East End Eats: Symphonies on a Plate

Our Topping Rose House experience was a delight
Our local bounty is interpreted big-city-restaurant style at the Topping Rose House in Bridgehampton. Morgan McGivern

   The very much anticipated Topping Rose House is finally open. The meticulously renovated and restored former Bull’s Head Inn is not completely finished but the restaurant is up and running, smoothly and beautifully.
    As the building itself is an interesting and significant part of the center of Bridgehampton, I believe a bit of historical information is warranted.  This stately Greek Revival house was originally built for Judge Abraham Topping Rose in 1842. His buddy Nathaniel Rogers had built an equally large house across the street, now owned and being restored by the Town of Southampton. After the judge’s death, the family sold the property and it was variously used as a restaurant, antiques shop, and even a pop-up store for Target a few years ago.
    Although the structure is large and imposing, the restaurant on the ground floor seats only a lucky 50, although there is also a large barn for bigger parties and a 25-seat bar area. There is a welcoming wraparound porch with dark wicker chairs, and on the night of our visit, a charmingly warm hostess to greet us outside the entrance.
    We lingered for a while at the door to admire the dark-aqua lacquered bar. There are two dining rooms behind the bar, all-white rooms with large pieces of art, wide plank floors, and black chairs. The rooms’ decor shows a respect for the bones of the house, with modern touches that add luxury to the whole atmosphere.  
    Can you tell where I’m going with this? Yes, this place is a “destination” restaurant, a special-occasion location.
    Whenever I review a restaurant that is newly opened, I am prepared to cut them some slack on service, computer glitches, long waits for food, whatever. But as I have also oft repeated: “if you are open and charging for food you are fair game for a review.” The Topping Rose House, a mere few weeks old on this particular evening, was impeccable from the greeting to the meal to the attentive management to the little after-dinner madeleines and the dainty baggies of granola bestowed upon our departure. More on that later.
    The menu is somewhat short and very imaginative. There are eight appetizers, six main courses, and six pastas. The vegetable accompaniments get star billing with the proteins listed below.
    We began our meal with the beet risotto, foie gras torchon, and a half order of gnocchi with braised lobster mushrooms. The beet risotto was as pretty and tasty as can be. It was a deep magenta with flashes of green from the leaves and neatly slivered stems adorning it. The arborio rice was cooked perfectly al dente and the sweet roasted beet flavor came through. There were bits of raw beet, giving it texture, and a few sprigs of fresh tarragon, a surprising and perfect addition. A dried goat cheese was grated tableside, adding some tang and richness to the dish. Catapano Farm is one of the many local farms and purveyors honored on a whole page of the menu, so perhaps this cheese was from there, but it was deliciously reminiscent of an aged crottin de Chavignol.
    The foie gras torchon was a generous slice of goosy-fatty heaven, accompanied by a tart, lemony dandelion salad. “Au torchon” is a traditional form of terrine (translates to “in a towel”) in which the whole lobe is wrapped, slow poached, pressed, and served cold in slices. One of the best parts was a warm, buttery brioche with a fig jam compote and a few drops of fig balsamic vinegar. This was a sweet, tart, rich, savory symphony on a plate.
    The gnocchi was served with not-often-found lobster mushrooms. I don’t want to gross you out, because lobster “mushrooms” are truly delicious, but they are in fact a parasitic ascomycete that grow on mushrooms, covering them completely with a bright orange or coral or cinnamon-colored hue and deep, dense, almost seafood flavor. The gnocchi were soft pillows and the whole dish was buttery and divine.
    For entrees we ordered the lamb loin, roasted saddle of rabbit (when’s the last time you saw that on a menu?!), and striped bass. The lamb loin was served in neat, tender slices and lightly pink. Served with it were bright-red roasted sweet peppers and slices of eggplant that alternated fried crunchy discs with softer roasted slices. We loved all of it.
    The saddle of rabbit, my choice, was a good demonstration of fine cooking and attention to detail, with elements that were so subtle and sophisticated, I couldn’t decipher and deconstruct them. The saddle of the rabbit is the two loins from rib section to haunch, with small rabbits being preferable for tenderness and the cooking process just so much to maintain that tenderness. This was a dainty-but-just-enough portion. A tiny rabbit kidney topped the dish, speared with a sprig of fresh rosemary. There were tiny chanterelle mushroom embryos in the sauce, along with the surprising addition of pickled watermelon.  What made this addition so surprising and entertaining was the perfectly uniform way it was cut.  Each slice of pickled watermelon had a bit of pale rind and a bit of pink, making them look exactly like bacon lardons on the plate. Off to the side was a mysterious schmear of something resembling mustard or roasted garlic purée. We found it spectacular and had to ask what it was. It was a purée of chanterelles, shallots, and rosemary.
    Last but not least was the striped bass served to my friend Marilyn, who is a striped bass aficionado. The fish was beautifully cooked with a nicely crusted exterior. It was topped with finely julienned sugar snap peas, green and wax beans, and fava beans in a buttery sauce. There were a few fine slivers of summer truffle, adding a hint of earthiness.
    The service on the night of our visit was excellent. Our waitress, Elizabeth, was sweet and smart. We had made our reservation through my chef friend Paul, who alerted them to his profession. We were on a waiting list but were able to get in at 5:30 and were treated like kings and queens. This may have been out of respect for a fellow chef, but I suspect they treat all guests just as kindly. We were also given samples of granola, some cantaloupe jellies, and little chocolate chip cookies, all delicious.
    During our meal we spied Anna Pump (of Loaves and Fishes shop and books fame) and her family. I checked in with them after they had finished and all of them found their meals as delicious as we did, and these folks have discerning palates!
    Unless you live under a rock out here, you probably already know that Tom Colicchio of Craft, wichcraft, and “Top Chef” fame is the executive chef. Ty Kotz is chef-de-cuisine and he is doing a splendid job executing Mr. Colicchio’s menu.
    The Topping Rose House is expensive. As I said before, this is a fine-dining establishment, a destination. The portions are small, but you will not feel gypped. You can easily spend $100 per person but you will not regret it.  First courses are $13 to $28, pastas and main courses are $18 to $42, desserts are $10 and $12.
    For desserts we tried the warm chocolate tart, cardamom-spiced dough­­nuts, and peach tart tatin. The warm chocolate tart looked like a baby pie, only cuter. The crust was a dark chocolate cookie base, perhaps a sable, with a warm interior somewhere between melted ganache and baked chocolate pudding. The small oval of ice cream was delicious and creamy, but we couldn’t identify the flavor. It was made with ricotta. Two roasted figs were served with it, making this dessert virtuous and healthy. The cardamom-spiced doughnuts were light and not greasy at all. They were served peeking out of a pristine white napkin with a dish of lemon curd for dipping. 
    The peach tart tatin was the best of all. The caramelized peaches were nestled in the buttery, flaky shell and served with sweet corn ice cream. The pastry chef, Cassandra Shupp, also makes the wide variety of ice creams and sorbets, in flavors that sound so intriguing I look forward to trying them next time, milk chocolate and plum ice cream, concord grape and red pear sorbets, raspberry sherbet!
    Our Topping Rose House experience was a delight. They have embraced the East End’s local bounty of fruits and vegetables, cheeses, eggs, fish, and wines, but cook it all with the heft and gravitas of a big-city restaurant with money.
    There are future plans for a pool and a crabapple orchard and cottages on the property, but for now, there simply exists this stately inn with a fine restaurant. And that’s good enough for me.