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Wolffer Kitchen review: Sag Harbor restaurant operated by vineyard owner offers good food, wine

Campanelle pasta, with fennel sausage, black olives, squash

Campanelle pasta, with fennel sausage, black olives, squash and chili flakes, as served at Wolffer Kitchen on Main Street in Sag Harbor. Credit: Gordon M. Grant

There are three important things to know about Wolffer Kitchen.

First, the food is very good. Second, so are the wines, ciders and cocktails. Third, the experience can trail both.

Wolffer Kitchen is owned and operated by Marc and Joey Wolffer, children of the late Christian Wolffer, founder of Wolffer Estate Vineyard in Sagaponack. It's among Long Island's top wineries, the only one to spawn a restaurant, and clearly expanding to fashion a lifestyle brand.

In late summer, getting a table here could be an ordeal. The process often resulted in weekend waits, despite assurances by phone, just minutes after the sleek, mirror-columned dining room was opened to eager customers. And at least once, the situation prompted beleaguered overseers to request that a table be vacated within the hour for the next wave. Come autumn, the frenzy abated.

But the mood still wasn't exactly festive. This can be a high-pressure operation and that filters through. What may make you put up with the periodic chill, however, inside and out, is the refined cooking of chef Deena Chafetz and the elegant wines from Wolffer partner and winemaker Roman Roth. The menu is seasonal.

Recently, the best openers were striplets of exceptional cured salmon, served with a Dijon-watercress creme fraiche and shaved radish salad; and the jumbo lump crabcake, with black-truffle tartar sauce. A scoop of house-made ricotta, alongside tiny nuggets of hazelnut praline, grilled plum and arugula: also fine. Respectable Caesar salad and a skewer of grilled lamb sparked by tapenade, cucumber salsa verde and spiced garbanzos also are recommended. Grilled Padròn peppers work as a side dish, as do roasted local beets with lemon tahini.

Sample satisfying steak frites, a grilled strip paired with first-class fries and garlic aioli, finished with a cabernet franc reduction. The not-so-"crispy," pretty dry chicken breast benefits from braised French lentils. Grilled scallops improve with tarragon-citrus butter; sauteed local fluke, with basil-lime brown butter.

Campanelle pasta, with fennel sausage, black olives, squash and chili flakes, flavorfully packs some heat. But a special of rigatoni with short-rib meat and mushrooms in brown sauce falls short, a bit bland and retiring.

Too much salt undermines a finale of crisp polenta with vanilla ice cream. Tiramisu restrains the espresso. Lemon curd between fragile layers of caramel-phyllo crisp and a single, sizable profiterole head the sweets.

Now that the crowds have thinned, maybe Wolffer Kitchen will become more relaxed and the evening more enjoyable.

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