The phrase ‘seafood forward’ is a dime a dozen on the North Fork. We are surrounded by water with many great fish markets. If a restaurant doesn’t have fish on the menu, it almost seems out of place. So when I was invited to try the new seafood forward menu at Windamere, put together by a new chef familiar to the North Fork, I was excited, but not expecting to be surprised. How different could it be? But chef Bruce Miller’s clear passion for local North Fork fare came through strong in his dishes.
I started out with a pairing I’ve never had before — fried calamari and shisito peppers. The peppers were slightly blistered and crispy and the calamari was unbelievably tender. Served with it was a cheek of lemon and chipotle mayo.
“I like the whole idea of shishito peppers. Everyone does them by themselves,” Miller said. “But I’ve just thought why not combine the two? And chipotle mayo. It’s classic. It’s always good.”
Admittedly, I’m not much of a white fish person. In fact, you’ll probably never see me order it out at a restaurant. The only time I’ll eat it is if it is served to me. And at Windamere, it was. But, my mind may be changed, because the next dish that came out, the roasted halibut, was delicious. It was placed on a ruby red bed of beet risotto and elegantly fanned out local asparagus. On top was a stack of crispy leeks. One bite and I was sold. The fish was flakey and delicate with a crisp crust, the beet risotto was almost too beautiful to eat, but I did and I loved it. And the asparagus was kept simple.
“It’s been nice to be here to showcase some of my other talents,” Miller said, who previously served as the executive chef at PORT Waterfront Bar & Grill and worked at the Halyard before that. He said coming to Windamere and having creative control over a menu has been fun, especially when he gets to focus on the sea. “We’re seafood forward here right now. We’re in serious transition with the menu.”
Alongside my fantastic lunch, I was served a Santiago, made with tequila, local rhubarb, lime, orange, chipotle salt and bitters. The new beverage service manager, Bill Carlo, has come up with a cocktail list that impresses. He has worked on both coasts running craft cocktail programs for 15 years and moved to the North Fork last year. The Santiago, with its acidity, sweetness, saltiness and a little kick, could’ve been a meal in itself. Look out for cocktail classes hosted by Carlo at Windamere coming soon.
Next up was a dish of scallops, roasted and perfectly placed on a bed of fregola, charred Brussels sprouts and crispy shallots. If you do try Windamere’s new menu, this is the dish I recommend most highly. The dish is put together in a very purposeful way, showcasing all the textures and colors of the sea. The scallops were tender. And if you think you don’t like Brussels sprouts, you just haven’t had Bruce Miller’s yet.
“With my food, I like to stay mostly gluten free. Simple is kind of my forte,” he said. “I like to keep things simple. I like the vegetables the way that they are.”
To finish it all off, I had the strawberry Napoleon for dessert: Three layers of flakey puff pastry, cemented together with cream and a waterfall of jewel-like strawberries and fresh whipped cream. A hazelnut croquant added crunch and nuttiness. “If we are going to be doing a dessert, there’s gotta be some wow factor to it. With dessert, it’s go big or go home,” Miller said.
Paired with it, Carlo made me a strawberry cocktail called the Middle Part, inspired by the center of the strawberry shortcake his grandmother used to make. “I would only have the middle part,” he said. “She would use a ton of sambuca and strawberries.” The construction of this cocktail could only be made by someone with a childlike imagination and a flair for booze. The glass is washed out with green Chartreuse. Then, Johnny Smoking Gun whiskey that has been fat-washed with brown butter (basically a fancy way of infusing savory flavors into booze) is mixed with house made strawberry simple syrup and garnished with house-made fruit leather. It’s lethal.
Windamere is located at 2255 Wickham Ave. in Mattituck, within Strong’s Water Club and Marina. Bruce Miller’s new seafood forward menu drops on Monday, May 11, with Bill Carlo’s cocktails already available. The strawberry additions come out in late May. The restaurant is open Monday and Thursday 12 p.m. to 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.