EMP Summer House
341 Pantigo Rd., East Hampton
empsummerhouse.com, no phone
ESSENTIALS: Open for lunch Friday to Sunday, dinner Thursday to Tuesday, closed Wednesday. Reservations needed for dining room and lobster boil. Cash only if you don’t have an American Express card. Parking. Wheelchair accessible.
We’re on the sprawling lawn. I’m sipping a beet, strawberry and jalapeño cocktail, waiting for a waiter to notify our party that our lunch is ready on the covered patio.
My daughter is eager to explore the many ways to have fun: tossing bean bags through cornhole boxes, climbing a swing hanging from a tree branch, darting to corral an errant bocce ball.
There are plenty of other children living out a similar summer afternoon while their parents order from EMP Summer House’s outdoor menu of French twists on American fare: dry-aged beef and marrow cheeseburgers, bacon wrapped hot dogs with truffle mayo, a lobster roll finished with brown butter, fries tossed in rosemary and lemon.
If you’re not seated in the main dining room, this is what summer looks like at this year’s most exclusive Hamptons restaurant. Despite all the hype surrounding the opening of the pop-up, a 10-week satellite of Manhattan’s Eleven Madison Park, it is entirely possible to have a low-key experience at chef-partner Daniel Humm’s ode to summer at the beach.
You’ll have to make it past the fleet of silver 7 series BMWs whose front doors are emblazoned with the restaurant’s logo. (As part of a sponsorship deal, the cars are there to chauffeur staff, but also guests whom the staff determines are worthy of an offer of a ride.)
And then there’s the Byzantine reservation process: no listed phone number, and the only way to snag a table in the dining room is online with an American Express card, the restaurant’s main sponsor. Seats at key dinner hours were nabbed long ago, but every day there are patio and lawn tables set aside for walk-ins. Remember to bring cash if you don’t carry Amex.
“We’re trying to say ‘yes’ as much as possible,” says a waiter one night. He lets us in on a secret: on occasion it is possible to order the “indoor” menu on the patio.
Little has changed here since the restaurant was Moby’s. Beyond the 200-seat dining room, there’s an indoor lounge and an L-shaped bar; the covered patio accommodates proper tables and picnic tables, a second bar, a conversation pit in one corner and, in another, a nook hung with three lazy swings. On the lawn, are more picnic tables, swings and the lawn games.
It matters little where you sit. Here, you’re going to eat well. In April, Eleven Madison Park took the top spot on Restaurant magazine’s annual World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Its artistry, on the table and the service, has survived the 103-mile trip east.
Humm always takes his cues from the harvest and now that he’s so close to the water, his menu is heavy on seafood, including a lobster boil that was inspired by a trip to Long Island several years ago. The Swiss-born chef had never experienced one before then.
This lobster boil, available only by reservation and only on the patio, comprises lobster, clams, corn, shrimp and sausage that have been cooked separately to preserve their integrity, and then tossed together in a tomato-forward sauce before being dumped ceremoniously onto a butcher-paper-lined picnic table to the delight of diners. For dessert, you will be presented with a peach cobbler whose golden brown crust gives way to a lime-scented compote of silky peaches.
Even in the dining room — with its spare white walls and tablecloths, dark bentwood chairs and wooden floorboards — the food is much less cerebral than in the city where the plates double as conversation pieces, and meals hover around three hours.
If they are available, order the plump oysters on the half shell, bathed in a grape mignonette and smartly dressed with Champagne grapes and crisp grains of bulgur wheat, or a salad of snow pea chiffonade gently tossed with pancetta, pecorino cheese, mint and a lemon vinaigrette.
You’ll also want to order the lobster tempura, nuggets of battered tail meat that are served, ready for wrapping, with bibb lettuce leaves and a muted spicy chili-lime aioli.
The bouillabaisse for two is Humm’s inspired deconstruction of the Provençal seafood stew: Each participant receives a fillet of sea bass — the skin of which has been rendered super crispy by fusing it with a sliver of brioche — paired with a perfect puddle of rouille, a spicy Provençal mayonnaise. In bowls for sharing are colossal prawns, squid, clams and mussels, stewed fennel barigoule and potatoes swimming in a silky saffron sauce.
At EMP, it’s not necessary to come for the food. The cocktail list features nearly two dozen libations that are available throughout the day. Order the classic Montauk, a smooth mix of gin, amaro, vermouth and bitters that goes down way too easily, and head for the garden. Summer moves fast. This is a place to slow it down.