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Comtesse Therese Bistro

Brie en croute, with brie and wild mushrooms

Brie en croute, with brie and wild mushrooms in puff pastry, is served with a small mesclun salad at Comtesse Therese Bistro in Aquebogue. (May 13, 2011) Credit: Randee Daddona

It's a natural, the concept of a restaurant within a winery. But it wasn't until last fall that Long Island's first, Comtesse Thèrése Bistro, was born at its namesake vineyard.

A historic restaurant, for sure, fittingly situated within a 19th century manse, along with the vineyard's wine-tasting room.

In a dining room furnished with Duncan Phyfe period pieces, constellations are painted onto the ceiling; ornate mirrors line the walls. I'm told diners and crew alike have seen shadowy reflections. Ghosts? Something to ponder as I sip the winery's big, dark reserve merlot.

Past and present merge in chef Arie Pavlou's French bistro menu, which optimizes local resources and herbs grown on-site. The $35 prix-fixe on Wednesday and Thursday evenings is quite the buy.

A prime starter on that dinner is a lovely cream of asparagus soup, the springtime elixir crowned with a fresh asparagus spear. On the a la carte menu, escargots are plump, redolent of garlic. I'm surprised how light and appealing a combination of Brie and wild mushrooms in puff pastry turns out to be.

My favorite prix-fixe entree is a juicy, peppery hanger steak au poivre. Locally caught fluke with capers and olives, while good, can't compete. Nor can the a la carte lamb shank confit, a trifle dry. But the Crescent Farms smoked duck breast -- hauntingly smoky, tender and moist -- is the hit of the evening.

Crepes Suzette in a fragrant Grand Marnier sauce crowned with house-made vanilla ice cream are very good. Better yet is an almond-crusted local blueberry tart that epitomizes wine country eating.

Upstairs, we check out the library and Versailles Room, used for private wine tastings and dinners. Stuffed foxes and pheasants from vineyard owner Teresa Dilworth's taxidermy collection add to the sense that the past lives on at this very North Fork dining spot.

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