East End Eats: little/red Is a Big Hit

The scene was lively this weekend at little/red, where the cozy atmosphere feels familiar and the food choices are varied and good. Morgan McGivern

little/red
76C Job’s Lane
Southampton
283-3309
Lunch Wednesday through Sunday

Dinner Tuesday through Sunday

    Little/red is a charming little place tucked away on Job’s Lane, where the somewhat dreary Buckley’s used to be. The space has been transformed into a bistro-style restaurant with a beautiful red bar at the entrance, an enclosed patio to the right, and a bilevel dining room to the left. The high gloss walls are an intriguing color. Are they gray, taupe, beige? How about greige? White orchids line one wall, there are beautiful candles all around, a deep burgundy banquette, and wood tables with bistro chairs. Something about the place feels familiar, from the always warm greeting at the door, to the font on the menu, to the ever-present crowd at the bar. It feels like Beacon and Fresno and red/bar Brasserie, David Loewenberg’s other fine dining establishments.
    The menu at little/red is surprisingly long for a small restaurant. The choices range from scallops or cod on the high end to a simple burger or fish and chips.
    On a recent visit we began with the prosciutto and fig salad, crispy calamari salad, and blue cheese Caesar salad. Yes, seven of the nine appetizers are salads. The prosciutto and fig salad had a wonderful balance of sweet, tart, and salty. The texture of the dried figs (as opposed to the mushier fresh) was a nice combination with the peppery arugula. Slivers of manchego cheese added some rich, salty, nutty flavor, and the honey balsamic dressing tied it all together beautifully.
    The crispy calamari salad was also very good. The calamari had an excellent crunchy coating but was not greasy at all. The bits of shaved celery root were a nice addition, as were the toasted pine nuts. The original and most delicious addition were the oil-cured olives tossed into it. Not to everyone’s liking, oil-cured olives are the dark, wrinkly ones, a touch bitter and super salty. They provided a nice zing along with the lemony vinaigrette. Caesar salad is Caesar salad; it’s always the same and is on almost everyone’s menu. This one was distinguished by a judicious amount of blue cheese and roasted cherry tomatoes. The dressing wasn’t as garlicky as I would like, but that’s just my preference.
    For entrees we tried the pan-roasted cod, the grilled cheese sandwich, and the bistro burger. And an order of one of my favorite food groups, the truffled fries.
    The cod wasn’t particularly exciting in and of itself, but once it was tasted with the rich vegetable fricassee, it was very good. A combination of asparagus, wild mushrooms, and bits of sweet corn were swathed in a rich, buttery sauce.
    I found it hilarious that a $24 grilled cheese sandwich would be offered as a dinner entree. But let me tell you, this was no ordinary grilled cheese. It was more of a duck Reuben, for grown-ups. The crunchy rustic bread held a filling of melted Brie, slow-roasted duck, and braised cabbage. It was served with shoestring fries speckled with parsley. This sandwich is so good, it’s worth a trip just for that.
    The bistro burger was the only dud. It was a pretty presentation on a brioche bun, with a pile of bread-and-butter pickles, but the meat was under-seasoned and over-packed. A problem easily remedied. The truffle fries, on the other hand, are another little/red delicacy worth the trip. Made with thinly cut potatoes, I couldn’t tell if they were seasoned with truffle oil or truffle salt, but I’m going with the salt. They were served with a bit of Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top, piping hot and perfectly cooked.
    For desserts we tried the pine nut tart, a white chocolate mousse, and the warm cornbread pudding. The tart was outrageously good. The crust was rich and buttery, clearly very fresh, and the filling like a pecan pie but with toasted pine nuts. The generous amount of nuts kept the filling from being too sweet. A topping of sliced orange segments added a bit of citrus punch.
    The mousse, a special of the evening, was served in a martini glass with a lovely tuile adorning the glass. The mousse was lovely, fluffy, and decadent, but the cookie garnish stole the show. It was like a gingery brandy snap. (I didn’t see the name on the menu until I got home, but I then realized that little/red has had the good fortune to snag Holly Dove-Rozzi, formerly of the defunct Della Femina, as its pastry chef. Brava!)
    The warm cornbread pudding was also a hit: The cakey pudding had nice texture from the cornmeal and the accompanying apple cranberry compote was a good foil. Even the caramel sauce was distinctive.
    Service on the nights of our visits was exceptional, from the greeting at the door to the managers always circulating through the room greeting guests and checking on everyone’s well-being. Jenny, our waitress on both occasions, knew the answers to all of our questions and was able to guide our wine choice in the right direction. The wine list is also noteworthy. It has a good number of local choices, is heavy on Italian offerings, and has a very creative selection of great Spanish wines as well.
    Little/red is moderate to expensive. Starters are $10 to $15, entrees are $17 to $42, sides are $7 and $8, and desserts are $9 to $14. The prices are considerably less at lunchtime, and there is a midafternoon menu called “something in between” that is very reasonable.
    One of my guests astutely pointed out, “Look at the bar crowd. It’s like all of their other restaurants; people don’t want to leave. Even if you just come in for a drink, you end up staying to eat. It’s cozy and friendly.” Yes, little/red is all of those things. With truffle fries on top.