The splashiest overhaul of the summer must be the makeover of a landmark, the former Gurney's Inn.
For all the chatter about the transformation of Montauk's social scene and beach-town style, no change is more dramatic than what has happened here under new ownership.
The Sea Grille, that time capsule of nautical kitsch, now is The Seawater Grill. And the tired inn itself has become Gurney's Montauk Resort & Seawater Spa. All that remains of the decades-old experience is the oceanfront setting and the footprint.
The Seawater Grill opens streamlined in gray-green hues without a ship's wheel in sight. Executive chef Seth Levine, of Manhattan's Hotel Chantelle and formerly Georgica in Wainscott, and food-and-beverage director Jennifer Oz LeRoy, the show-biz scion formerly of The Russian Tea Room and Tavern on the Green, know you need more than the view.
Levine introduces playful molecular gastronomy plus good sushi and comfort fare, refreshing the approach without forgetting the steamed lobster. Sometimes it seems like a work-in-progress, but the year-round resort is ready for postseason play.
Try Levine's artful Montauk fluke crudo, with micro fennel, crisp shallots, watermelon radish and grapefruit-infused olive oil. His refined tuna tartare tacos, with molecular soy-sauce "pearls," are flavor-packed; oysters Rockefeller fritters, rich.
The Oz sushi roll defines overorchestrated, with tuna, shrimp tempura, crab, avocado, cucumber, seaweed salad, roe, soy sauce, spicy mayo and more. New England-style clam chowder is potato-laden.
Seared diver scallops, however, stand out, accompanied by cauliflower puree and roasted cauliflower florets. Pan-roasted striped bass satisfies, alongside local roasted corn. Rare, seared yellowfin tuna, crusted with black-and-white sesame seeds, also is a fine choice. Two-pound lobsters, broiled or steamed: excellent.
The seafood with linguine in a spicy tomato sauce vaguely evokes earlier years but definitely makes you appreciate this one more. Eggplant Parmesan stuffed heirloom tomato is a carved beefsteak packed with eggplant, baked and capped with burrata. Unwieldy rather than wry, it doesn't work. But the irony-free chicken Parmesan does, in a portion that could feed two.
Most desserts disappoint, from s'mores "pizza," with the aroma of lighter fluid, to pecan-crusted French toast box with a sourish filling of ricotta and mascarpone. The "Over the Rainbow" ice-cream sandwich is a crayon-colored layering of poor, crepe-thin cakes, separated by a scoop of first-class vanilla.
But to anyone who has dined at Gurney's since the 1980s, the remade restaurant is startling, risky and welcome. Montauk is dubbed "The End." Here, it's "The Beginning," too.