Wölffer Kitchen Amagansett
4 Amagansett Square Dr., Amagansett
AMBIENCE: Laid-back with a breezy, but elegant vibe.
SERVICE: Varies from professional to inexperienced
ESSENTIALS: Open 5 to 10 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, 5 to 11 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday. Closed Tuesday. Parking, wheelchair accessible.
The full experience at Wölffer Kitchen Amagansett is a slow build that begins as you move from the parking lot toward the restaurant, hidden inside an outdoor shopping square in the center of this Hamptons hamlet.
During warm weather, children are absorbed in play on the lawn. Parents keep watch, plunked down in mint-painted Adirondack chairs sipping rose-tinged cocktails such as Sagaponack Sangria: a refreshing mix of rosé, Cognac and Chambord flecked with cucumber, mint and berries.
From there, an open-air porch is nestled under a sign that tells you it’s “Rosé Time.” The outdoor dining room is already full with chirpy eaters who have happily obliged with a glass from the wine list largely curated from the family’s Wölffer Estate Vineyard.
Walk inside the space that once housed the popular Meeting House, and you’ll find that it has been transformed. To the right, you can casually dine on a series of simple blondewood bar tables with a close-up view of the open kitchen. To the left, a more sophisticated dining room filled with the kind of breezy but elegant details associated with the Hamptons: sleek modern globe lights, subway tiles, that same mint color accented on the walls, a long booth lined with tables that sits across the room from a vibrant bar scene.
Enchanted by the ambience and warmed by the drinks, I want to love the restaurant as much as I have come to enjoy the vineyard. Then, as the night progresses, reality sets in: Wölffer’s second foray into the restaurant business struggles to serve food with the same care and attention to detail that has been put into so many other parts of the Wölffer enterprise.
Like the space, the menu in Amagansett is more ambitious than it’s older sibling, Wölffer Kitchen Sag Harbor, which opened in 2015. The executive chef leading both kitchens is Brian Cheewing, who previously worked at The Coast Grill in Southampton. Tongue in cheek, he bills his fare as “rosé-inspired cuisine,” meaning the kind of food you’d like to eat with a glass of the wine.
In reality, it’s a long and unwieldy list of mostly shared plates, pockmarked with dishes that take their cue from the healthy and hip circuit including zoodles (zucchini noodles), cauliflower rice (grated cauliflower) and a puzzling play on avocado toast — hulking pieces of grilled toast, daubed with bland guacamole sprinkled with crab and fresh chilies.
Blistered shishito peppers arrive soggy, drenched in drizzles of red miso. Underseasoned slices of Wagyu beef carpaccio are shrouded by limp ribbons of underdressed black kale. A salad of stone fruit called “summer in a bowl” is heavy on romaine and light on fruit.
Many larger plates met the same fate. A New York sirloin steak ordered medium rare arrives on the burned side, craving salt, with flimsy vegetables and a muted Bordelaise sauce. Fresh Peconic Bay scallops are haphazardly seared, a missed opportunity to showcase the caramelized crust that develops when they’re treated right.
Cheewing and his team do better with dishes that are more straightforward and subdued. A ceviche of sweet shrimp and scallop has just the right amount of brightness and heat from fresh Fresno chilies, and works well with plantain chips. Peconic oysters arrive fresh, clean and plump with a verjuice mignonette. Local swordfish are perfectly grilled and paired with a nutty farro studded with seasonal vegetables.
I had a hard time envisioning what a mix of wood-fired littleneck clams, chickpeas, chorizo and zoodles would be. I‘m impressed by the combination of ingredients in a fragrant sauce that is unfortunately heavy on the salt. Still, it’s a well-executed fusion of Spain, North Africa and Long Island.
Desserts one night included profiteroles and a tray of banana s’mores that were sloppy. A panna cotta, on another visit, tasted as if the milk had turned bad. Best to stick with house-made ice cream.
Summer has been a busy time, with the restaurant filling to deafening levels as evening gives way to night. Food at prices hovering around $40 an entree (high teens for small plates) may get a pass during the high season, but starting this month, the scene is likely to dwindle.
As Cheewing transitions into an offseason schedule and adapts his menu, let’s hope he does for the food what winemaker Roman Roth has done for the wine.