Ask an East Ender what he or she feels is lacking in this side of the Canal’s food scene, and you’re likely to hear a chorus. While there’s no appreciable shortage of pizza, or pasta, or bagels, you’d be hard pressed to find more than a little decent Asian food out here. Some chefs have addressed this deficit directly. Justin Finney, the chef at East Hampton’s Highway Restaurant & Bar, has incorporated into his menu rotation a regular Asian Night, in which he harnesses flavors and ingredients from the Far East.
In case you didn’t already know, you can add Almond Restaurant, in Bridgehampton, to the list of restaurants broadening the East End’s cultural landscape.
Almond, a Hamptons stalwart, has never shied away from food trends, as evidenced by the collaborative brand started by Chef-Owner Jason Weiner and Chef Jeremy Blutstein, Kimchi Jews, a cheeky condiment line referencing a shared heritage and appreciation for Asian condiments. Now, the duo has opted to expand their menu offerings, bringing even more Asia to the East End.
Almond’s menu has always featured a rotating series of “plats du jour,” or “plates of the day.” “My understanding, when I took the job,” Chef Blutstein said, “is that they’re loosely interpreted, so every time I do a menu change off of the written menu, I change the plats du jours.” The newly unveiled Sunday plat du jouris Chinese Food.
“Sundays have to be family-friendly,” Chef Blutstein said, “whereas Friday and Saturday have to be something that can have a higher price point.” And the most family-friendly meal Blutstein could envision? Why, Chinese food, of course. He acknowledged the “stereotypical” relationship between Jewish people and Chinese takeout. Members of the faith will likely acknowledge that the stereotype is justified; there is a longstanding — and, some might argue, sacred — relationship between Jewish people and Chinese food.
The Sunday menu, developed by both Weiner and Blutstein, is an ever-changing, whimsical take on local, seasonal cuisine, which is Almond’s oeuvre. This is not, Blutstein wants you to know, “real Chinese food.” “There’s a lot of corn starch,” he said, meaning that the food more closely resembles American Chinese food — the same stuff that triggers nostalgia in anyone who grew up on boneless spare ribs dyed impossibly red and silken chicken with broccoli suspended in a mystery sauce.
On a recent Sunday evening, Chinese offerings included ginger scallion noodles, an appetizer, and hot and sour spare ribs, an entrée. The noodles were thin and springy, like expertly cooked ramen, and swam in an impressive pool of gingery, oniony sauce. Ribs, served on the bone, came lacquered in a salty-sweet bath of Yakitori and five-spice. Any wayward sauce, dripped onto the plate by accident, was caught by a cup’s worth of white, sticky rice, the find one might find, yes, at a Chinese takeout joint.
This is meant to be fun, finger-licking food that’s full of surprises, and it does not disappoint. “You can turn anything into Chinese food,” Chef Blutstein said. But, of his particular brand of Chinese — in the style of Panda Garden, he likes to say — he offered a little more brand specificity. “It follows the criteria of: All the ingredients are locally sourced. You’re giving [the guests] something that’s so familiar, but, for some reason, it tastes better, and it’s because it comes from somewhere that is not scary.”
In fact, the food does taste better, while still fulfilling that nagging sensation rooted deep in the brain: Sundays are for comfort food, after all, and comfort does not necessarily mean taking up residence in a proper dining room. But maybe it can mean just that. Just because Chinese food once meant paper boxes bound with metal handles and packets of soy sauce destined for the catchall refrigerator door does not mean that there isn’t an adequate — nay, delicious — replacement available. And this is what Chefs Blutstein and Weiner are trying to accomplish, after all: A re-creation of the warm, fuzzy food memories of yore, but in a grown up setting. “How do you try to keep it fresh when you’re not as busy?” Chef Blutstein asked. “How do you keep your staff engaged? How do you keep your clientele engaged?” The answer may lie somewhere at the bottom of a bowl of springy noodles.
Almond is located at 1 Ocean Road in Bridgehampton. Visit almondrestaurant.com for more information.