With one summer season of roaring success under their belts, four of the Hamptons’ 2015-opened restaurants are back for year two—and hopefully many more. Putting forth everything from cult-followed ramen to local wine pairings to homemade ice cream, these spots were such instant hits that it’s difficult to believe Long Island ever existed without them.
Wölffer Kitchen (29 Main St., Sag Harbor)As one of the Long Island’s nest wineries, it’s only natural that Wölffer Estate Vineyard would open a restaurant equally impressive. On Sag Harbor’s Main Street not far from the 175-acre Wölffer estate itself, Wölffer Kitchen opened last year to top-critic reviews praising it for warm, meticulous service, contemporary design that’s smart without being flashy, and consistent excellence throughout the menu, which focuses on seasonal, Mediterranean-influenced cuisine. Lamb lollipops with salsa verde for dipping, mussels steamed with house-made chorizo in Wölffer rosé, butternut squash ravioli in lemoncello brown butter, and Dayboat stew filled with fresh seafood are standouts worth raising a glass to— preferably one filled with Wölffer’s 2013 Merlot, though the wine list kindly also includes bottles from numerous fellow island vineyards, along with some names from abroad. The staff is happy to make recommendations, but the well-edited and organized list is happily accessible enough for even budding oenophiles to have a stab at choosing for themselves. (29 Main St., Sag Harbor)
Saltbox had big shoes to fill when it opened last summer, taking over the space formerly inhabited for 25 years by the beloved O’Murphy’s Pub, yet it’s managed not just to slide right into Montauk’s food scene but also to resonate as an instant favorite. Its chef may have something to do with it: Danny Ye, formerly of Manhattan’s ever- popular Nobu and Harlow restaurants. Here, he largely serves American pub fare, though some of the most memorable items on the menu come tinged with an Asian flare—lettuce wraps with jeju- barbecued pork, local fish soup with an addictive kochujang lobster-stock base, a lychee martini with a cranberry twist. That said, the spicy Cajun shrimp boil is certainly worth a try too, as is the lychee martini’s brethren of fruity cocktails on the menu, all made with premium spirits. Saltbox is also the perfect place to put in your pocket for a beach day, as there’s no need to change out of your beach garb to eat here; the wood-plank walls styled to look like driftwood and hung with surf art live up to Saltbox’s self-proclaimed “chill” atmosphere. Fantastic fare doesn’t get more casual than this.
Momi Ramen (221 Pantigo Rd., East Hampton)
Among foods that garner the most loyal of cult followings, ramen is most certainly at the top of the list. Perfecting the rich pork broth and texture of the noodles has become a culinary art in its own right, and Miami’s Momi Ramen is one of the stateside institutions that has done so best; it uses a machine imported from Japan to make its noodles fresh throughout the day, and nearly 100 pounds of bones are stewed to give broths their silky mouthfeel and umami- filled depth. This is all to say that when Momi opened an outpost last year in East Hampton, it was consistently packed. The classic pork belly and oxtail tonkotsu ramens are exceptional, and the veggie ramen laden with shitake mushrooms and bamboo shoots is delicious enough to warrant it being ordered by non- vegetarians too. If a steaming bowl of soup doesn’t sound desirable on a hot summer day, fear not: the shared-plate menu is full of stars, like snow crab salad, homemade tofu in ginger sauce, and braised beef short ribs served with fried noodles—leftovers from the day before, as noodles that are refrigerated are banned from ramen bowls, lest the consistency be compromised.
Set on Montauk Highway, Highway Restaurant & Bar makes up for what it creatively lacks in its name with its outstanding food. Justin Finney is a stalwart Hamptons chef, with prior experience at Nick and Toni’s and the Meeting House, and here he uses his executive control to put forth a menu that may read like that of many locally-influenced American restaurants but is artfully detailed in execution. Steamed pork buns burst with green herbs, the halibut with sunchoke purée is delicately spiced with cumin, pastas are homemade. Venturing into a different culinary territory for the Hamptons, an authentic Thai set menu served only on Thursdays is worth planning for; three courses include options like wing bean salad, flounder in yellow curry, and lemongrass rice pudding. And on weekends, brunch here boasts some of the best eggs Benedict around. Save room for dessert as well, as the coffee granite and homemade ice cream sandwiches—either hazelnut or caramel— are worth a visit alone.