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Coche Comedor review: Amagansett Mexican restaurant is fresh, inspired

Coche Comedor is a Mexican-inspired restaurant in Amagansett, where chef de cuisine Juan Geronimo takes us through his steps for making scallop ceviche. (Credit: Yvonne Albinowski)

Coche Comedor

74A Montauk Hwy., Amagansett

631-267-5709, cochecomedor.com

COST: $$-$$$

SERVICE: Warm, attentive, accommodating

AMBIENCE: Colorful, artful, festive

ESSENTIALS: Open every day. Bar, from noon, with raw bar menu. Dinner, Sunday to Thursday, 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. No reservations. Major credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible.

Blazingly fresh and boldly imagined, Coche Comedor is an instant classic.

This dining car travels smoothly from the casual and homey to the refined and polished and back. The informal style and the fair prices could suggest “cheap eats.” But this definitely is fine dining, too.

Yes, there are simple, friendly spots, cozy regional places and a few higher-end rooms that define Mexican eateries in Nassau and Suffolk.

But there’s nothing like this. Suddenly, everything else seems tired.

Coche Comedor is the colorful handiwork of the group behind landmark Nick & Toni’s and Rowdy Hall in East Hampton, Townline BBQ in Sagaponack, and the adjacent La Fondita, a textbook taqueria located an open wall and an outdoor bench away.

The new paradigm takes shape in the building that once housed the Honest Diner, that fondly remembered taste of updated nostalgia, plated in the 1990s by the same ownership.

Plenty of stainless steel and vintage lighting remain, as does the rounded ceiling. But Coche Comedor is brighter and sharper, from the vivid geometric floor tiles to the whimsically designed table tops suggesting avocados; from the arched metal and tile mirrors to the folk art hands with hearts. Evocative images of Frida Kahlo look onto the main dining room and raw bar.

That’s where the artistry of executive chef Joseph Realmuto, chef de cuisine Juan Geronimo, sous chef Juan Juarez, and pastry chef Kelsey Longley is displayed, using a harvest of local ingredients.

It starts with something as basic as housemade chips and terrific salsas: verde, chipotle, and tomato. You’ll want to buy them by the quart, The show continues with a three-way spin on Caesar salad with toasted pumpkin seeds and Cotija cheese.

Then come superlative ceviches, from one of bass with grapefruit, pickled onions, and hibiscus; to another reverie of sea scallops with tangerine and yellow chile pepper that takes you from Acapulco to Lima. Crisp tacos filled with tuna tartare, radish, and avocado salsa add to the raw theme, as do sweet-briny local oysters with a tequila-lime vinaigrette.

Treat yourself to rotisserie duck sopes in corn-flour boats, with queso fresco and red pipian sauce. Spoon up sensational queso fundido enriched with chorizo, green chiles, and the crunch of toasty corn nuts. Sample a savory chicken tamal. Slice into wood-grilled octopus finished with black-olive mayo, pickled red onion, avocado crema, and lemon oil. Order soulful Chino-Latino duck fried rice.

The rice complements snappy apricot-tamarind glazed rotisserie duck; and tender chicken adobo, especially when the bird is finished with mole negro rife with chiles. Go ahead: add a side of duck fat potatoes or sweet plantains with queso fresco.

They’d also be the right company with two exceptional pork dishes: pork carnitas, wood-grilled, ready to fall away from the bone with a whisper, paired with charred baby onions; and pork barbacoa, deeply flavored and set to be scooped into hand-pressed tortillas.

Seaside, consider the singular version of cod al pastor, with grilled pineapple, pickled cabbage, and avocado crema. And Coche Comedor prepares a roasted fish of the day, with pickled vegetables. The local black sea bass stands out. There are wood-grilled skirt and bone-in rib steaks for the equally risk-averse.

You’ll revel in any of Kelsey Longley’s sweets, highlighted by the ultimate coconut tres leches cake; a fabulous sundae, hinting of cinnamon, with horchata ice cream and churros; a chocolate flan; and banana rum cake with Mexican chocolate gelato.

Choose one of the excellent cocktails, tequilas, or mezcal. Sip apropos wines or beers. Pour Coca-Cola from the slender bottles of cane sugar-sweetened Mexican Coke.

Since reservations aren’t accepted, some diners may have to stand by for a table, 30 minutes to an hour on the weekend. But a lot have been waiting for years.

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