Catch Joe Realmuto on a good day, and he can whip up a menu in a half hour flat.
Such is the case, almost every year like clockwork, with East End Restaurant Week — an opportunity he uses to experiment while showing off what Nick & Toni’s has to offer, minus the intimidation factor and the price.
Think local razor clams with Ndjua sausage white wine and garlic, or hand-cut pappardelle with spring lamb ragu and pecorino. Salumeria biellese with prosciutto and spring pea salad, and house-made cavatelli with wild mushrooms and guanciale, with a side of roasted beet salad, whipped goat cheese and Sicilian pistachios.
“We like to let the ingredients do the talking, but it’s hard not to be inspired by spring on its way — despite the snow outside right now,” the executive chef said last week with a lighthearted laugh. “East End Restaurant Week is great for us. It allows people to come in who may be intimidated by what they’ve heard about the restaurant, and it allows for us to get creative.”
Last spring, in its 15th edition, the annual Hamptons Restaurant Week rebranded itself as East End Restaurant Week, which better reflected the dining promotion — a selection of both South and North Fork eateries offering three-course prix fixe dinners for $28.95 — running this year from Sundays, April 8 to 15.
Some participating restaurants, such as The Bell & Anchor in Sag Harbor, stick to their classic menus, instead opting to showcase what diners can expect year-round, though some dishes include an upcharge, explained executive chef Sam McCleland.
“The menu’s big, but we didn’t want to make a special menu for the week because we wanted people to see what we have at all times. I know there are restaurants that only do Restaurant Week menus, but we like to feature the whole menu,” he said. “There are a lot of things that are popular overall; our menu is definitely well rounded. We have a grain bowl that we put on, and that will be included in the $28.95 as an entrée. It has red quinoa, fennel, orange, crispy kale and toasted sunflower seeds. It’s got a lot of flavors going on, but it’s really, really good — and it is vegan.”
Fresno ascribes to the same philosophy, according to co-owner Michael Nolan. The East Hampton restaurant typically includes four prix fixe options for the appetizers, entrées and desserts, with supplemental charges for dishes like the cazuela roasted local tilefish with maitake, enoki and shiitake mushrooms, bok choy, rice noodles, lemongrass dashi and bean sprout with a Thai basil salad, or the grilled Duroc pork chop with buttermilk cornbread, fried Brussels sprouts, bacon jam and guajillo salsa.
“We try to represent ourselves exactly the way we are the rest of the year,” Nolan said. “So we don’t really modify our menu, we don’t try to look for less expensive dishes or change portions. We really put our best foot forward.”
Of the two clear camps in which East End Restaurant Week chefs tend to fall, French-trained Philippe Corbet chooses the former. Those who dine at Lulu Kitchen and Bar in Sag Harbor next week will get a preview of the eatery’s summer menu, inspired by the executive chef’s recent trip to Tel Aviv, he said — a city with one of the hottest burgeoning food scenes in the world.
“We’re trying to be a little bit more Mediterranean, while keeping the focus on the wood-fire grill, and the farm and the produce,” Corbet said. “My trip was very eye-opening because the produce over there is amazing, without doing anything to it, and the simplicity of it was very wonderful. So I’m trying to be a little more Mediterranean, more fresh.”
That influence can be felt in the starters — a choice between chilled chickpea soup with tahini, yogurt and an Israeli salad; grilled baby artichoke heart with charred onions soubise, shaved pecorino and garlic chips; and P.E.I. mussels a la plancha with sea salt, crushed pepper and lemon parsley butter — as well as the entrées: black pepper and garlic bucatini with wood grilled Long Island squid and grilled lemon; wood oven roasted Long Island tile fish with ratatouille and burned sage; and roasted organic chicken with garlic kale, carrot purée and devil sauce.
“I’m excited about the menu. It’s just coming back from this trip, I got all these fresh ideas I want to try out,” Corbet said. “For me, Restaurant Week is a good test to try dishes and see what people’s reactions are. This will be a taste of summer.”
The second annual East End Restaurant Week returns from Sunday, April 8, to Sunday, April 15, with a three-course $28.95 prix fixe starting at 5 p.m. each night at participating restaurants.
They include: Lulu Kitchen and Bar, and The Bell & Anchor in Sag Harbor; Fresno, Nick & Toni’s and The 1770 House in East Hampton; Shippy’s Pumpernickels Restaurant East, Union Cantina in Southampton; 1 North Steakhouse, Cowfish Restaurant, RUMBA Island Inspired Cuisine & Rum Bar, Sunday’s on the Bay in Hampton Bays; Stone Creek Inn in East Quogue; Trumpets On The Bay in Eastport; noah’s, The Halyard in Greenport; Touch of Venice Restaurant in Cutchogue; Cooperage Inn in Baiting Hollow; aMano Restaurant in Mattituck; A Lure Restaurant in Southold; Legends in New Suffolk; and La Plage Restaurant and Pure North Fork Craft Bar & Bistro in Wading River.
For more information, please visit eastendrestaurantweek.com.