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Top 11 fine dining spots for 2011

The Riverhead Project, on East Main Street in

The Riverhead Project, on East Main Street in Riverhead, was once a Chase Manhattan Bank. Owner Dennis McDermott took on this project to create an upscale restaurant using fine local ingredients. The restaurant has a full bar with a large lounge seating, indoor and outdoor dining, and soon the Riverhead Project will have a private area for special occasions. (June 15, 2011) Credit: Randee Daddona

The economy upended a lot of restaurants in 2011. Even so, more highly rated spots arrived in Nassau and Suffolk this year than at any time in the past decade.

Whether it was the survival-of-the-tastiest environment or just plain luck, diners on Long Island had plenty of new choices and very good meals.

Ironically, 2011's two top-rated establishments, Vero in Amityville and Southfork Kitchen in Bridgehampton, currently are closed. Southfork expects to return with the warm weather next year; Vero looks less likely to revive after a fire shuttered it. Each earned a 3 1/2-star rating.

Their absence, however, didn't make compiling this list any easier. Here, in order, are my 11 favorites of 2011. There are 11 more candidates for #12.


1. The Riverhead Project

FOOD 3 stars

300 E. Main St., Riverhead


COST $$-$$$

WHY In addition to being an excellent restaurant, this "project" is an ambitious high-risk, high-return bet on the continuing revival of downtown Riverhead.

The Riverhead Project earns its capitals. Here's a sleek, sharp addition to downtown, overhauling a low-slung "Mad Men"-era bank building with bold design and a locavore kitchen. The name suggest something planned in minute detail, a concept become real. It applies. Recommended: lobster-and-pierogies in brown butter, with shallot marmalade; smoky octopus in dill sauce; spicy Korean-fried chicken; miso-glazed Berkshire pork chop; upside-down peach cake; apricot-cherry crisp, devil's food cake.


2. Almond

FOOD 3 stars

1 Ocean Rd., Bridgehampton


COST $$-$$$

WHY In a nutshell, Almond is the unofficial bistro du Hamptons, devoid of pretense and full of year-round style. You'll instantly feel as comfortable as a regular.

Almond, which opened in 2001, relocated eastward to this bigger site and improved en route. Under chef Jason Weiner and maitre d' Eric Lemonides, the eatery is buzzing and relaxed at the same time. Recommended: shaved artichoke salad, house-smoked bluefish, scallop-and-fennel crudo, eggplant three ways, pan-roasted Montauk striped bass, hanger steak frites, Roquefort-topped burger, roast chicken, chive gnocchi, polenta-mascarpone raviolini, chocolate pot de crème.


3. Pentimento

FOOD 3 stars

93 Main St.

Stony Brook


COST $$-$$$

WHY A veteran restaurant is new again, serving its best food while keeping its cozy, welcoming ways.

Each season, chef Dennis Young refines and improves Pentimento, a polished 17-year veteran. His Italian-style spin on tapas will make you keep eating, as will the larger plates, until you glow. Recommended: piquillo peppers with goat cheese; grilled polenta with porcini; sausage with borlotti-bean ragu; classic meatballs; fried chickpea fritters; chestnut gnocchi; spinach-ricotta dumplings; pan-roasted Copper Ridge filet mignon; citrus-glazed polenta cake; apple sorbet.


4. Wave Seafood Kitchen

FOOD 3 stars

25 E. Broadway

Port Jefferson

631-928-5200, ext. 170

COST $$$

WHY Waterside restaurants too often make the pretty scenery a trade-off for lousy food. The new Wave never does.

Here's the latest and finest restaurant ever at the harborside Danfords Hotel complex. The decor is subdued and serene, a backdrop for chef Jonathan Levine's precise, meticulous New American cuisine. Recommended: calabaza squash soup with citrus crème fraîche; butternut squash risotto with dried cherries, pine nuts and mascarpone; lobster potpie; poached lobster; whole black bass with mustard vinaigrette; braised short ribs; rack of lamb; pumpkin custard.


5. East Hampton Grill

FOOD 3 stars

99 N. Main St.

East Hampton


COST $$$

WHY The successor to Della Femina outdoes the old joint with American classics in a handsomely overhauled dining room.

East Hampton Grill is the East End outpost of Hillstone Restaurant Group, which has eateries in Palm Beach and Napa Valley. But it already seems like a local mainstay. It's a destination for flag-waving cuisine from chef Brian Stefano. Recommended: rosemary biscuits, crabcake salad, soft-shell crab po'boy; barbecued ribs; prime-rib roast; oysters St. Charles with creamed spinach and artichokes; deviled eggs; pan-fried Dover sole; Key lime pie.


6. Arata Sushi

FOOD 2 1/2 stars

18 Cold Spring Rd., Syosset


COST $$-$$$

WHY Nobu at Capri got the boldface, but Arata Sushi, with a young veteran chef who left the empire, prepares the year's memorable New Japanese fare. 

Arata Sushi slices its way into the top tier of Long Island's Japanese restaurants, courtesy of chef Jimmy Lian. It's updated and eye-catching. Recommended: the "invincible sandwich," with salmon, avocado and colorful roes, which looks terrific and tastes better; house-made shumai; fish tacos; crabmeat-and-corn samosas; and the chef's choice of uncooked fish that may include salmon with crisp Brussels sprout petals, ginger-sesame tuna, and salsa-verde white tuna.


7. Farmhouse

FOOD 2 1/2 stars

45 Front St.



COST $$$

WHY Under new ownership, with a new chef, Greenport has another magnet to lure you to its inviting downtown.

There's a year-round harvest of New American cooking at Farmhouse. Chef Jeffery Slade's menu is terse but full, served in a small, rustic dining room. Recommended: white-bean soup with duck confit, butternut squash risotto with sea scallops, a "duo of beef" with short rib and filet mignon, braised pork shank with caramelized apples, seared duck breast with grilled endive and sweet-potato puree, flourless chocolate cake, apricot semifreddo.


8. Miraku

FOOD 2 1/2 stars

31 S. Middle Neck Rd., Great Neck


COST $$-$$$

WHY This is what happens when owners also oversee a fish wholesaler -- a terrific selection for impeccably fresh sushi.

A modern, lively, refined Japanese spot, with an understandably illuminated sushi bar, Miraku ups the ante in a very competitive neighborhood. Recommended: "fish and chips," here spiced crab, tuna, yellowtail and salmon on seaweed tempura; pearly fluke crudo; fried red snapper; sweet-soy braised tuna belly; nigirizushi, including sea bream, horse mackerel and amberjack; and, veering westward, grilled golden pompano, grilled rack of lamb.


9. George Martin's Strip Steak

FOOD 2 1/2 stars

60 River Rd., Great River


COST $$$

WHY The peak of the George Martin Group restaurants, Strip Steak updates the steakhouse approach, making it work for more than carnivores.

Excellent service and consistently fine American cooking are the lures at George Martin's Strip Steak, a deluxe offspring of the original George Martin in Rockville Centre. It's a prime site that looks grand, at the end of the Southern State Parkway. Recommended: oysters Rockefeller, crabmeat cocktail, crabcake, porterhouse steak for two, filet mignon, maple-brined Berkshire pork chop, merlot-braised short ribs, apple crisp.


10. Mitch and Toni's American Bistro

FOOD 2 1/2 stars

875 Willis Ave., Albertson


COST $$-$$$

WHY You'll see how a talented chef masters change, in the economy and on the plate, fashioning a destination of a different kind.

After the closing of Bistro M in Glen Head, chef Mitch SuDock moved on, opening this smooth, accessible, smart New American place with Toni Contino, co-owner and general manager. Recommended: tuna tartare, baby back ribs, brisket sliders, Parmesan flan, bacon-wrapped monkfish, pistachio-crusted halibut, roasted duck breast and confit of leg, bacon-flecked macaroni-and-cheese, lobster mashed potatoes, brownie with ice cream, chocolate-and-Nutella crepes. 


11. Cedar Creek American Bar & Grill

 FOOD 2 1/2 stars

75 Cedar Swamp Rd., Glen Cove


COST $$-$$$

WHY Every neighborhood needs a hangout that's both energetic and easygoing, a clubby spot where everyone is a member.

Cedar Creek, from the owner of Mim's in Syosset and Roslyn Heights, delivers deluxe snacks, eclectic options, and an upbeat site ready for good times. Recommended: pulled-pork slider, pulled chicken with vegetables and biscuits, little Chicago-style hot dogs, fried Fire Island Creek oysters, duck rillettes, Texas chili, a tender grilled sirloin, a Meyer Ranch hamburger, Chatham cod fish-and-chips, banana-Betty parfait, pineapple upside-down cake.