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Chef Kyle Koenig at The Preston House. (Credit: Jim Lennon)

To understand what Kyle Koenig is bringing to the Preston House & Hotel all you have to do is look at one of his dishes, the potato gnocchi. As the new executive chef for the Riverhead restaurant, he is combining the pasta with clams, and elevating it into something new and exciting.

On the menu, the gnocchi entree is described quite simply: 

POTATO GNOCCHI, littleneck clams, celery, parsley & bacon.

But to hear Koenig describe it is another thing entirely. 

“We are utilizing a lot of the same ingredients as a [clam] chowder, so we start by putting a little bacon, a little garlic and shallot and then celery, deglaze that with a little bit of that clam liquid, a little bit of cream and then hitting the gnocchi at the end,” he said.

The clam juice is made from local littleneck clams, white wine and aromatics. He finishes it all off with celery as garnish. 

“We realized that what we have really done was create something that tastes just like a very good clam chowder, in lieu of a diced potato, using a homemade potato gnocchi,” he said.

Koenig describes his cooking style as from-scratch seasonal rooted in classic techniques, but definitely nothing “froo-froo.”

“I think it comes from a place of wanting to please,” he said. “A lot of thought went into the majority of the menu, definitely wanting to introduce people to my style of cooking, while still keeping it rather familiar.”

Koenig’s resume includes impressive spots in New York, including Cru and The Oak Room, and he was even chef de cuisine at Tom Colicchio’s New York City restaurant, Craft. And he’s no stranger to the east end, working at both North Fork Table & Inn and Topping Rose House.

His passion for cooking with local ingredients whenever possible and using elements that are in season stems from his love for the North Fork.

Sea bream crudo (Credit: Jim Lennon)

“I love being around all these vineyards, the farms. I see a lot happening with the breweries,” Koenig said. “I drive by them and see that they are growing more and more hops. Being surrounded by all this ocean and having access to all these amazing seafood products. It’s just a really great place for a chef to be because there is just so much around you — ingredients that you can use or things that can inspire you.”

For Koenig, that inspiration means lots of raw fish options like oysters and sea bream crudo, house-made pastas such as fettuccine verde and cheese pumpkin agnolotti and meats like duck breast, lamb shank and crispy pork belly on the menu.

“I’m not reaching for the most over-the-top ingredients, particularly when there’s so much great stuff here on Long Island,” he said. “That higher quality of food when it’s fresh, to me, is just the way that food should be served. It’s more about wanting to sell the best quality to the guests. That’s always what I am going to be doing no matter what.”

As someone who is trying to elevate the familiar and get his guests to try ingredients, Koenig has introduced a truffle addition to the menu. For $5, which is at-cost, you can have 4 grams of shaved truffles added to any dish you want.

“As a chef, it is really cool, because I get to expose people to different ingredients, new techniques that they have never seen,” he said. “Being able to get something like that is definitely a high-end, elegant ingredient, but at a price that anyone can afford, has been really really cool.”

But Koenig’s favorite item on the menu?

“If I was forced to pick out one thing, I would probably go with our duck entree,” he said. “I am in love with it.”

The Preston House and Hotel is offering a $35 prix-fixe between 5 and 6 p.m. every day of the week, happy hour from 4 to 6 p.m. and a $15 burger and beer nights on Mondays until Jan. 23 and Wednesdays after that date.