From the land or from the sea, this menu rotates and celebrates.
WADING RIVER—It was the beginning of dinner service. The line cooks were busy prepping: mushrooms were being sautéed down to half their size, a pastry bag filled with goat-cheese mousse was being squeezed to fill tiny tomatoes and pound-and-a-quarter lobsters were being dunked headfirst in a pot of boiling court bouillon.
“Thank you, hon.”
I looked up from my notebook.
Did I just hear gratitude and an endearment? In a kitchen? Said by a chef and directed toward a server?
I’ve worked in kitchens where the epithets attached to waiters were much less kind and “thank you’s” were rarer than bluefin tuna. Had I entered the twilight zone?
Nope. Just the back of the house at Amarelle—“sour cherry” in Italian—the Wading River restaurant owned and operated by Lia Fallon. Behind the line Fallon smiled as the waiter ducked out of the kitchen and back into the dining room.
“We came up with a cocktail for the wedding I’m doing this weekend,” she said. “It’s called a Mcintosh Molly Peach, after the couple’s dog. He’s going to bring you one.”
It just got better: a sparkling wine cocktail to go with the niceness. (Nice.)
Fallon opened the restaurant in July of 2009 after a career in food that includes catering, food styling and recipe development for cooks on the Food Network, as well as for the Viking cooking school, a branch of which Fallon helped open at Loaves and Fishes in Bridgehampton.
“But I had to have my own restaurant,” she said while sitting in the dining room with a fireplace and a view of the hamlet’s tiny downtown and duck pond. “Excuse me, I just have to fix something,” Fallon said as she jumped up to straighten a curtain across the room.“Where were we?”
We were talking about how the menu changes every six weeks to keep up with what’s in season. We were talking about how she buys the majority of her produce from the Andrews Family Farm about five miles east of the restaurant, and how she goes there about once a month to do cooking demonstrations for the farm stand’s customers.
“The whole idea is to get people to use local vegetables and know what to cook,” she said. “For many the only thing they thought they could make with eggplant is Parmesan.”
Her menu is structured so diners can taste more than one way to make something. All entrées and some appetizers are available at half size for a reduced price, and diners take advantage of it. As tickets came in it was easy to see: at a table for two, one person was having the small size of the salad Amarelle—made of lettuces, dried cherries, cocoa-dusted goat cheese, toasted almonds, and white balsamic with vanilla been essence; the small size of the soup—which that day was tomato; and the small size of the buffalo hanger steak, served blackened with sweet potato pancakes, corn-crusted fried onions and salsa verde. The other diner went traditional and had the full-size tomato medley salad followed by a full-size portion of sea scallops with red quinoa, crispy leeks and brown butter.
The waiter returned with the cocktail—apple vodka, peach nectar and prosecco—and Fallon sampled it, made a few sugges- tions and waited for the latest effort while offering tastes of the first one to her staff, which during this summer, was all female.
Kelly Donlon works as the pastry chef and behind the line on weekends; Pamela Caputo, a culinary instructor at Suffolk County Community College, and Patty Kaczmarczyk work with Fallon making the hot food on sauté and the grill.
The vibe was light and the stress level low; Donlon walked out the back door to pick some herbs from a west-facing garden spilling down a stone wall. The herbs were used instead of a doily to anchor some baked clams on a plate. She came back in and pulled some baked Gala apples, from the first harvest of the sea- son, out of the oven; they would later be served with cinnamon- caramel ice cream on a slate slab.
Fallon pulled one of those poor lobsters out of the pot and spoke to Martial Boffy, her chef de cuisine and the sole male cook, who had returned to the kitchen after a break in the sum- mer. Boffy has been with Fallon since the start, and she relies on him greatly. He works quietly next to Fallon’s joviality, and the two redo the menu together.
In addition to the sampling sizes, the menu is divided in three sections, with “Land,” meaning salads and vegetables, on top, “Seafood” in the middle and “Farm,” with the meat dishes, at the end. The seafood section usually has some kind of lobster and tuna, but also lists a white fish, so Fallon can serve what came in that day without having to reprint menus.
It can be monkfish, flounder or fluke and striped bass, which Fallon says was in short supply this summer.
“It makes me sad,” she says, “because I love it.” The sadness passed, because Fallon was already thinking of her next menu and how to prepare the squashes, apples and cauliflower that come with the fall.