East End Eats: Fresh Ideas, Noble Effort

It tries hard to provide local fish, poultry, dairy products, fruits, and vegetables
Todd Jacobs is the chef and owner of Fresh. Lexi Mucci, his daughter, is the manager. Morgan McGivern Photo

203 Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor
Lunch and dinner daily
Brunch on Sundays

   The well-respected local chef Todd Jacobs has taken the helm at Fresh, the restaurant in Bridgehampton that once was Southfork Kitchen, and the new restaurant’s mission statement promises a great deal. As the eating public demands more and more specialized, individualized, and de-glutenized food items, this place aims to please.
    It tries hard to provide local fish, poultry, dairy products, fruits, and vegetables. You can build your own salad, choosing the greens, toppings, and crispy crunchy bits. I like this concept because if your blueberry, gorgonzola and cashew salad with tahini dressing doesn’t taste so good, you have only yourself to blame.
    Fresh has wisely left the interior untouched, other than adding a few Gandhi and Buddha paintings to the walls. It is a large, dark, and somewhat industrial-looking space, warmed up a bit by the recycled barn board paneling. There is a little alcove with a table for large groups to the right that looks a bit like a stage set from across the room, or like an interrogation room, what with the single light fixture shining down on the guests. The large bar, alas, has no booze. Fresh is still B.Y.O.B.
    The meal begins with fresh, warm rolls to go with bottles of olive oil already at the table. The menu and concept at Fresh is re-fresh-ing. You can order your entrees by the quarter, half, or full pound per portion, and you can get side orders galore, for instance five sides for $20.
    On a recent visit we began our meal with kale salad and grilled portobello mushroom salad. The kale salad was described as “raw Tuscan kale with hemp­seed hearts, sugar plum tomatoes, red peppers, zucchini, and fine herbs with lemongrass vinaigrette.” It was delicious and virtuous and the dressing was lemony but not at all lemongrassy, which is what I was looking forward to tasting. I also couldn’t find the hempseed hearts — they look like pot seeds, right? I know what pot seeds look like; I grew up in the ’60s. The grilled portobello mushroom salad was also delicious, tasting a bit like some naughty bacon fat found its way into the dressing. The greens were tender, fresh little leaves of spinach and chard, the Portobello nicely marinated and sliced. Shards of Parmesan cheese added some nice salty richness.
    For entrees we ordered the quarter-pound portions of skate, flounder, and duck. The skate was described as wasabi-crusted but we couldn’t detect that fiery Japanese powder in the flavor. Each entree was served attractively with a nasturtium blossom and chervil leaves on top. A tiny pitcher of the accompanying sauce was nestled in the deep bowls of each entree. The ginger beurre blanc served with the skate was mild. The flounder was pretty good. Not exactly “hemp flour crusted” as promised, it was rather moist and soft. The carrot butter “infused with ginger and lemongrass” didn’t taste too much like either. The duck, we all agreed, was the best of the three. Four beautiful slices of duck breast had nicely crisped layers of skin and the accompanying tart cherry sauce was perfect with it.
    We also ordered the five sides for $20 (there are 17 offered). We tried the Thai red curried spring vegetables, wild organic sauteed spinach, local organic snow pea shoots, shiitake mushrooms and sugar snaps, local organic Yukon potatoes roasted with duck cracklings, shallots, and dill, and lastly, red quinoa with oven-dried tomatoes, leeks, and oregano. The red curried vegetables had a fairly mousy coconut milk sauce, quite bland. Sadly, the vegetables, all of them, were completely raw. Al dente would have been okay, but raw chunks of carrot and chewy leek leaves are not pleasant. The sauteed spinach was delicious, delicately cooked with a bit of garlic. The snow pea shoots were also very good, tasting a bit of the coconut oil.
    The roasted potatoes were tasty, with a bit of duck fat flavor but nary a duck crackling to be found. And the cracklings were the whole reason I ordered this dish. We asked our waiter if perhaps we’d gotten the wrong dish but he insisted it was correct. We poked around the potatoes to show him there were no cracklings, to which he replied, “They’re subtle.” I believe the correct response would have been, “I’ll check with the kitchen and see if there are any cracklings lying around.” Oh, well.
    The red quinoa was pretty good. It’s one of those virtuous proteins that is best when mixed with lots of other tasty things. This quinoa was to be served with oven-dried tomatoes, leeks, and oregano. I saw some tomatoes but not the rest.
    I appreciate what Fresh is trying to do and the menu is extensive and promising. However, so many of the dishes lacked what was promised, and that’s distressing.
    The service on the night of our visit was good, and the hostess and manager friendly and charming. They were quite busy, although not completely full. Prices are moderate. Soups and salads are $7 to $12, small plates and shellfish are $8 to $42, main courses are $12 to $90, sides $5 or $9, and desserts $6 to $16. The higher prices are for large family-style portions, such as a whole pound of salmon or a whole chicken.
    For desserts we tried the white chocolate, yogurt, and banana napoleon, a classic creme brulée, and Fresh s’mores. The napoleon lacked its most essential detail — layers of crisp phyllo dough. There was one sheet on top of the banana and yogurt, but I fear it had deliquesced long ago in the kitchen. So it was basically a pretty presentation of breakfast food, yogurt, banana, and strawberries. The creme brulée had a good custard but needed a better sugar-crackled top. The s’more was pretty, homemade meringue piped on top of graham crackers and bittersweet chocolate, but the graham cracker was soggy.
    I want so much for a place like this to succeed, as they offer healthy food and honestly try to provide local and organic products. The portion options are genius. But the menu is so extensive and promises so much (some of it not delivered) that perhaps some simplification is in order.
    Fresh, if you were my student, you’d be teacher’s pet. I’d give you a big E for effort and a happy face sticker on your report card.