East End Eats: Creative Cuisine at Crow’s Nest

Crow’s Nest, a popular spot
Inspired food and a lovely setting have helped make the Crow’s Nest a popular spot this summer. Morgan McGivern

Oh, boy! Here is yet another red-hot Montauk spot swarming with mini-dresses and cocktails and fedoras. The Crow’s Nest is red-hot because it was taken over by the restaurateur and hotelier Sean McPherson last year. I’m not sure what this means as far as the inn goes, but the restaurant has been transformed into an absolute delight.
    The Crow’s Nest is located on Old West Lake Drive on Lake Montauk. The big white building that encloses the restaurant has a huge, sweeping lawn leading down to the water, twinkly lights sparkling everywhere, and swampy, marshy grasses on the perimeter. There is a fire pit lounging area near the entrance for those waiting for tables and unruly, sugared up children wielding burning sticks.
    The interior is lovely, mostly bare wood, some beautiful, ancient looking textiles bordering a few walls and the bar, and turquoise vases on each table with succulents and ferns. It is open to the elements and most tables look out onto the fairy-like landscape.
    Upon arrival we were snipped and sniped at by the attractive yet ungracious hostess. We were three, awaiting two. We assured her that we were starving and thirsty enough that we would commence eating and drinking immediately and our friends could catch up midmeal. We prevailed, as we were larger. And hungry.
    After being seated, we got a platter of honeydew melon cubes on skewers with a light sprinkling of salt and chili flakes — a piquant and refreshing way to begin cocktails and our meal, so much healthier than bread and butter.
    The menu is creative and different from all others I have seen out here. Every offering sounded tempting and delicious, the choices heavy on local vegetables and fish. Some friends who had dined at the Crow’s Nest the night before had returned for some of the same dishes, so we followed their suggestions. We began with squash blossoms, the whipped ricotta with grilled baguette, hot and cold tomatoes, and local kale salad. The squash blossoms were delicious, stuffed with ricotta and basil and deep-fried. They retained their crunch, although they were quite small. The whipped ricotta was delicious as well, with bits of sage, and a light drizzle of lemony oil. They forgot to grill our baguette slices, however, which would have added some nice texture and flavor. The hot and cold tomatoes were an inspired dish. Big, cool slices of heirloom tomatoes were topped with sizzling, sautéed cherry tomatoes. Just a bit of olive oil and basil made this a dreamy summer appetizer. The kale salad was the best of all. Kale has an assertively grassy flavor and can be quite tough, but this kale was just tender enough and finely chopped. It was lightly dressed and had some slivers of fennel, sunflower seeds, and tiny, salty croutons mixed in. We ordered several more.
    For entrees we tried the heirloom tomato spaghetti, fresh lemon pasta, and local vegetable red curry. The heirloom tomato spaghetti was simply sautéed cherry tomatoes with basil and chili flakes. The fresh lemon pasta was a reasonably sized portion of tagliatelle, tart and oily, with a tangle of arugula on top. Both were delicious, simple dishes that you might have at a friend’s house on a summer evening. A friend who is a very good cook and lets the fresh, local ingredients shine. The local vegetable red curry was a bit of a dud. It was predominantly silky tofu cubes, and the jasmine rice had gone from being rice to being congee, i.e., a mushy rice gruel. Too bad, because the coconut milk red curry sauce was delicious, well balanced with heat and richness. It had a nice mixture of eggplant, zucchini, cauliflower, and basil. The serving dishes are a charming and quirky hodgepodge of old green-and-blue Wedgwood plates and wooden platters.
    Service on the night we went was friendly but not terribly efficient. Our waitress did the best she could, but the runners, servers, and bus-folk could use a bit more training. Dishes were plopped on the table, empty ones remained stacked on our windowsill, and additional cutlery had to be requested.
    The waitstaff is curiously clad in white T-shirts and white painter’s overalls. It was observed among our group that the fit of the overalls was perhaps two sizes too small. One employee admitted to feeling a bit uncomfortable in her constricting uniform. It gave the fellows in overalls a bit of “the missing Village People singer” look.
    The restaurant was mobbed, the crowd happy, and we all ran into people we knew. Some patrons seemed delighted to be in the happening place. Most seemed happy to be in a beautiful location with an exquisite view, getting truly delicious and original food.
    For desserts we tried the chocolate bread pudding, olive oil cake, grilled peaches, and salted caramel ice cream. The bread pudding was excellent, warm and custardy inside, bread cubes crunchy on top and bits of bittersweet chocolate melting throughout. The olive oil cake was moist, dense, and orange scented with a dollop of fresh whipped cream. The grilled peaches were big and perfectly ripe, topped with creme fraiche, a few lavender blossoms, and pistachios. The salted caramel ice cream was a favorite with everyone. It had an excellent vanilla base with just enough salted caramel swirled through it, making each bite a sweet, creamy surprise.
    All of the food we tried was delicious. The portions were not huge; they were normal. The menu has so many other tempting sounding dishes that I look forward to going back. There are at least 6 local fish and shellfish dishes on the menu, and 10 dishes (entree and side) featuring local vegetables. This is admirable. Prices are $11 to $36 for appetizers and salads, $17 to $42 for entrees. Sides are $6 to $8. The wine list is short and expensive. The rosés, the boissons d’ete, are particularly cher, so beware.
    The Crow’s Nest will close for the season in early October. I hope you get a chance to try it.