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Nick & Toni's review: Chef Joseph Realmuto earns 3 stars at East Hampton Italian restaurant, celebrity hot spot

Penne alla vecchia bettola arrives in a vivid,

Penne alla vecchia bettola arrives in a vivid, spicy, oven-roasted tomato sauce at Nick & Toni's in East Hampton. Credit: Gordon M. Grant

Nick & Toni’s

136 N. Main St., East Hampton


COST: $$$-$$$$

SERVICE: Friendly, with rules

AMBIENCE: Hamptons country

ESSENTIALS: Open Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday at 5:30 p.m. for happy hour, dinner service starts at 6 p.m.; Saturday, dinner from 6 p.m.; Sunday brunch 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., happy hour at bar 2:30 to 6:30 p.m., dinner from 6 p.m.; closed Tuesday; reservations necessary; major credit cards accepted; wheelchair accessible

McCartney. Streisand. Jagger. Pitt. Hanks.

Spielberg(s). Clinton(s). C.  Kennedy. D.  Trump.

Baldwin. DiCaprio. Nicholson.

Oprah. Bono. Sting.

Magic. Jeter.

In its 30 years, Nick & Toni’s has gathered enough stars to light the night sky. For excellent food, add three more.

They arrive via the celebrity canteen’s in-house constellation, executive chef Joseph Realmuto. Six years ago, he earned the restaurant three stars, too. And there are some evenings when you can enjoy a four-star meal here.

Nick & Toni’s opened in August 1988 as a Tuscan-inspired spot, devoted to local ingredients long before their use became common at Long Island restaurants. It was established by Jeff “Nick” Salaway and Toni Ross, daughter of the late movie executive Steven J. Ross. Salaway died in a car accident in 2001, but his and Toni Ross’ sensibilities continue to define the restaurant.

Though this began as an Italian restaurant, over the decades, it has spread into Mediterranean cuisine. The style has been that of a country house, but this one sports a wood-burning oven with a dome decorated by artist Eric Fischl. Realmuto entered the kitchen in 1994, and became executive chef two years later.

In summer, Nick & Toni’s has been, and remains, the Hamptons’ white-hot table. Try to land a reservation on Fourth of July weekend, and you’ll doubly appreciate the miracles of autumn. Bonnie Munshin, the manager emeritus who has masterfully and diplomatically overseen the dining room for decades, may be there on a Saturday night.

The long-standing, half-acre farm on the property is working and very busy. Now, there’s also a chicken coop out back, where 30 hens yield the restaurant’s eggs. And, from local waters, Realmuto’s current hits include a lustrous, velvety crudo of striped bass, accented with salsa verde; and local littlenecks sparked with ‘nduja sausage and Balsam Farm corn. The Amagansett farm also grows the zucchini that Realmuto turns into tissue-thin chips, which are sure to vanish quickly while you continue making choices.

Pastas take in Realmuto’s now-classic penne in a vivid, spicy, oven-roasted tomato sauce; and stirring bucatini tossed with sweet Dungeness crabmeat, Calabrian chilies, toasted bread crumbs, and finished with fennel pollen. But ricotta gnocchi are heavier than you’d expect, some tasting nearly toasted,

That wood-burning oven is a focal point in the coveted front room. At brunch, you may order a pizza prepared in it. But, at dinner, you’ll be politely refused.

The best from the oven generally is seafood. The big catch: whole black sea bass, served with a savory caponata of eggplant, which delivers a taste of authenticity. A thick cut of swordfish comes out perfectly moist and flavorful, with roasted fairy tale eggplant and fennel puree. But a cut of striped bass spends a few moments too long in there. The result: dry, with charred skin. A hefty Berkshire pork chop similarly stays in more than it should.

But the house’s veal chop Milanese, with a salad of Sun Gold tomato, corn, and arugula is outstanding, completed with a preserved lemon vinaigrette. Free-range chicken marches in juicy and herbaceous, though the crushed Balsam Farm Yukon Gold potatoes, with roasted garlic, pancetta, and rosemary jus almost outdo it. Balsam Farm corn risotto and pea salad elevate the rich, nutty seared scallops.

Pastry chef Rachel Flatley creates standout sweets. Bomboloni, or Italianate doughnuts, with marshmallow, lemon ganache and graham-cracker gelato, are exceptional. Likewise, the cheesecake profiteroles with caramel apple cheesecake gelato, graham choux, pecans and Halsey Farm apples. The malted milk chocolate ice cream sundae extends summer. So does the ruby peach sorbet with a delicate meringue crown.

Nick & Toni’s cocktails are worth ordering. Linger over an upstate riff on the Negroni. Move on to the well-chosen, wide-ranging wine list. Consider a glass of the house-made limoncello or Sauternes or moscato d’Asti.

Lauren, Klein and Karan should. Maybe Chevy, Lorne and Jann.

And you, too.

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