23 North Ferry Road
Dinner Thursday through Saturday
Brunch and early dinners Sundays
beginning April 7
Eighteen Bay on Shelter Island is the kind of restaurant you see all over Europe but seldom in America. In tiny villages throughout France and Italy you can find little bistros and trattorias serving one menu offering whatever is seasonal and whatever the chefs found at the market that day.
It’s the same at 18 Bay, which offers one four-course menu but happily accommodates vegetarian and vegan guests with alternative choices on that set menu. Located on North Ferry Road, 18 Bay is in a lovely restored farmhouse with big windows and a covered porch. There is a wood-burning stove at the entrance, a bar in the middle, and about 12 tables all around. It is a quiet and pretty place with shiny dark mahogany-colored floors and creamy buttery yellow walls.
Upon arrival we decided to try a few of the specialty cocktails at the bar. The cucumber gimlet, no more than Hendrick’s gin, cucumber puree, and lime juice was light, not too sweet, and a relative bargain at $12. When we moved to our table we were served some delicious warm and crusty wheat bread with a cauliflower puree that had a hint of truffle oil in it. I decided to go for the regular set menu and my guest went for the vegan option. The first course was an antipasti platter with four mini portions nestled into four dents of a square plate. The regular menu offered handmade pizzette with mozzarella and roasted tomatoes, baby kale, blood orange, and duck confit salad, roasted beets, and baked Peconic Bay scallops. Each was utterly delicious.
The pizzette had a chewy, slightly sweet and salty crust and the roasted tomatoes were very flavorful. The baby kale with blood oranges and duck confit was also absolutely divine. The baby kale was remarkably tender and the citrus tang of the blood oranges complimented the richness of the duck. The roasted beet salad included a few pretty and tender stems, a few leaves, and was surrounded by a wonderful pistachio pesto. The Peconic Bay scallop dish was two large scallops nestled in their shells topped with plenty of buttery breadcrumbs. The presentation of these four antipasti was beautiful. The vegan substitutions for this first course were an olive tapenade on the pizzette instead of mozzarella, and grilled fennel as a substitute for the scallops.
The next course for me was risotto Milanese, the vegan version prepared with Swiss chard. Both were excellent, although I much preferred my more intensely flavored, ultra-cheesy, cooked al dente Arborio rice treat.
For entrees there were two choices on the regular menu, either lamb or monkfish osso bucco. I chose the lamb which, again, was excellent. While the serving portions before were somewhat dainty, this was a good-size piece of lamb with a nice bone with marrow. It had an excellent sauce, a light jus, and had a few little potatoes and artichoke heart quarters scattered on top. The gremolata topping didn’t seem to be garlicky, it was a more subtle sprinkling of lots of flat leaf parsley and slivers of blanched lemon peel. The vegan option was a Napa cabbage caponata stuffed Japanese eggplant with maitake mushrooms. It was well seasoned and . . . virtuous.
The service on the night of our visit was excellent. Everyone is very low key, mellow, soft-spoken, kind. Even the Cure playing through the speakers sounded uncharacteristically mellow. As this is the kind of cozy spot where people chat with each other, we struck up conversations with people at the tables nearby. One couple, local vegetarians, said they come to 18 Bay often. On the other side of us were two hipsters on a date all the way from Brooklyn.
There is one price at 18 Bay, $55 for the four-course meal. This is a bit steep but the quality of the food justifies it. However, I would feel more comfortable if the vegan and vegetarian offerings were perhaps less. Duck confit, scallops, and lamb shanks are a lot more expensive than cabbage, eggplant, and Swiss chard. Give the vegans a break!
For dessert there is one choice, a vegan chocolate cupcake served with whipped cream and strawberries or whipped tofu. It is a beautiful little cake with a glistening top of wonderful dark ganache. The cake is very sweet and moist, the whipped cream barely sweetened, just right. I can’t really get my head around whipped tofu, it’s okay.
The chef-owners, Adam Kopels and Elizabeth Ronzetti, moved 18 Bay from Bayville to Shelter Island in 2011. They are truly dedicated to using local ingredients whenever possible. I loved 18 Bay and can’t wait to see what creativity pops up on the menu as the seasons progress. Bayville’s loss is most assuredly Shelter Island’s gain.