Comfort Food Yields to Lighter, Seasonal Flavors at 1770 House

Chef Michael Rozzi at the 1770 House in East Hampton. Doug Young photo

We may only just be entering the moment of spring weather, but, at East Hampton’s 1770 House, spring has unquestionably sprung. Just ask chef Michael Rozzi, who is in the thick of his seasonal menu reinvention. “We’re really in this transition period,” he said. “Dishes are changing daily. We’re going from winter comfort to cleaner, lighter.”

Cleaner and lighter means a focus on emerging vegetables, and entrée accompaniments that are decidedly seasonal. With the East End’s challenging maritime climate, fresh local produce arrives late, with the first asparagus harvest often not appearing until mid-to-late May (depending on the season). That means that locally focused chefs, like Rozzi, must find a way to introduce the season to spring-hungry diners without veering too far from the restaurant’s ethos of eating local.

“We try to buy the best product that we possibly can,” he said. “That’s one of the challenges of the early spring: getting a jump on it. We take what we san and spread it throughout the menu. If I find something I like, I run it.”

So what’s new to the menu at the 1770 House right now? Rozzi confesses a personal passion for the chilled sweat pea soup. Made with a vegetable stock, the soup is served with a fresh, salty, and crunchy salad of coppa and pea shoots. One is meant to drag the salad-filled spoon across the soup, for a more complete bite, a compelling combination of flavors that invokes that old classic, split pea soup. “It’s such the flavor of spring,” he said. “There’s nothing adulterating the flavor.

Michael Rozzi’s chilled pea soup. Kathryn G. Menu photo

One running theme on the 1770 House spring menu is allium — the genus of flowering plants that includes all species of onions, scallions, shallots, and garlic. Rozzi features young alliums in many of his dishes. Spring onions are more tender and mild than their late-season cousins, and so the flavor is far more delicate. Recognizing this, Rozzi pairs them with other delicate foods, like oysters. “I fell in love with these wild, flowering onions,” he said. “Spring onions and spring garlic are a big portion of what I do.”

The flowering onions that Rozzi uses are similar to a scallion, with white, bell-like, edible flowers. Wanting to use the flowers with his food, he turned them, along with the onions themselves, into a mignonette for oysters on the half shell, a soft, floral replacement for the traditional shallot.

An arugula salad with red bunching onions is also new to the menu this season. Rozzi takes the onions and chars them on the plancha, achieving a sweet, smoky note. The arugula is tossed with crunchy snap peas and radishes and sunchokes that have been crisped in oil, while the onions and Sherry vinegar become “this really round, oniony dressing.”

Other newcomers to the seasonal menu include a hand-made artichoke ravioli with bacon; a fennel pollen risotto with asparagus (which can be ordered either as an appetizer or as an entrée); Scottish salmon served with leeks and watercress; a buckwheat späetzle with chicken, Thumbelina carrots, and ramp pesto; and steak with escarole and maitake mushrooms. Rozzi is dedicated, he said, to “pure and simple and really powerful flavors in the spring. All these flavors are huge. Ramps: gigantic. Artichokes. Asparagus.”

The changing menu is also fueled by a clientele that encourages change and seasonality. “Thank goodness we have the local palate that we have,” Rozzi said. “That has evolved, like the rest of the area. “A lot of our year-round clientele have an expectation of variety.” Regulars to the 1770 House come, in part, because they know that the menu will reflect changes in seasons, and that the food on the menu comes from such esteemed places as Good Water Farms, Balsam Farms, Milk Pail, and Mecox Bay Dairy. The result is a menu simultaneously steeped in tradition — the restaurant itself dates back to 1942 — and constantly in flux. Like a shark, it remains in motion, which is why it feels so alive.

Expect, as Rozzi said, bright and green flavors, as we move fully into the warmer months. “Everything is green right now,” he said. “It’s sort of the color of spring.”

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