For decades, American cuisine had a familiar, comfortable style, sometimes regional, sometimes European. That changed in the early 1970s in Northern California. What happened then and since is as American as the Fourth of July.
Jeremiah Tower ignited the fireworks of “New American” cuisine. At Chez Panisse in Berkeley, with Alice Waters; and at Stars, his San Francisco showcase, Tower changed restaurants and expectations, focusing intensely on California products and applying classic cooking techniques to them.
“In a sense, the revolution worked too well,” Tower said, “with everything looking the same.” The new swiftly became routine and overdone. Now, that’s changing, too.
California and “New American” cuisines migrated across the country and have been major influences on Long Island at least since the mid-1970s, when the now-closed Ross North Fork Restaurant arrived in Southold.
These days, the style defines many of the region’s top restaurants, often succeeding those moored more to European traditions, with Asian and Latin influences joining in.
“We aren’t burdened with history in food,” said Jason Weiner, executive chef of Almond in Bridgehampton. “We are in a new world.”
What’s going on
Weiner noted that, “We get 90 percent of our produce sourced within a five-mile radius . . . it’s expected, not exotic.” Almond participates in a “dock to dish” program with fishermen that yields specials each week from “sustainable and trustworthy” sources, “cutting out the middleman.’’
Jonathan Contes and Tate Morris are co-chefs at Mosaic in St. James. Every night, they prepare a single, five-course dinner. “It varies from day to day,” Contes said. “We don’t repeat dishes. It’s very market-based, especially seafood and vegetables.” The approach is similar to what began decades ago and continues at Chez Panisse.
But instead of “New American,” Contes said terms such as “fusion” and “global” may apply. “I eat and love everything. I grew up on a household half-Greek and half-Puerto Rican, with all these ethnic flavors. And I grew up on Long Island with Italian food.”
The range of ethnic cuisines now contributes significantly to what’s generally categorized as New American, said Andrew F. Smith, editor of The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink. The country adapts cuisines and reshapes them, from Mexican to Japanese to Italian.
All this happens at a rapid pace — evolution speeded up by customer demand, food media and the social network.
Stephan Bogardus, executive chef at The North Fork Table & Inn in Southold, commented that in the Instagram era, “Things aren’t stagnant. Dishes aren’t staying prominent as long. What can be right one week won’t be the next.”
And as diners’ tastes move rapidly, so the kitchen must, too. There are fewer tasting menus, and a la carte dishes may have shorter lives than before.
“As soon as you get it right, it’s time to get rid of it,” Bogardus said. His cuisine is driven by the calendar and the market. “Striped bass is running right now. Tomato season is going to start very early.” A big crop of chamomile has him thinking of ways to bring together peaches and herbs.
Where it’s going
Tom Schaudel’s current crop of restaurants includes Jewel in Melville, A Mano in Mattituck, and A Lure in Southold. He also savors local ingredients, especially Long Island wines. “So much more is available.”
But Schaudel noted, “In December, you have to go out past Long Island, or you have 12 items of cauliflower” on the menu.
He, too, cited the growth of ethnic restaurants as a major influence on what’s under the increasingly broad umbrella of New American cuisine.
American chefs “have been stealing from France and Italy for years. Now, we’re robbing from everybody.” Echoing Jeremiah Tower, he said, is the basic: “Put the best possible ingredients on the plate.”
To chef Weiner at Almond, there are two threads running through American cuisine today. “Do as little as possible to the ingredients or try to coax as much out of them as possible.” “They are just the starting point.”
Trends flourish in the smartphone, instant-access millennial era, nurtured by food media. But there are limits. “We don’t follow too many” on social media, said Matt Connors, chef and co-owner of The Lake House in Bay Shore.
The broader trends, he said, reflect “the availability of ingredients on Long Island that you didn’t have 20 years ago. . . . It’s a small world now. We can get anything we want the next day — from anywhere.”
Connors said, “New American is a pretty good catchall, with influences from all over the world.”
Jeremiah Tower now lives on the Yucatan, seeing the next wave. He enjoys $1 breakfast tacos of cod and pork “equal to a $300 meal — a chef standing behind one or two perfect ingredients ... the complexity of simplicity.”
Long Island is home to many restaurants that could be described as New American. Here are 10 notable tables.
The 1770 House, 143 Main St., East Hampton; 631-324-1770, 1770house.com; $$$
This landmark, which was a residence in 1663, converted to an inn in 1770. It’s a handsome country restaurant with meticulously fashioned fare from chef Michael Rozzi. Recommended: Montauk fluke tartare; seared Montauk sea scallops with baby kale and organic purple carrots; Hog’s Neck Bay oysters; baby carrot-and-beet salad with Catapano Farm cheese; house-made cavatelli with asparagus, bacon, ramps, hazelnut pesto; veal cheek-and-lobster ragu; marinated Atlantic swordfish with littlenecks and green garlic; pistachio pot de crème.
Almond, 1 Ocean Rd., Bridgehampton; 631-537-5665, almondrestaurant.com; $$$
The East End’s top bistro seamlessly melds French technique and local ingredients with flair by executive chef Jason Weiner and chef de cuisine Jeremy Blutstein. Recommended: house-smoked bluefish with bottarga, quail egg, grits; lime-scented monkfish with mussel-mustard chowder and uni toast; Montauk scallops with curried Long Island cheese pumpkin and house-cured bacon; Montauk pearl oysters; fish and chips; linguine with clams; dry-aged strip steak au poivre.
Chachama Grill, 655-08 Montauk Hwy., East Patchogue; 631-758-7640, chachamagrill.com; $$-$$$
Elmer Rubio’s spirited restaurant is tucked into a shopping center that he has made a destination. Visit for a lobster bake or on Latin night. Or just dive into the a la carte menu. Recommended: soft-shell crabs with shiitake mushroom-corn-and-scallion succotash; Hudson Valley foie gras with grilled pineapple and cranberry sauce; crisp oysters with sweet plantain fufu; yellowfin tuna with patatas bravas, olive relish and ancho chili aioli; duck with black wild rice, almonds, cranberries, peach chutney; rack of pork with Tahitian vanilla sweet potatoes, plantains and pineapple chutney.
Copperhill, 234 Hillside Ave., Williston Park; 516-746-1243, copperhillny.com; $$$
Copperhill moved into the former site of La Marmite, a continental Long Island classic for 40 years. The overhaul has been complete, from the lighter, spare decor and design to chef Gregory Kearns’ lively cuisine. Recommended: roasted cauliflower “steak” with raisins, lemon and almond; black bass with artichoke, fennel sausage, tomato and basil; roasted Joyce Farms chicken with frisee and truffle vinaigrette; devils on horseback; and, in a bit of whimsy, the house burger with Velveeta.
Jema, 7 Gerard St., Huntington; 631-385-8486, jemarestaurant.com; $$$$
This is the restaurant of Joy Mangano, television personality, inventor, movie subject. The chef is Franco Sampogna. And the results are as artfully designed as the look of the contemporary place. Sampogna presents a tasting menu some days as well as a la carte dishes. Selections may include Shinnecock scallops with cauliflower and spigarello, a relative of broccoli rabe; Crescent Duck Farm duck with fennel, blood orange and olives; Wagyu rump cap, Bearnaise; Meyer lemon confit with lime-vodka sorbet and milk meringue; Valrhona chocolate with lightly smoked vanilla ice cream and salted caramel.
The Lake House, 135 Maple Ave., Bay Shore; 631-666-0995, thelakehouserest.com; $$$
From its new perch on Great South Bay, The LakeHouse stands out for stylish and creative cooking, plus a distinctive point of view under Matt and Eileen Connors. Recommended: littleneck clam chowder; caramelized local sea scallops; tempura-fried bluepoint oysters; organic field greens with candy-stripe beets and blood orange vinaigrette; crisp Long Island duck breast and confit of duck leg with a pomegranate-pistachio glaze.
Market Bistro, 519 N. Broadway, Jericho; 516-513-1487, marketbistroli.com; $$-$$$
Bustling, focused and full-flavored, MB announces itself with “farm fresh, seasonally inspired, and thoughtfully procured provisions.” Fifteen suppliers are listed. Chuck Treadwell is the chef. Recommended: market pickles; Satur Farm salads; fried chicken po’boy; skillet-roasted organic chicken; bison sliders; MB burger made with dry-aged rib eye, Kobe brisket and short rib; scallops-and-saffron risotto; seared tuna with soba noodles and Asian pear; blueberry-peach cobbler.
Mosaic, 418 North Country Rd., St. James; 631-584-2058, eatmosaic.com; $$$-$$$$
Chefs Jonathan Contes and Tate Morris offer a different five-course tasting menu every night at their cozy, compact restaurant that barely contains their ambition. A typical menu: Bloody Mary gazpacho with horseradish-poached prawn and celery sorbet; cedar-plank grilled ocean trout with feta-pecan baklava; charred duck breast with pickled watermelon; smoked beef filet mignon with Fontina-potato tarte, oregano-stewed apple and porcini mushroom sauce; white chocolate cornmeal pupusa with honeydew melon and elderflower-scented cream.
The North Fork Table & Inn, 57225 Main Rd., Southold; 631-765-0177, northforktableandinn.com; $$$-$$$$
Chef Stephan Bogardus’ refined, evocative restaurant is a stellar taste of the region. Bogardus creates a five-course tasting menu as well as an a la carte menu. Recommended: poached Montauk fluke; sauteed Shinnecock sea scallops; summer truffle-and-ricotta cavatelli; crisp cod and Yukon Gold potato cake; 8 Hands Farm pork pate with two mustards and pickled whole vegetables; pistachio-lavender crusted rack of lamb; and all desserts from Claudia Fleming, from the chocolate-caramel tarte to strawberry-rhubarb shortcake and warm sugar-and-spice doughnuts.
Rustic Root, 7927 Jericho Tpke., Woodbury; 516-364-5041, rusticrootkitchen.com; $$-$$$
Tom Gloster, a winner of Food Network’s “Chopped” competition, enlivens the appetite at this sharp, shopping-center spot. A five-course tasting menu may include striped bass crudo, roasted and raw beets, sous-vide venison, and zucchini bread with Catapano Farm goat cheese ice cream. Regulars take in skillet cornbread with local honey; Long Island duck breast with preserved kumquats; ahi tuna tacos; strawberry salad with grilled shrimp; charred octopus with garlic chips; quinoa “steak” with celery root puree.