East End Eats: A Taste of Southeast Asia

The restaurant is a seasonal pop-up at La Maison Blanche on Shelter Island
Katana, in La Maison Blanche Hotel, satisfies an urge for sushi on Shelter Island. Morgan McGivern

La Maison Blanche Hotel
11 Stearns Point Road
Shelter Island
Dinner from 6 p.m., through
at least Labor Day

What is the best number of people to bring along for a restaurant review? Logic would suggest the more the merrier; you get a chance to try more dishes. But my recent experience at Katana on Shelter Island, with eight human, adult people, suggested otherwise. We were a regular little United Nations of know-it-alls — Chinese, African-American, British, friends who had lived all over Asia, and a cookbook author. All I ask of my guests is that we get a nice variety of food, they don’t ask me in front of the waiter what they should order, and, oh, please, let me taste the four desserts we ordered before you consume every drop. More on that later, or should I say, less on that?

The restaurant is a seasonal pop-up at La Maison Blanche on Shelter Island, a pretty inn that’s Victorian on the outside, chic and European on the inside. There is a little pool in back, a big wraparound porch with a gazebo, pentanque courts out front, Ping-Pong, and bikes to ride down to Crescent Beach. For a few years it had a pretty good French restaurant. This season it has Katana, a somewhat Indonesian-Japanese restaurant, serving the only sushi on Shelter Island.

On the night of our visit we sat out front on the spacious and pretty porch. Oops, I forgot to mention to my guests that you don’t start off by arguing with the waiter over the wording on the menu. This is supposed to be stealth dining, not loaded-for-bear, I-know-more-than-you-do umbrage. Sigh.

We began our meal with clam chowder, mussels, summer rolls, chicken gyoza, and bulgogi (Korean tacos). The clam chowder, referred to as “Kiki’s famous,” was pretty average for “famous.” It was rich and creamy. Standard stuff. The mussels were very good, cooked in a lemon grass and coconut milk broth with a bit of chili oil heat. The vegetable summer rolls would have been better if the rice noodle pancake hadn’t been soaked for too long. The rolls kind of fell apart when you picked them up. The filling was good though, a combination of mango, cucumbers, peppers, and vermicelli noodles — crunchy and sweet. The chicken gyoza were excellent. You could taste every ingredient. The dumpling wrappers were perfectly cooked, and a hint of citrusy lemongrass came through. The bulgogi were also excellent — two taco shells filled with little chunks of ribeye steak, a bit of cabbage and daikon radish for crunch, and a delicious drizzle of soy-lime dressing.

For entrees we ordered Java gado-gado, miso-glazed halibut, panang chicken curry, fluke sashimi, and tuna and avocado salad. The gado-gado, called “Indonesian Cobb salad” on the menu, was a good rendition of this dish, traditionally a cool combination of potatoes, green beans, cucumbers, hard-boiled eggs, and tofu. This one had the addition of spinach and fried shallots. The peanut dressing served with it was just right, with a creamy consistency and just a bit salty.

The miso-glazed halibut was another winner. The halibut was perched on top of grilled asparagus and had a slightly spicy red curry sauce on it. The clever addition of crisped wonton wrappers filled with truffled mashed potatoes was divine, if nontraditional. The fluke sashimi (sometimes called usuzukuri) was super fresh, with thin slices of fluke in tart ponzu sauce. The tuna and avocado salad, “Sleeping Dragon,” was one of the more beautiful platters of the evening. Thin slices of avocado were wrapped around slices of tuna, filled with salmon caviar. Another coil of avocado slices was wrapped around spicy tuna with a dollop of seaweed salad. The platter had two little pools of a light miso sesame oil dressing garnished with red and orange tobiko (flying fish roe).

The panang chicken curry (the dish that one guest insisted was incorrectly identified because it was a green curry, blah blah blah) was good, just not very exciting. Panang curry is a milder, often peanut-based curry popular in Malaysia. The chicken was tender and it was mixed in with peppers and bok choy and served with steamed brown rice.

The service on the night of our visit was good, but I got the sense that our waiter doesn’t like waiting tables. He was knowledgeable and efficient, but eye contact and smiles were not a part of his repertoire.

We ordered desserts, which our waiter said were not made in-house: mochi, mango creme brulee, and cheesecake. At this point, my friend Mitch and I left the table to play no more than 10 or 15 minutes of petanque. I lost. Mitch insisted he tried to let me win, but my playing was just too . . . well, it’s a silly game, anyway. Upon our return to the table we saw lots of empty dessert plates. “You took too long!” they cried like petulant children. “Do you all remember why we came here? So I could taste the food? I’m supposed to be working here!” said this petulant reviewer. Oh, well. The review of the desserts from my dining companions was “the cheesecake was okay,” “there was a piece of mango on the plate,” and “we don’t know what flavor the mochi was.” Not so helpful.

The prices at Katana are reasonable, and the chef only serves sustainable fish in accordance with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch list, an admirable philosophy. The wine list is short and also reasonable. Most bottles are in the $40 to $50 range. Prices are $9 to $16 for appetizers, $24 to $44 for entrees. Sushi and sashimi are $10 to $24. The aforementioned, never tasted desserts are $9. The restaurant is open through Labor Day, but has a lease for longer and may continue later into the fall if its reservation lines stay busy.

We had a delightful time at Katana in a pretty setting. It’s wonderful to see sushi and Indonesian style dishes on charming little Shelter Island. But no way am I ever bringing so many experts on future reviews!