A shift has occurred.
Most us have stopped taking ordinary things for granted, like going to the store, to the movies, out shopping or — where this story comes in — out to eat.
“Let’s go out tonight,” invokes the promise of something good. Maybe it’s a text from a friend or partner: “Dinner out?” Or even better, “LLK?”
You’re off the hook. No deciding what to cook. No shopping, prepping or cleaning. A small moment to relax, sit back and have something inspired and delicious with people you like.
This summer and fall I saw a renewed appreciation for exactly this ritual. All of a sudden, simply showing up at a restaurant, sitting down and saying, “I’ll have the duck,” somehow meant more.
I know this because I’ve talked to you. On the sidewalk on Love Lane or at your table over a pastrami sandwich and garlic fries, I’ve felt the kindness and support (well, from about 95% of you).
Thanks for that: For dulling the sharp edges and being genuinely concerned about how we are doing, as people and as a business.
Anything worth doing is not usually easy. But when hard work is appreciated and we realize we are a community feeding one another, then we know we are doing something right. So, I invite you to come along and see just exactly what it takes to bring something good to the table at Love Lane Kitchen.
48 hours before your reservation
Let’s assume you make a reservation for two on Friday night for dinner at 7 p.m. You are craving seafood. Something fresh, light, local and delicious.
The staff schedule is posted every Wednesday for the following week by the mastermind and general manager Nicole. It will change approximately seven million times by the time you arrive for your reservation. But rest assured, we will have a staff at the ready.
The dinner menu is designed by Executive Chef Cory Guastella with the following criteria in mind: seasonal, local and economically viable ingredients that can be consistently delivered in a timely manner. No small task, I promise.
Worth mentioning here: All of the following happens while breakfast and lunch service is in full swing. Meaning, a small army of our staff are prepping fresh salsa for fish tacos, handmade batter for lemon ricotta pancakes, weighing and shaping fresh chopped meat for burgers, making fresh vinaigrettes, washing dishes and cleaning glasses. They are frying up beer-battered fish and chips, pressing paninis and making omelets and eggs to order. The bell is ringing and the expeditors bring plate after plate to hungry and, hopefully, happy customers. This is all being orchestrated by the front-of-house team of managers, hosts, bussers and servers. From 7:30 in the morning to 4 p.m., seven days a week.
7 hours until your reservation
Chef Cory clocks in with the dinner kitchen crew around noon.
They start the arborio rice for the risotto, butcher the chicken, braise the ducks, check in the day’s deliveries and prepare ingredients for appetizers, salads and main dishes that will be on offer for tonight.
Cory and I go over this week’s menu. The corn season is dwindling but cauliflower, sweet potatoes and delicata squash are bountiful. Apples are abundant, too, and everyone loved that spiced apple chutney with the scallops last year. Maybe we can do that as an appetizer?
But you want the fresh fish when you come in at 7 p.m., so let’s dial in on that.
We get our fish from Braun Seafood Co. in Cutchogue; our sales rep Cody is professional, dependable, knowledgeable and happens to be a great customer. His product is some of the best and his team is amazing.
We decide to pair the fish with curried cauliflower and braised lentils and finish the dish with a lemon and chive compound butter. The delicata squash will get paired with the chicken and the spiced apple chutney will go with the scallops.
5 hours before your reservation
Just before 2 p.m., we get the text from Braun that halibut just came in. When it arrives at Love Lane Kitchen the fish is cleaned, trimmed and portioned out to filets and each individual piece is inspected for bones.
A case of cauliflower arrives. This time of year they are simply stunning. White, yellow and purple cauliflower gets washed, prepped, seasoned and roasted.
A pot goes on the stove for the braised lentils: homemade stock, halved onion, fresh celery and carrots. Piles of fresh parsley, thyme, rosemary are trimmed, chopped and set aside to stir in when the lentils are al dente.
4 hours until your reservation
The day crew wraps up, stocks up and cleans up after lunch service and makes way for dinner. The front-of-house dinner crew clocks in at 3 p.m. They are briefed on the menu changes. Reservations are confirmed and tables are set. The new menu is printed, updated in our computers and on our website. Candles are lit.
The kitchen stocks the expo line with all the beautiful prep for dinner service, like fresh-cut red and yellow peppers to be sautéed for the duck tagine. Gorgeous maitake, cremini and shiitake mushrooms are ready to be sautéed with the arborio rice for the risotto.
Fresh micro greens are at the ready to top the spiced apple chutney and scallop special. Fresh eggplant is grilled and ready to be plated alongside our double-cut lamb chops, which will be grilled to order.
Dinner service begins at 4:30 p.m. Diners come and go, and our front-of-house team seats your table once, maybe twice, before your arrival.
Your table is ready
You arrive at 7 p.m. and are promptly greeted, seated, watered and briefed on any specials and changes.
We are, unfortunately, out of the fish. No, I’m kidding. We did run out of the first batch of prepped fish, but Cory ran into the walk-in and trimmed, cleaned and portioned out another 10 pieces in the middle of dinner service.
Your order gets sent to the kitchen, where it’s added to the queue. What has come in right before your order might be a risotto (one for a diner with a shellfish allergy), burgers with different cheeses and temperatures (medium rare, medium, well done), a couple of lobster rolls and a few online orders that will be packed to go. Appetizers are coursed, pasta is plated, steaks are grilled.
Your ticket is up
Cory gets the pans hot, tosses the roasted cauliflower in one, finishes it with fresh garlic and herbs, plates the braised lentils.
He selects the beautifully fresh piece of halibut, adds a pinch of salt and pepper, and it hits the pan with a sizzle you can hear from the dining room. Maybe a little fire hits the oil and sparks one of those fancy little flames — I love that. A little white wine and — this is a secret, but — Cory finishes the fish in the oven. He never flips the fish while he’s cooking it. (Try this at home. You can thank me later.)
The roasted curried cauliflower is plated alongside the braised lentils, and the perfectly cooked halibut is balanced on top and finished with the compound butter. Little squeeze of fresh lemon, some micro-greens to garnish and it’s carefully lifted into the service window. The bell rings, our expeditor carries it over to your table and sets it down. Seven hours in the making.
After your meal
The server checks to see if it all looks great so far. Would you like another glass of wine? Tops up the water, drops some extra napkins.
How’s everything tasting? In a perfect world the answer goes something like: “It’s great!” or “Compliments to the chef.” We relay it back to the kitchen: “Everyone is happy!” And we really are proud. Proud of what we do, what we serve and how we serve it.
Afterward, you have a piece of homemade chocolate cake baked by my mom and a cappuccino or one of chef Rudy’s perfect cream brûlées.
As you leave, we say our goodbyes and we thank you, genuinely, thank you for coming. Because without you we would have nothing. You meet us there with “Keep up the good work, hang in there, we love it here,” and my personal favorite, “We’ll be back!”
So you keep bringing all that to the table and we’ll keep bringing the food. Because in the end, a little more love goes a long way, now more than ever.