rock shrimp, calamari and baby artichokes, arrives with lemon aioli. Zucchini chips: addictive snacks.
Realmuto prepares superior pasta. One of the mainstays is penne alla vecchia bettola, in a stirring, spicy oven-roasted tomato sauce. It's rivaled by the Gorgonzola-local leek ravioli, sent out glistening from tomato-sorrel butter. Airy ricotta gnocchi should be ordered in any version. Or consider rigatoni tossed with local chard, guanciale and lemon ricotta.
From the oven comes whole, roasted branzino, a fine treatment of an all-purpose fish that's becoming the tilapia of its time. Nutty, diver scallops get a lift from caramelized fennel, radicchio, black olives and grapefruit salad.
Mint salsa verde boosts the juicy, grilled lamb tenderloin. Crushed Yukon Gold potatoes, roasted garlic, house-cured pancetta and rosemary jus do the same for the full-flavored, free-range chicken. The colorful, savory vegetable-and-goat cheese terrine could seduce your local butcher.
The imperially slim will be tempted by pastry chef Jessica Craig's blueberry and apple crostatas, lemon-thyme panna cotta, salted chocolate-caramel tart and biscotti.
And actor-activist Gere might like the fair-trade decaf or the organic house-made limoncello to toast chef Realmuto, one star to another.