Comtesse Thérèse Bistro

There’ve been a lot of kooky run-ins with wineries and the State of New York about serving food in tasting rooms and with the East End towns about zoning and serving food in tasting rooms. Theresa Dilworth, owner of Comtesse Thérèse Vineyard in Aquebogue, found the perfect way around it. Instead of opening a tasting room for her line of wine, she opened a restaurant, called it Comtesse Thérèse Bistro and now serves only her own wines.

“I always liked the concept of food with wine,” she says. “Back in the old days they didn’t even serve crackers, and I never liked the idea of standing at a bar and drinking wine.” Without food, that is.

So when she saw the old farmhouse that last housed the Jamesport Saddlery and found it was zoned for a bistro, she bought it in 2004 and in 2010 the stove was lit for the public. During that prolonged renovation Dilworth discovered a new interest, old-home restoration, and indeed it’s the first thing you notice when you approach the house. The whole place, from the backyard garden to the front porch, feels like a visit to Grandma’s house, your hip but traditional grandma. Big mirrors line the walls, the base molding has a grape pattern, oriental rugs are scattered on the floor and the dining room looks like its 11 tables have been set with the best silver because company is coming over.

Which they are, and chef Aristodemos Pavlou, known to all as Arie, is ready for them. He has been cooking on the North Fork, with North Fork ingredients, since his family ran Coeur des Vignes, a French restaurant in Southold; the building now houses North Fork Table and Inn.

An inveterate forager and hunter, Pavlou delights in using local ingredients to create his still French-influenced cuisine. Not that this has not gotten him in trouble. After having found a monstrous oyster mushroom, which he was pictured with in the local weekly, he got a visit from the Suffolk County Department of Health, because all mushrooms must come from a regulated cultivator or packaging plant. Pavlou didn’t care. The notoriety brought in customers. Did he serve the mushrooms? He’ll never say.

But he will say he serves foie gras. In an incident that also made the local paper, two women visited the restaurant and allegedly, before even ordering, threw their menus on the floor and said they would never eat there because foie gras is the result of animal cruelty. Pavlou and manager Dianne Delaney started holding foie gras Fridays. Sales doubled.

Pavlou and Delaney have worked together for years, and are sometimes a couple, so the stories come out as smoothly as the food from the kitchen and wine from the bottle. Delaney serves as sommelier, and they both work together to create menu items and specials that will complement Comtesse Thérèse wine.

The wine list has 11 bottles: a sauvignon blanc, a rosé, a sparkling, two chardonnays, two cabernet sauvignons and four merlots and are all made in a food-friendly style, as befits our cool climate, which emphasizes freshness and acid over jamminess and alcohol. This goes especially well with Pavlou’s escargots, French onion soup, salad with goat cheese and entrées based on local protein. The duck for the duck confit comes from Crescent Duck Farm, a neighbor to the restaurant, and the fish comes in once a day from Phil Carlin. Whatever he brings, that’s what’s on the menu. Carlin also brings in the crabs that get caught in his nets, which the chef turns into bisque.

One night this fall, Pavlou was serving porgy with rice pilaf, spinach and a mushroom sauce. (“Sure, I bought them,” he says with a fungal wink.) A special was upstate venison with potatoes dauphinois, Brussels sprouts, Périgord sauce and black truffles.

Pavlou is also able to take advantage of Woodside Orchard, whose stand is right next door and whose trees back up onto the restaurant’s parking lot. A pear poached in wine, served with homemade ice cream, and the traditional French apple pie, tarte Tatin, are always on the menu. Another perennial is the mint chocolate chip ice cream made from garden-grown mint. “It’s so minty and fresh,” customers come back for it all the time, says Delaney.

“We’re a destination location for celebration,” she says, adding that three marriage proposals (one woman said no) have occurred over Pavlou’s food and Dilworth’s wine. It’s also a good destination for staff, says Dilworth, who notes that no one has ever quit. “I’ve been very lucky from day one,” she says. “The staff is like family, and they’re in a nice place.