When ’tis the season, consider eating out
As worthy a tradition as home-cooked gatherings are during the holidays, this year I’m thinking outside the gift box and switching it up a bit. My usual cookie-cutter holiday dinner plans are getting ditched, and I’m opting instead for dining out.
“Carry on without me,” I whisper mischievously as I pass my coworkers in the lounge, hunched in their annual holiday planning huddle. I picture the lot of them, dancing to tired Christmas carols in some decked-out nameless banquet hall, sipping nutmeg-speckled eggnog, gossiping shamelessly about my being holiday AWOL. In the meantime I sling back the dreamy signature cocktails offered throughout the East End; and please, generously lace them with rum.
If you’re feeling as I am, why not book a table at one of the many fine restaurants in the area that welcome the holiday bump, be it Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, New Year’s Eve or otherwise? I’ve perused the local seasonal flavor to find some best bets. Starting on the South Fork, heading west around Riverhead and then ending on the North Fork, here’s a sampling of dining spots on the East End that will be open to serve delicious holiday meals this year.
1. For those looking to capture the warmth of the season, the quaint and comfortable Living Room in the historic Maidstone Hotel is a great pick. Adorned with the new owner’s antique and modern Swedish furnishings as well as a color scheme of earthy mosses and blues, candlelit ambience, a white wooden staircase and floral wallpaper, this dining room has the down-home appeal you might be craving, but don’t be fooled, the inventive cuisine served here is far from plain and simple. Chef James Carpenter’s special fixed-price wine dinner features top wines matched with his signature slow and contemplative cooking, all gleaned from local resources, and includes savory house-cured salmon tarte flambée with crème fraîche and capers, and Swedish-roots-inspired choices such as toast skagen, a savory Swedish classic of sautéed shrimp on bread. More than 200 vintage wines and a variety of microbrews are on hand. Other seasonally spirited events include decorating gingerbread houses, a traditional seasonal St. Lucia brunch and later that evening the lighting of the Christmas tree, accompanied by theatrical readings, choral singing and traditional glogg and hot cider served with hors d’oeuvres. Why not book a room and hunker down? (Christmas Eve prix-fixe menu; New Year’s Eve à la carte dining; Chanukah candlelit dinners throughout Jewish holiday week. 207 Main Street, East Hampton; 631.324.5006)
2. The lovely Rugosa restaurant commemorates Christmas Eve this year with a three-course fixed-price menu. Chef/owner Bill Mammes uses his background in European flavors and classic French technique to render pure and simple fare. Rugosa’s roasted lamb loin with curry polenta, salsify, red pepper confit and coriander sauce makes for a nice hearty menu choice. For something unique in dessert, try their goat cheese pyramid slathered in honey gelée and finished with a grape and pecan salad. (Christmas Eve fixed-price menu; 290 Montauk Highway, East Hampton; 631.604.1550)
3. For Italian seasonal fare, Matto features cannelloni ripitini, ricotta- and spinach-filled pasta with ground veal and braised lamb shank with root vegetables over orzo. (Month-long holiday specials; 104 N. Main Street, East Hampton; 631.329.0224)
4. Fresno Restaurant’s veteran restaurateurs David Loewenberg and Michael Nolan showcase a fabulous new American menu that emphasizes simple yet sophisticated preparations of local fare. Their $30 winter Wednesday 30/30 fixed-price menu offers three courses including selections from the regular menu with every bottle of wine at 30 percent off. Nightly, there are two- and three-course fixed-price menus, except on Saturday when they are available until 6:30 p.m. or all night at the bar. (New Year’s Eve celebratory dishes and à la carte menu; 8 Fresno Place, East Hampton; 631.324.8700)
5. In the old whaling port of Sag Harbor, the American Hotel will have the fires blazing and the kitchen open for more of the holidays than is usual; expect lots of champagne and “Howard Pickerell’s Excellent Oysters,” as the menu states, as well as twoseatings for dinner and dancing to ring in the New Year. (Christmas Eve, 5:30-10 p.m.; Christmas Day, 1-8 p.m.; New Year’s Eve, seatings at 6 and 9 p.m.; New Year’s Day, open at noon; 49 Main St., Sag Harbor, 631.725.3535) 6. And, just out of town, Estia’s Little Kitchen will be dishing its mouth-watering mashup of Mexican-Long Island cuisine, serving breakfast and lunch on Christmas Eve, and open all day on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. (Christmas Eve, breakfast and lunch; Christmas Day closed; New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, breakfast, lunch and dinner; 1615 Sag Harbor-Bridgehampton Turnpike, Sag Harbor, 631.725.1045)
7. In Watermill, families will be glad to know that Foody’s will be closed only on Christmas Day. Every other day, the wood grills and pizza ovens will be fired up, turning out all manner of roasted meat and seafood, plenty of veggies and pizzas, including the very seasonal clam pie. (Closed Christmas Day; 760 Montauk Highway; 631.726.3663)
8. The Plaza Café’s favorite winter dishes, including lobstershrimp shepherd’s pie, make a menu appearance this December. (Christmas Eve dining; 61 Hill Street, Southampton; 631.283.9323)
9. Red/Bar Brasserie’s fresh, local New American cuisine, including Hog Neck oysters, housemade foie gras terrine, monkfish, heirloom pork chop and slow-braised beef short ribs, is another good choice for the holidays. (Christmas Eve dining; New Year’s Eve early and late seatings; 210 Hampton Road, Southampton; 631.283.0704)
10. For seafood aficionados, LeChef is an excellent destination for a Christmas Eve fish feast. A yearly tradition is the Seafood Gala on Friday nights with a choice of local bay scallops, twin lobster tails and braised local striped bass with Maine mussels or jumbo shrimp stuffed with crabmeat. (Open Christmas Eve; month-long holiday prixfixe and à la carte menus; 75 Jobs Lane, Southampton; 631.283.8581)
11. And for those with a sudsy penchant, the Southampton Publick House is planning special fixed-price menus for the holiday evenings. (Christmas Eve prix fixe; annual customer appreciation party with $2 drafts on December 30; New Year’s Eve prix fixe with a party in the taproom to follow; New Year’s Day brunch; 40 Bowden Square, Southampton)
12. Further west another delicious dining and lodging option is The Inn Spot on the bay in Hampton Bays. The year-round inn and restaurant offers one of the few white-tablecloth dinners in the area on Christmas Day. Featuring food prepared by chef/owner
Colette Connor, the menu reflects inspiration acquired from world travel, a passion she and her family share. In this spirit, the restaurant offers International Night on Fridays: a three-course fixed-price dinner with each course featuring the cuisine of a different country. The Christmas menu is brimming with sublime choices tailored to suit the season and mood with selections such as roasted goose with herbed potato stuffing and roasted root vegetables or classic escargot en croûte bathed in herbed butter and baked in individual pastry puffs. C’est magnifique! (Christmas Day dining; 32 Lighthouse Road, Hampton Bays; 631.728.1200)
13. In Wading River, Blackwell’s restaurant at the Great Rock Golf Club, offers up its holiday-appropriate combination of steaks, seafood and vintage cocktails. (Christmas Eve dining; New Year’s Eve dining; 141 Fairway Drive, Wading River; 631.929.1800)
14. While in nearby Baiting Hollow, the Cooperage Inn’s seasonal banquet menu includes roasted chicken breast stuffed with dried-fruit and walnut stuffing on the plate with roasted garlic mashed potatoes, sautéed market vegetables and apple cider jus. Apple-cranberry crisp, a confectionary delight of fresh whipped cream and berries and fruit compote, hits the holiday spot. (Seasonal banquet menu; 2218 Sound Avenue, Baiting Hollow; 631.727.8994)
15. East End newcomer the Hotel Indigo East End in Riverhead offers Yuletide travelers stunning rooms, state-of-the-art facilities and weekly North Fork wine tours recently complemented by the addition of their new in-house restaurant, Bistro 72. This casual dining space features a farm-to-table menu by chef Lia Fallon, with emphasis on fresh produce, poultry and local fish. The bistro’s intimate vibe with wood-burning fireplaces and leather chairs calls for comfort food. Satisfying menu choices include a lobster roll with fresh tail and claw meat in a citrus tarragon cream on a grilled potato bun, and macaroni and cheese with shell pasta and four cheeses topped with toasted breadcrumbs. Other entrées include Crescent Farms duck breast with sweet potato brulée and country bread crostini in a cherry balsamic sauce. Feel like après dinner partying? Stay put! Late nights, this dining spot doubles as a lounge with live music. (December holiday menu; 1830 W. Main Street, Riverhead; 631.369.2200)
16. Stonewalls Restaurant in Riverhead presents outstanding holiday meals courtesy of executive chef Guy Peuch, an industry veteran with more than 40 years experience. Some favorites on the menu include veal escalopine sauté forestière and ravioli filled with Maine lobster and shiitake mushrooms. (Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve prix-fixe menus; 967 Reeves Avenue, Riverhead; 631.208.3510)
17. In the heart of downtown Riverhead, the Dark Horse restaurant is offering holiday revelers fixed-price menus for parties of 10 or more. (December $24.95/$29.95 group prix-fixe menus; 1 E. Main Street, Riverhead; 631.208.0072)
18. The recently opened Comtesse Thérèse Bistro in Aquebogue showcases Comtesse Thérèse wines, herbs from the restaurant’s garden, North Fork duck, seafood and vegetables. This historic house sits sturdy in the center of multiple vineyards and farms, and features a 28-seat bistro with chef Arie Pavlou at the helm. Pavlou, an experienced North Fork hunter, fisherman and mushroom gatherer, says it was inspired by the small, family-run restaurants in the wine regions of St.-Émilion, the Médoc, Burgundy and Tuscany. (Call for holiday schedule and reservations; 739 Main Road, Aquebogue; 631.779.2800)
19. Luce & Hawkins at the Jedediah Hawkins Inn in Jamesport will be serving delicious local, seasonal fare throughout the holidays. Be sure to check out the decorated evergreen in the front yard. (Christmas Eve lunch and dinner; New Year’s Eve à la carte and prix-fixe menus; New Year’s Day brunch; 400 S. Jamesport Avenue, Jamesport; 631.722.2900)
20. Nearby, at the Jamesport Manor Inn, chef Michael Mandleur is preparing an inventive, holiday menu in the elegantly decorated 1850’s-style manor, including appetizers like Peconic Bay oysters, local duck confit salad and butternut squash and local apple soup; entrées like butter-poached two-pound Montauk lobster, porcini mushroom ravioli, and roasted organic chicken, all served with tasty sides like purple potatoes, melted Holland leeks and sautéed spinach; and for dessert “coffee and doughnuts” (homemade doughnuts, cappuccino semifreddo) and peppermint white chocolate crème brulée. (Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve prix-fixe menus;
$55/$25 children; 370 Manor Lane, Jamesport; 631.722.0500)
21. Head to the North Fork Table & Inn in Southold for uber farm-to-table choices like pan-roasted Long Island duck breast with red wine braised red cabbage, crispy duck confit strudel and apple cider jus. (Closed December 2026; à la carte menu December 27January 2; 57225 Main Road; 631.765.0177)
22. Farther east, in Greenport, Noah Schwartz and his wife, Sunita, blend tapas with fresh entrées, complemented by a diverse drink menu and a wellstocked roster of wines featuring local gems. Noah’s extensive oyster menu features three different varieties, such as Blue Point, Beau Soleil and Pipe’s Cove. The Crescent Farm duck confit with fingerling potatoes, wild mushrooms and frisée salad is outstanding. From the small-plates side of the menu, the grilled sardines with piquillo peppers, lemon aioli and basil is quickly becoming a staple. Schwartz scours the local farms and waters for his seafood-centric menu. (Closed Christmas Eve; open Christmas Day through New Year’s Eve; 136 Front Street, Greenport; 631.477.6720)
23. The Portly Grape is preparing a New Year’s Eve dinner and ball, complete with a five-course dinner and dance lessons at 10 p.m., to be followed by dancing up until a Champagne toast and beyond. (Closed Christmas; open New Year’s Eve, 6:00/8:00 p.m. seatings; 305 North Road, Greenport; 631.477.4500)
24. The menu at the Greenporter Hotel’s restaurant, Cuvée Bistro & Bar, offers seasonal, local ingredients prepared by chef Deborah R. Pittorino and complemented by a wide selection of North Fork wines. Winter offerings include fireside dining and a New Year’s Eve prix-fixe dinner with a midnight Champagne toast. (Guests who stay over on Friday and Saturday enjoy a complimentary New Year’s Eve dinner.) Look for sensational picks such as the salade de fête, a blend of local mesclun greens, candied hazelnuts, dried apricots and house vinaigrette or an appetizer of gravlax sur les blinis topped with crème fraîche and caviar. The classic English-style standing rib roast served with Yorkshire pudding and glazed carrots is a quintessential holiday treat. (New Year’s Eve fixed-price menu; 326 Front Street, Greenport; 631.477.0066)
25. Chef/owner Robert Beaver’s Frisky Oyster is greeting the holiday season with playful menu selections such as oysters “Friskafella” with garlic-scented spinach, chipotle and Parmigianino aioli. Also on the menu is crispy braised pork belly with celery root, radish and black truffle slaw. Mini duck burgers with shiitake ketchup and gaufrettes will hit the spot when looking for a small plate; the Duroc pork loin with yogurt-mustard spaetzle, crispy sweetbreads and braised red cabbage is a heartier option. (Call for holiday schedule and reservations; 27 Front Street, Greenport; 631.477.4265).
26. Just a ferry away, on Shelter Island, Vine Street Café is open both holiday evenings and on New Year’s Day winter-warming cocktails, their Green Goddess homage to Montauk lobster, fresh pastas and whole fish. (Open Christmas Eve; open New Year’s Eve and Day; 41 South Ferry Road, Shelter Island, 631.749.3210)
27, 28, 29. Finally, for Chanukah-specific dining, or if you are looking to cross-shop the next time you make your up-island provisioning, run to Trader Joe’s (2085 Smith Haven Plaza, Lake Grove;
631.366.2094) or Whole Foods Market (120 New Moriches Road, Lake Grove; 631.588.1466), Zan’s Kosher Delicatessen (135 Alexander Avenue, Lake Grove; 631.979.8770) is famous for homemade soup, delicious pastrami and corned beef sandwiches; even their French fries are made from scratch, and their potato latkes are crisp and light, perfect for this time of year.
Karen Holly Berliner is a Rockland Countybased journalist with an insatiable wanderlust to explore the many food and drink experiences in this big, big world.