South Edison is a cool, beachy spot in Montauk. Not cool beachy like blue and white, rattan, nautical motifs, and so on. It is cool and beachy in a different way. A lobster roe-hued bicycle hangs from one wall. The rooms have aqua sea-green floors with the same lobster roe red accents on pale yellow walls. A few gauzy curtains flutter. The tables are set far apart, making the room feel airy and the guests feel comfortable. The restaurant looks casual in a chic way, but the food is far more sophisticated than one would think at first glance.
Upon being seated, we were served some warm slices of baguette along with a ramekin of butter and a dish of fried leeks. The fried leeks were so outrageously good, they disappeared immediately. Our server replenished them right away.
We began our meal with salt and vinegar-fried shishito peppers, dayboat fluke sashimi, and Colorado lamb ribs. Shishito peppers are long, thin peppers often served in Japanese and Spanish restaurants. Regardless of how they are prepared, eating them is definitely a form of culinary Russian roulette. Ten will be mild and vegetal, the 11th will send you to the ice water. These shishitos had a nice bit of tang from the vinegar and were served with homemade, warmed creme fraiche. This was a surprisingly good condiment. The warm cream cut the heat of the naughty little peppers.
The dayboat fluke sashimi was outstanding and beautifully presented on a long white plate. Glazed baby turnips (so sweet I thought they were beets!), crispy shallots, chili jam, fresh serrano peppers, kaffir lime leaves, and micro-cilantro gave the fish additional sweetness and spice at the same time. The crispy shallots added some nice texture to the softness of the fluke.
Though I had never tried Colorado lamb ribs before, I’ve been eager to since reading Sam Sifton’s article about them in The New York Times. They were, without a doubt, one of the most delicious things I have ever tried. Delicious in a dangerous way, like pork belly. You can’t eat a lot of fatty meat, no matter how good it tastes. These lamb ribs had what appeared to be a complex dry rub/crust full of smoky, hot flavors. Numbing Szechuan peppercorns, cumin, and chili oil came through loud and clear. The meat was as tender as could be, the crisped fatty parts divine.
For entrees we ordered the seared yellowfin tuna, local porgy a la plancha, lobster roll, and shrimp and grits fra diavolo.
The seared tuna was just as good as the lamb ribs. It had an equally original combination of ingredients. A harissa-infused cauliflower purée added a touch of spice and sweetness. The wheat berries, heirloom beans, and hearts of palm mixed with Castelvetrano olives were warm and cold combined, crunchy popping wheat berries, creamy beans, and salty olives. Oh, and the tuna was perfect — barely seared, sliced thinly, super fresh, and a good-size portion.
The local porgy was very good and very spicy. It was served in a rich local corn and peanut Thai curry sauce with sticky rice, micro greens, and bits of crisped ginger on top. The lobster roll was also excellent. A simple but very good hot dog bun, toasted and dolled up with garlic butter, was stuffed to the brim with not much more than it needed, gobs of lobster meat in big chunks, minimal mayo, a touch of celery. The shoestring fries served with it had a touch of Old Bay crab seasoning. They were excellent, although they had lost their crispiness. The perils of having a restaurant two blocks from the ocean.
The shrimp with grits was rich and beautifully presented. The grits (Anson Mills, white, coarsely ground) met the high standards of our Southern food expert, Miss Marsha. The head-on prawns were beautiful and tasty, but I am a firm believer in head-on shrimp, crayfish, and prawns anyway. The dish was topped with the most peppery cress, a perfect accent on the rich, creamy grits.
From the greeting at the door to our cute, pink-faced server from Donegal, to our waitress (her first night), everything was pleasant and professional. We peppered our waitress with many questions: “What’s your favorite? What are the customers’ favorites? Signature dishes? Are the desserts made inhouse?” She handled it all with grace and good answers.
For desserts we ordered the ice cream sandwich, orange and olive oil cake, affogato, and the bowl of early cherries. And yes, everything on the dessert menu is made in-house, including the ice creams and sorbets. The ice cream sandwich was two squares of a super thin, bittersweet chocolate brownie and salted caramel ice cream. Salted caramel is a current trend in desserts and I hope it never goes away. The tiny bit of salt cuts the richness and enhances the sweetness of the ice cream. The orange and olive oil cake was two big slices of moist, citrusy pound cake served with an excellent vanilla ice cream. The affogato was excellent. It doesn’t take a lot of talent to make what is essentially an espresso float, but this one was just right because the espresso was very strong and bitter, the vanilla ice cream perfect. There’s not much to say about a bowl of cherries except they were fresh and sweet. The accompanying aged balsamic vinegar whipped cream served for dipping was an original and very appropriate accompaniment.
Prices at South Edison are $9 to $15 for appetizers and salads, $16.50 to $32 for entrees, $8 for sides, and $5 to $9 for desserts. There is also a raw bar menu with items from $2 to $18. One guest, a purist when it comes to fish, felt that some of the dishes were overwhelmed with spice and the fish (porgy and fluke) got lost in the mix. Personally, I loved the North African, Moroccan, and Asian twists and the spicy, savory combinations.
Dining at South Edison for the first time reminded me of my first trip to the West Lake Clam and Chowder House. You just get a nice feeling while you’re there. You are surrounded by happy, grateful diners and the food is original, fresh, and creative. I hope I can get in next time!