The Lake House
135 Maple Ave., Bay Shore
AMBIENCE: Understated elegance by the water
ESSENTIALS: Dinner, 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 4 to 9 p.m. Sunday. Reservations accepted, major credit cards, valet parking, parking lot, takeout orders, indoor and outdoor seating, wheelchair-accessible.
Remember the last time you were excited to go out to dinner? The Lake House in Bay Shore is that kind of restaurant, and has been for a decade.
In 2006, Bay Shore natives Matt and Eileen Connors opened a modest, 65-seat eatery in what had been the Duck Pond Inn on tiny Lawrence Lake. Newsday awarded it three stars, proclaiming, “Unpretentious, unfussy and unheralded, one of the year’s best restaurants has opened in Bay Shore.” Since then it has remained one of Long Island’s best New American restaurants, consistently making the year’s Top 100 list.
So it was big news when the Connorses and partner Jason Gut moved into a grand 200-seat restaurant overlooking the Great South Bay. The new Lake House has multiple dining areas, an informal tap room bar, a deck and a firepit — all of them rendered with understated elegance.
While the scenery has changed, Matt Connors’ kitchen doesn’t stray far from the cooking that has earned it accolades.
For starters, order the grilled octopus with chorizo and chickpea puree drizzled with sherry vinegar. Or try the crispy suckling pig that’s been pressed into a sort of savory pork brownie in the very best way, with a top layer of crispy skin and a side of Parmesan polenta topped with a honey-glazed pearl onion. Add to the dish a fried quail egg and a maple vinaigrette and it’s almost breakfast for dinner. The Nova salmon starter also evokes breakfast: cured fish atop an oversized hash brown over frisee, with capers, red onions and crème fraîche.
Occasionally, The Lake House shows itself as a restaurant of a certain era, one in which many ingredients and sauces display the skill of a chef.
The vegetable salad, for example, is equally defined by dairy, the beautiful chanterelles muted by cream, with arugula serving as the bed for a slab of Humboldt Fog goat cheese. You can taste the good sourcing of the generous cut of the Berkshire pork chop, but it’s a bit wintry, with cranberry mostarda, caramelized onion, blue cheese and a maple-bacon vinaigrette. The scallops are a more lively dish, served with prosciutto, fava beans and fingerlings in a bright green pea-mint sauce.
In the tap room, wood paneling contrasts with light marble at the 20-seat bar, a prime spot for an informal meal or drinks. The offerings here include deviled eggs, truffled chicken liver paté, a near-perfect butter-poached lobster on brioche served with house-made chips, and a simple, worthy burger.
The beer, wine and cocktails do not disappoint. The hundreds of bottles on the wine list represent both Old and New World, with a dozen by the glass options from reliable vintners, priced fairly (between $10 and $15 a glass). If you’re into cocktails, order old-school: a gin and tonic, a gimlet or a martini, each served with a subtle update, such as the addition of St. Germain to an old fashioned.
Nostalgia is also on display among desserts, from warm cinnamon doughnuts, caramelized banana bread pudding or the kitchen’s take on a Snickers bar: a rectangle of fudge cake layered with peanut butter mousse, caramel and ganache topped with hazelnut crunch. But the standout is the pistachio baked Alaska, a small mound of ice cream crowned by toasted meringue. Delivered to the table on fire for just a moment, it’s a reminder of the kitchen’s passion and attention to detail. It’s why The Lake House exceeds expectations and lives up to your excitement.