474 West Lake Drive, Montauk
Noon to 11 p.m., daily, late bar menu available until 1 a.m.
What fun we had at Swallow East the other night! Winston Irie was playing, the evening was beautiful, and the restaurant was packed but not insanely, unmanageably so.
Swallow East is located on the dock on Montauk’s West Lake Drive, where Lenny’s used to be. It is huge and open with indoor and outdoor dining. There is a big bar at the front, an open kitchen to the left where you can watch your small plates being prepared, and a nice patio with strings of lights and bright orange chairs. Other than some huge nautical flags and cool black and white photographs, there is not much in the way of decor, nor do they need it. Who needs a bouquet of flowers when you can look out at the Makowish, Adios, and Lazy Bones?
The scene at Swallow East is 99 percent young and good looking. You will see plenty of locals, young families, and a few fishermen. Yes, they do still exist out here in the midst of the jeunesse dorée who have made Montauk their latest nesting place.
Upon entering we were greeted by at least three hostesses, all friendly and helpful and directing the flow like air traffic controllers. Our wait for a table was only 20 minutes, which gave us a chance to go outside and enjoy Mr. Irie’s gentle reggae.
The menu is great fun, just small plates with emphasis on seafood. I always appreciate the chance to try several dishes rather than commit to one large entree. We began with blue point oysters, seaweed salad, steamed mussels, and fresh mozzarella with heirloom tomatoes.
The blue points were excellent, served with lemon wedges, a nice mignonette with shallots, a creamy horseradish sauce, and my favorite, a tiny bottle of Tabasco. The seaweed salad was also delicious, but it takes no finesse; it always comes prepackaged from Japan.
The steamed mussels, all Prince Edward Island, come with a tempting variety of preparation options such as curry, shallots and cream, or smoked tomato and grilled scallions or toasted fennel with roasted garlic. We opted for the coconut, cilantro, and lime broth and it was delicious. For a small plate offering at $14, this was a generous portion. It was served with a slightly sweet wedge of toasted bread, more like Texas toast than baguette. The broth was delicious with a hint of sweet chili sauce.
The fresh mozzarella salad, highly recommended by our excellent waitress Tessa, was worth it. The mozzarella is made in-house and it verges on being more like burrata with a creamy, rich center. The pesto was made with pistachios and it had just enough zesty garlic in it to make the heirloom cherry tomatoes taste sweeter. The whole was sprinkled with mache leaves, delicate and pretty.
Next we tried some of the tacos, one with fried clams, the other pulled chicken. The servings, two tacos each, are just enough. The clam taco was very good, served with a pickled jalapeno tartare sauce. Unfortunately, the pulled chicken was a dud. Served with grilled scallions and queso fresco, all I could taste was canned tomatoes, a bit tinny.
Our second round of dishes were the asparagus fries, barbecue prawns, crispy calamari, and “peeking” duck.
The asparagus fries were ridiculously good. They were in an excellent super-crisp beer batter and served with a tart lemon Dijon aioli. The prawns were also excellent except for one addition. The big head-on prawns were perfectly cooked, served with stone ground grits, andouille sausage, and grilled pineapple. As the perfectly cooked grits were cheesy, the pineapple seemed superfluous. The crispy calamari were outstanding — crunchy little rings served in a Chinese takeout box and drizzled with sweet chili sauce, chopped peanuts, and scallions. The “peeking” duck was also a winner. A moist shredded duck confit, it was served in two little steamed buns with leeks, cucumber, and hoisin sauce.
Service on the night of our visit was excellent. Besides our lovely waitress, there were plenty of bussers refilling water glasses and tending to every detail in this fairly new, extremely busy, and big restaurant. Among my few gripes are that the oysters were served on a plate lined with a napkin filled with ice. As it melted, the water seeped through the slats of our outdoor table. Also an empty discard bowl for the mussel and oyster shells would have been nice.
The prices at Swallow East are moderate. It is easy to look at a small plate menu and think you are saving money. However, once you have ordered two small plates you have already spent $28. But the small plates here are quite generous and satisfying. Raw bar offerings are $6 to $15, the rest of the menu ranges from $7 to $16. The dainty desserts are a mere $4.
For desserts, made in-house, we tried the chocolate peanut butter cake, creme brulée, and bread pudding. The chocolate peanut butter cake was very good, rather like a moist brownie or flourless chocolate cake with a layer of peanut butter in the center. The creme brulée, served in a tiny espresso cup, was also good. The one we loves best of all, however, was the bread pudding. It was just a delicious slice of eggy, caramely goodness.
While I am generally loath to go anywhere the throngs may be at this time of year (movie theater, Main Street, Waldbaum’s, Round Swamp Farm, my beloved Stephen Talkhouse) it was fun to immerse ourselves in one of the latest hot spots on the East End. Winston Irie’s music was great, Swallow East fun, and the food a delight.