When The Riverhead Project opened in 2011, the restaurant immediately recast dining out downtown. Now, new chef Lia Fallon improves on it.
Dennis McDermott's sleek spot retains its bold, even whimsical, look. The New American showcase, in a low-slung, converted Chase bank building, suggests the polished, streamlined "Mad Men" school of architecture, terrazzo floor to I-beam. Wear your medium-gray, sharkskin suit.
Fallon arrived from the Jedediah Hawkins Inn in Jamesport. Here, she has put together a consistent, very accessible, flavorful repertoire. Her menu changes frequently, reflecting the season and the market.
Very good beginning: shrimp-and-crab fritters, with roasted corn and herb aioli, which go with any of the house's lively cocktails. So do the zesty fried olives with lemon aioli.
Kale salad, with manchego cheese, Marcona almonds, radish and a smoked-paprika vinaigrette, is an appetizing opener, too. You can turn tropical with lobster chowder, with butternut squash, sweet peppers and roasted corn floating in a coconut-and-lemongrass broth. And, for next summer, remember the refreshing tomato "tartare," with whipped feta.
Gi Gi's stuffed clams, however, are overcooked, charring those sourdough bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese, and erasing the taste of smoked bacon. You're better off with grilled romaine with feta cheese, Kalamata olives and pickled peppers.
Cavatelli with lobster, in a peppery tomato sauce with tarragon cream, deserves year-round play. Look for striped bass with chili-lime butter; or seared branzino with green French lentils. Likewise, fried chicken, whether with pineapple-cabbage slaw, Sichuan buttermilk braised or a blood-orange glaze. Seared duck stands out with butternut squash risotto; earlier, with smoked sweet potato puree, pork-braised collard greens and cornbread crumbs.
At lunch, you might see a riff on bibimbap, the Korean rice bowl with vegetables, an egg over-easy and chili-garlic sauce; or shrimp tacos with pickled red onion and salsa verde, both fine.
The sweets may include Princess Maryann fluff, or coconut-soaked angel food cake with coconut cream and torched marshmallow; the "chocolate mess," or mousse with espresso cream; a pumpkin trifle; an apple "dream," akin to a turnover; and creamy mascarpone cheesecake.
This is the best restaurant in Riverhead.