Michael Rozzi has always been a chef who celebrates transition. True to his roots — a third generation South Fork native who grew up digging clams out of Shinnecock Bay — the executive chef of The 1770 House in East Hampton has always crafted menus that reveled in the seasonal bounties found at East End farms and sold by local fishmongers, the steady climb from spring peas, asparagus and strawberries toward squashes, peaches, tomatoes and corn, all presenting countless opportunities for reinvention.
Chefs, and restaurants in general, have never been tasked with a greater challenge than COVID-19. The industry has been shaken to its core with many establishments shuttered for months, relying on takeout until outdoor dining opportunities opened up and, more recently, reduced capacity indoor dining.
The 1770 House, an iconic inn and restaurant, enjoyed a robust takeout business while the restaurant was closed to dining, nourishing patrons with comforting classics like the Tavern meatloaf, the Tavern burger — crafted with a blend of local Accabonac Farms grass-fed beef — and Mr. Rozzi’s roasted Amish chicken, among other fast-casual options like pizzas and even chicken fingers for the kids.
As the team at 1770 House prepared to reopen for outdoor dining, Chef Rozzi decided to take the moment as an opportunity to reinvent what that fine dining experience would be. With the support of General Manager Carol Covell and Wine Director Michael Cohen, Mr. Rozzi crafted a set three-course, prix fixe menu, allowing the kitchen to focus on a handful of special dishes that gave the chef the ability to flex his creative muscles, adapting the menu to the best local products available on any given week.
“We have always offered a prix fixe menu all winter long, where seating is based on a flat rate instead of diners having an a la carte choice,” Mr. Rozzi said in an interview last week.
“I always wanted to apply that model to a more ambitious menu. It’s not an original concept, but we felt like it was the right time to create a special experience for people.”
“In a lot of ways, I approached this like we were opening a new restaurant,” he said. “We are refreshed and rejuvenated and I am excited because it is motivating. I am really proud of what we have done here.”
The result is a fine dining experience quite literally like no other available on the South Fork, partially because of the menu, but also because of the setting the restaurant offers — a lush garden and patio, antique tables clothed in hand-laundered Italian linens spaced appropriately throughout the grounds, the lighting as the evening progresses provided by candlelight and hanging lanterns.
“This is a very special place,” Mr. Rozzi said. “And we are incredibly fortunate in that regard. We have an extraordinarily beautiful property, from the tavern and main house to the patio and the gardens. Just being on the grounds is a special experience and this felt like a good opportunity to promote fine dining during a time where the concept is under-utilized.”
The late spring menu, priced at $75 for three courses with additional menu items available at a separate charge, is ambitious, but also rooted in comforting flavors. Portions are generous by a prix fixe standard — over-delivery, Mr. Rozzi said, has always been at the core the restaurant’s mission, whether that be its food, its service, or even its glassware and cutlery.
“That is the reason I became a chef — not to be fancy, fancy, but to explore how much I can do and how far I can push the envelope with food,” he said. “This is a menu that will change and it gives us the freedom to do more from an economic standpoint. Seating is at a premium so there is an economic reason behind a flat rate, but I love this structure regardless of that.”
First course menu items in Mr. Rozzi’s late spring menu included a lobster timbale in a Vadouvan curry dressing with Balsam Farm greens, an asparagus salad with Parmesan, served with a local duck yolk, olive oil sabayon and oreganata bread crumbs and a chilled sweet pea soup, served with a delicate crab salad topped with smoked trout roe and dotted with paprika oil.
While Mr. Rozzi steers away from developing signature dishes, his spicy yellowfin tuna tartare with pickled cucumber, hijiki, wasabi tobiko and radish is a mainstay menu item at 1770 House and completes the first course offerings in his new menu.
“I never intended for that to become a signature dish — it just was what it was,” he said. “The truth is that is one, but I feel like if we fall back on signature dishes, we don’t move forward. I think it is my job to change things. We should expect all chefs to change, evolve and innovate, which is why I am excited about what we are doing now.”
Second course offerings have included a rock shrimp shumai with crisp garlic, chilies, sesame and scallions, made with Calabrian chilies that give the dish a warming heat. It’s an item that has staying power, despite the evolving nature of his new menu, Mr. Rozzi said. A golden beet risotto is topped with green garlic, purple chive blossoms and shaved summer truffle and seared Hudson Valley foie gras comes with local Sagg Main strawberries on a buttermilk pancake with shiso and vincotto. A spring pasta with artichokes, snap peas, guanciale, nasturtium and ricotta salata rounds out the second course options.
The third, and main course ranges from the traditional — a prime filet mignon a la plancha with a madeira glace, served with king trumpet mushrooms, fava beans and ramps — to the more exotic roasted Montauk striped bass with a sweet pea relish set atop mussels in a saffron emulsion with fennel pollen and pea tendrils. Seared Montauk sea scallops in a caviar and seaweed sauce with spouted broccoli and a potato puree and Berkshire pork Milanese topped with insalata tricolore and a Nero d’Avola vinaigrette Mr. Rozzi crafted while the restaurant was only open for takeout, are also available as a third course, the latter being a dish that harkens back to one of the chef’s first experiences in a kitchen, at The Falcon in Southampton in the early 1980s.
“This is a classic example of finding a classic dish and revisiting it,” he said. “Amidst all of these other options, this dish is light and crisp and bright with great acidity. That dish is like a hug. It’s an old haunt and there is always room for that.”
Desserts and items for the table — like a burrata served with summer truffle, local honey, pecans and house-made garlic-Parmesan focaccia knots — are also available for an additional charge.
Mr. Rozzi said he wanted to experiment with this menu but also ensure a level of comfort for his guests. The restaurant has also maintained its Tavern take-out menu for those looking to enjoy 1770 House a la carte, in the comfort of their own homes.
“You can come in and have the bass with the saffron emulsion and try some things that are new and outside of your comfort zone, but there will also be classic dishes done in our style that you can go to,” he said. “I am not breaking the sound barrier here, but you can be super thoughtful and deliver a dish in a new or impressive way and still remain a place that offers a certain amount of comfort. At the end of the day, I want to put things on the plate that people want to eat first and foremost.
“I think there is a super happy medium where you can find your style and maintain that style while still innovating,” Mr. Rozzi added. “Because that is why we all became chefs. That’s the fun part.”