East End Eats: Almost Too Good to Share

Tiny and charming
Brussels sprouts with halloumi cheese Laura Donnelly

Bistro Eté
760 Montauk Highway
Water Mill
631-500-9085

Bistro Eté is a little jewel. It is the kind of place I’m not sure I want to share with you because it is tiny and charming and the food is a delicious mash-up of French, Middle Eastern, and Greek . . . oh, let’s just call it Mediterranean cuisine. 

This newish restaurant is where Muse once was, tucked into that most bizarro of commercial real estate wastelands, the cluster of white, usually empty, buildings in Water Mill.

The small space opens up with a bar across from the entrance and a small dining room to the right. Silver-dipped crown bulbs adorn the walls, casting the light back on the walls with no glare into the room. There are a few herb plants here and there, some tiny framed works of art hang on the walls, and the tables and chairs are unadorned wood. It is deceptively simple and plain, which makes it relaxing.

Upon being seated you get a basket of warm rolls, brushed with a bit of herbed olive oil. We began our meal with roasted eggplant, roasted Brussels sprouts, grilled tomatoes, and duck wings. 

The roasted eggplant was pretty as a picture, just like the cover of Yotam Ottolenghi’s vegetable book “Plenty.” It was a large, tender slice of eggplant topped with some drizzles of faintly yellow yogurt seasoned with just the right amount of saffron. A sprinkling of pomegranate seeds gave the eggplant some tart crunch. 

The roasted Brussels sprouts salad was a unique combination of quartered sprouts and cubes of grilled Halloumi cheese with a tahini dressing and more pomegranate seeds. Halloumi cheese originated in Cyprus, which is where the restaurant’s chef, Ari Pavlou, hails from. It is a salty, chewy cheese, usually made with sheep and goat milk, and can be grilled or fried without losing its shape. It was a welcome and unusual addition to the earthy sprouts.

The grilled tomato appetizer was also excellent. You can season a mediocre toma to with salt and pepper and top it with cheese and cook it and, chances are, it will taste pretty good. It was very evident that this dish started with excellent, ripe, local tomatoes. They were topped with very good Asiago cheese and accompanied by a dainty, delicately dressed green salad. 

The duck wings were crazy good, the five “lollypopped” wings were coated in a sweet, slightly spicy glaze, like jerk seasoning, and served on top of a peppery curried slaw.

For entrees we ordered zucchini “zoodles” with tomato sauce, a striped bass special, and sea scallops. The zoodles were a big hit, raw and slightly crisp but warmed, and the tomato sauce was fresh, simple, and perfectly seasoned. 

The striped bass was bathed in a rich, creamy champagne summer truffle sauce, which sounded risky but worked. It was served on top of a dollop of mashed potatoes and sautéed spinach. The scallops were also excellent — five cooked-just-enough sea scallops served with a slightly sweet curry sauce and timbale of rice with sautéed spinach. And a few more pomegranate seeds. They like pomegranate seeds here.

The service on the night of our visit was excellent and not just because our waiter, Scott, is a former colleague from my years as pastry chef for 95 School Street and the Laundry restaurants. He is charming and knows his stuff. The prices at Bistro Eté are moderate to expensive, but closer to moderate when you consider the fine quality of the food. Soups, salads, and other starters are $10 to $26, main dishes are $28 to $38, sides are a mere $8, and desserts are $12 and all made in-house, as are the ice creams.

We tried zucchini cake, orange sorbet, mint chip ice cream, and a peach tart. The zucchini cake was the only one that did not greatly impress. It was in muffin form, cut into three slices layered with whipped cream. It just wasn’t very zucchini-y. The orange sorbet was very good, light and refreshing, and the mint chip ice cream was superb and “made with mint from the chef’s garden.” Usually I am a fusspot about my mint situations; spearmint is for cocktails, peppermint is for ice cream. But this ice cream had a perfect balance of the two. Plus the chocolate chips were very bittersweet, making this a grown-up’s mint chip ice cream. 

The peach tart was one of the best I’ve ever had. It had a most delicate, buttery, sugary crust that was paper thin and crisp. The filling was frangipane, an almond pastry cream mixture, and it was topped with super-thin slices of peach. The tart was perched on a generous mound of whipped cream.

The dessert menu also offers some to-go items: a pint of ice cream, candied orange peel, truffles, and more. We departed with the candied orange peel, which was delicious and is something rarely seen outside of Europe. A nice touch.

One of my guests is vegetarian, the other is currently avoiding dairy products, and isn’t that just the way things go these days? Neither of them found the menu difficult to navigate, nor did they have to make any special requests. The menu is seasonal and heavy on vegetable offerings.

By the end of our meal I started thinking, “Hmmm, maybe this would be a nice birthday dinner location. . . .” I hope I can get in.

Bistro Eté is one of those jewels that inspire its fans to keep it a secret, lest they find it is booked solid when they try to return. Carrie Ann Salvi