By Dawn Watson
Regardless of the season, Chef Michael Rozzi’s favorite time of day is what he calls “the magic hour.”
It doesn’t have anything to do with the famed East End light or a specific placement of hands on the clock, but rather the clinking of silverware, the sizzling of searing food, and the excitement in the air at The 1770 House Restaurant & Inn in East Hampton as dinner service gets under way.
After spending a lifetime with food—starting with his days as a young boy, shucking local oysters with his grandfather in Hampton Bays, and working in restaurants since he was a teenager—Chef Rozzi still loves that feeling he gets when people sit down to eat what he has prepared. And that “magic hour,” when the restaurant is filling up and the air is abuzz with excitement and expectation, never ceases to be the highlight of his day.
“I still love the heat of the battle,” he says of spending time on the “the line” in the kitchen. Sitting in the sun-dappled main dining room during dinner prep time on a Friday afternoon, Chef Rozzi shared some insights about his newest spring menu.
Not surprisingly, it’s focused on the fish.
Seafood, a favorite of Chef Rozzi’s is healthily represented. So are the freshest seasonal ingredients, locally grown and sourced whenever possible.
From raw prep to cooked and cured, delicacies from the sea are the chef’s favorite “center-of-the-plate items,” no matter what time of year, he says. Rounding out dishes he’s serving right now is ripe spring produce, such as ramps, wild mushrooms, peas, new potatoes, artichokes and fiddlehead ferns.
“It’s about lighter food, but with big flavors,” says Chef Rozzi. “Big and bold in color and technique but lighter on the waistline.”
And whatever the season, the chef says he likes to use plenty of the best ingredients the East End has to offer.
“I think that people like to know where their food comes from,” he explains. “Especially when it’s being delivered straight from the farms here to our back door.”
Current favorites include organic eggs from Browder’s Birds on the North Fork, wildflower honey from East End Apiaries, cheese from Mecox Bay Dairy, apples from The Milk Pail, vegetables from Balsam Farms and seasoning from Amagansett Sea Salt Co.
No matter the season, the key to a standout menu lineup is to keep it ever evolving, ever changing and interesting—a selection of popular favorites and familiar items alongside choices utilizing new techniques and presentations, he says. For him, a successful dish is one that has layers of extraordinary flavor, but is still approachable.
To that end, the new spring menu at 1770 House includes items such as spicy Montauk fluke tartare with pickled cucumber, black seaweed and radish salad and wasabi tobiko ($20) and asparagus and hot smoked salmon salad with Browder’s egg, shallot frites and dried lemon-tarragon cre?me frai?che ($18). The selection for main dishes has choices such as roasted Atlantic halibut with white wine and truffle emulsion, fingerling potatoes, and leeks and wild mushrooms ($35) and Maine diver sea scallops with black rice, crisp Korean pork belly, carrot-ginger pure?e and snow pea salad ($35).
Just as sourcing locally whenever possible is of utmost importance, another point of pride for the chef is that the dishes on his menu are made in-house, he reports.
“We’re baking the bread here, we’re curing our own pickles, rolling our own pasta” he says. “If it’s on the menu, it’s coming out of our kitchen, made from our own recipes.”
The hands-on approach has served Chef Rozzi very well. The successful chef has built a faithful following of fans and a solid reputation.
“At the end of the day, it’s about this tangible, physical thing that we’re putting on the plate,” he says. “There’s a lot of art and creativity, technical expertise, and passion for what we do. But the best part of it is seeing those smiles on the diner’s faces. That’s why we do what we do.”
1770 House Restaurant & Inn is located at 143 Main Street in East Hampton. For more information, call (631) 324-1770 or visit 1770house.com.