East End Eats: Left Hoping at Topping Rose

Goodbye Tom Colicchio, hello Jean-Georges Vongerichten

Topping Rose House

1 Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike, Bridgehampton

631-537-0870

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner seven days

Gone are the days of tenderloin of rabbit, white tablecloths, and a $60,000 winking snowy owl art installation by the bar. Goodbye Tom Colicchio, hello Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Goodbye lobster mushroom gnocchi, hello . . . hamburgers and spaghetti? Whaaaat?

In its early years, under the guidance of Mr.  Colicchio (Craft, ’Wichcraft, “Top Chef”), Topping Rose House was a high-end destination restaurant. It was very, very good, but the few times I went it was never full and never had a buzz. Nobody was hanging out at the pretty, high-gloss teal bar by the front door, and the tall-ceilinged all-white dining room verged on austere. 

A few things have changed; a few remain the same. The bar is now painted a glossy black and has some attractive seating arrangements, modern wicker, a lime green banquette, and some black leather lounging chairs. 

We lingered in the bar with our extremely expensive drinks ($17 for a cucumber mint martini) and nibbled on popcorn and wasabi peanuts. I had thought the popcorn might be something super special, like truffled or herbed or perhaps even accented with some of Jean-Georges’s signature pan-Asian flavors, but no, it tasted of the stuff girls eat when they’re on a diet, kind of like air-popped air.

In the dining room the plain wood tables now have tan paper place mats, there are more lime green banquettes, and black wood chairs that are somewhere between Ilmari Tapiovaara crinolines and Danish modern Windsors from West Elm. (I’m just trying to cover all the Scandinavian design bases here because, really, I have no idea what I’m talking about!)

After settling in at our table, we got some delicious, warm slices of crusty bread that our waiter told us was made in house. It is served with small dishes of wonderful olive oil, and there are little bowls of Maldon sea salt on the table as well. An amuse bouche of four radishes with a foamy vinaigrette came next. We noted that it was odd to only get four since there were five of us.

We began our meal with warm asparagus salad, tuna tartare, calamari, and fluke crudo. The warm asparagus salad was very good, with most of the stalk utilized as the French do, by peeling the woodier portion off. The dressing had a variety of brunois-cut (tiny dice) vegetables: carrots, fennel, scallions, and parsley, and, best of all, a lot of tender, tasty morel mushrooms. 

The tuna tartare was delicious, but we all agreed that diced tuna would have been a better texture than the finely ground version here. It was served on an avocado puree and topped with slices of radish. The ginger dressing was spicy and super salty. The calamari was a delicious rendition, although a somewhat dainty portion for the price. The batter was crisp and parsley-flecked, and the dish included a mild citrus-chili aioli. 

Probably the best appetizer of all was the fluke crudo. The slices of fluke were dressed in a lemony olive oil vinaigrette and topped with crispy rice, cilantro microgreens, and a few pinches of crunchy sea salt. It was beautiful to look at, refreshing, and light.

For entrees we ordered the Parmesan-crusted chicken, spaghetti with smoked bacon, a cheeseburger(!), striped bass, and garden vegetable brown rice bowl. The chicken was quite good, a deboned breast with a well-seasoned crust on it and a tart lemony sauce. The artichokes served with it, however, were way overcooked, verging on mushy. The spaghetti with smoked bacon was very good as well, but the arugula mixed into it was tough and woody, way past its prime. 

The cheeseburger was nicely presented and cooked to order. It came with a big slice of yellow tomato, some butter lettuce, house-made pickle slices, frizzled onions, and hand-cut, skin-on fries. The fries were excellent, but the frizzled onions were oddly lacking in onion flavor. 

The last two dishes were somewhat disappointing. The striped bass was requested slightly underdone, but it was the opposite, way overcooked. This toughens striped bass. It was served on top of zucchini and summer squash with a pool of apricot sauce and edible flower petals. It was a very pretty presentation. 

The garden vegetable brown rice bowl was also pretty, and the vegetables fresh, but it tasted overwhelmingly of ginger and nothing else. There were fiddleheads, snow peas, sugar snap peas, squash, yellow and orange carrots, scallions, and an excellent short-grain brown rice. It just needed more flavor, or perhaps more variety of flavor.

The service on the night of our visit was spotty. Our waiter was very nice but inexperienced. We got two of our appetizers almost immediately, and before we had had a chance to place an order for wine. So it was water and fluke to begin the meal. Another anomaly of the evening was the fact that there was no manager, no maitre d’, no presence in the dining room. Although it was a weeknight, the restaurant was almost full and it is brand new, so this was surprising, especially for such a high-end establishment. 

Prices are moderate to expensive. Appetizers are $14 to $22, pastas and pizza are $15 to $26, entrees are $21 to $44, sides are $9 (mashed potatoes, French fries, or steamed broccoli; I think this needs work), and desserts are $12 to $14.

For dessert we tried a strawberry linzer bar, carrot cake, and basil panna cotta. The strawberry linzer bar was topped with whipped cream, quenelles of strawberry sorbet, vanilla ice cream, and strawberry ice cream. There were fresh and dehydrated strawberry slices as garnish, and the whole thing was delicious. 

The carrot cake was pretty and fluffy but not terribly exciting. I guess it was mild. It was a round cake topped with a swirl of fluffy cream cheese icing and a dollop of coconut sorbet. The best dessert was the basil panna cotta. It was flecked with vanilla bean seeds, had just the right amount of basil infusion, a pretty, tropical fruit salad on the side, and a small scoop of passion fruit sorbet. At the end of the meal we received a plate with tasty, tiny brownie squares, chocolate chip cookies, and cassis paté de fruits, a nice touch that carried over from the Colicchio days.

On one hand I feel it is smart to now have burgers and spaghetti on the menu, because this is also a hotel and there are plenty of munchkin guests who must be fed. But I had hoped for better, more carefully prepared food, because Jean-Georges Vongerichten is one of my idols and he has a reputation for being hands-on in his kitchens and kind to his staff. 

My guests for this review were people who know food far better than yours truly. One of them sent a long and thoughtful email the day after our meal: “Jean-Georges’s name may be on the door, but there was no sense that he had ever spent time bringing the inside of the house up to the standards his reputation carries from N.Y.C.”

I would absolutely go back for the fluke crudo and a few other dishes, but in the meantime, here’s hoping things improve on all fronts.