My New Summer Favorites

Summertime, and the living is easy … provided, that is, one has ample financial backing and leisure time, two things this writer can never seem to get quite enough of. All the more important to spend the brief outdoorsy months at places you love.

Here’s my report on a few new favorites.

I’ll start with a fashionable Hamptons restaurant, Sant Ambroeus, that on the surface is everything I’m against, and yet that I adore.

I live in Greenwich Village, on Perry Street, where buses now deposit Sex and the City shot-list tours. I fell into one recently, hoping to snag a free lecture on Federalism or Edith Wharton having tea with Henry James while I strolled a block or so. Instead I overheard bits and pieces like “Carrie chucked Aidan’s ring down these stairs.” I lurked off thinking, “Time to know more about the tourism and pedestrian laws in my hood.”

Likewise, I felt reluctant to rollout le welcome wagon when Sant Ambroeus came to Perry Street a few seasons back. I was familiar with the Sant Ambroeus outpost on upper Madison. Forever. I found it semi-ridiculous. A tiny set of clean counters offered cookies and little Italian gelato and pastries. If you were hosting a weekend brunch, they'd sell you a pint of half-and-half for like $9.

Behind the walk-in sneezeguards lay sets of tiny immaculate tables that seemed my idea of where one might pass time (devant les Persols) while one’s plastic-surgery sutures aged and dissolved. They offered pricey, precious Euro coffee and treats. I was afraid to sit there.

And no sooner had the Perry Street outpost opened than my previously quiet and unfashionable block was hosting all-too-fashionable people. Graydon Carter. Ahn Duong. Michael Kors. Brian McNally. Harvey Keitel. And other people who get just names and periods. So I began enthusiastically and uninformedly bad-mouthing the place.

But eventually you go to any restaurant 110 feet from your door, right?

I met Enzo, the majordomo of my local outpost. I learned a plate of their pricey cookies is worth every penny and more as a dinner gift. The old-school fastidious wrapping in the peach paper and bags is both practical and pretty. The cookies are simple, small, fresh, and irresistible. I am a cookie snob and theirs are as good as anyone’s.

I won’t go into cookie categories. Who has time? But please know I have now had spot-tested every cookie and dessert the joint vends OTC, and a friend stole me their counter-top panini menu so I could mimic them a ma maison with my own sandwich press.

It is, after all, one of those “why pay less” kind of joints. I love it now and go there all the time, either to quaff a perfect bellini on my way to a party where the swill won’t be as swank, or for a late-night risotto.

Though converted in the not-so-sexy-city, I remained skeptical about their arrival in downtown Southhampton. A “celebrity-branded” Manhattan outpost in the forever upscaling Hamptons smelled a bit ripe.

But Sant Ambroeus' chic comes from quiet, pretty touches, not loud garish things. The sherbet pastel oxfords on the staff are soft on the eye and professional, as is the staff that wears them. Everybody smiles and is attractive, but not actressy attractive. The lighting and music are gentle. And as a result, they seem to have attracted a more subtle and refined crowd. Overall. There are always exceptions, and one evening I was there I overheard a P. Diddy wannabe incredulous over his favorite Cristal or something not being on hand.

Sometimes in Manhattan, their dishes seem a bit fussy and ungenerous. I dine there when I feel fat and know I won’t go home bloated. But at the beach their portions and delicacy seem just so. The vitello tonnato is delicate and served with just a dab of sauce, unlike the gooey mess that other make of this dish.

As always with points of interest like this, I suggest off hours. Saturday night is surely still a mob scene. I would never even risk it.

Down the coast a bit, in decidedly (by those who decide) un-chic Westhampton Beach, new restaurant Patagonia West is a miraculous find. There is so much to recommend this place. For starters, it has the le plus superb beachfront entertaining deck, public or private, I have ever seen. And trust me, I have seen them all. Planners take notice, you could get 1,000 on this landing and still not feel cramped.

Patagonia West is located in a hotel called the Dune Deck, which for years housed a Hamptons-quality seafood perennial, Starr Boggs, which has now moved into town on Library Road. Diners alight in canopied and comfy banquettes, or take a sip in the upstairs bar, which feels like Mykonos or Ibiza. It’s that cool.

The chef Francis Mallman is actually from Patagonia and seems always to be on hand, making the food both authentic and carefully prepared. A tapas bar in the entry hall looks so inviting, you want to help yourself. The fare is earthy and tasty. I'd never heard of cloth-aged cheddar (is it religious?), but paired with torn figs it is sublime. The monkfish and veal entrees were excellent, but my gigot of lamb was overcooked, and even attentive service and extra sauce didn’t save it.

But life isn’t perfect and neither are restaurants, so I’ll overlook an error or two in my new beach dining paradises.

Posted 07.22.05

Columnist Ted Kruckel is an experienced and opinionated former event and PR pro who ran events for 20 years for high-profile clients like Vanity Fair, Elle Decor, Christian Dior and Carolina Herrera. He shuttered his firm, Ted Inc., in 2003. You can email him at [email protected].
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