Staying the Course

“No we will not lower prices or reduce the quality of what we serve. We will just do it better!” declared Matt Connors, in response to his wife’s quandary over the looming recession three years ago.

Eileen concedes, “We did just that and are doing well. Our customers still have special occasions and want to celebrate here. Others just want a fine dinner in the restaurant or at the bar. I respect Matt most for holding to his vision.”

Executive Chef/Owner Matt Connors, of The Lake House in Bay Shore calls his cuisine New American with French influence. When asked what he would do if he did not own a restaurant, he answered with confidence, “Run. Running is my life. I could easily own a running shop.” This is probably why it is easy for Matt to stay the course and maintain a quality establishment. He has the discipline of a runner.

“My parents were both excellent cooks and had an extensive library of cookbooks. The French Laundry Cookbook and Fredy Girardet’s Girardet: Recipes from a Master of French Cuisine are my favorites,” Matt said as he retrieved a well-worn copy of Girardet.

He started working in high school at La Mascotte in Commack, a traditional French restaurant. Jean Claude Denner and Andre Guillet were mentors at The Culinary Institute of America. Time spent at Wolfgang Puck’s, Postrio in San Francisco and experiences at Arcadia, Gramercy Tavern and finally, Veritas in New York City, prepared him to open his own place.

“When a deal fell through in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, we came out to visit my parents and saw this space, previously The Duck Pond Inn. It was in disrepair, but it had possibilities and we worked to make this happen,” Matt reminisces.

And now with Eileen serving as hostess and Phil Brown behind the mahogany bar near a roaring fire, it appears to be true. The breathtaking view of the duck pond, and cozy rooms with tables and banquettes trimmed with chocolate-brown and ice-blue accents set the mood.

Co-Chef Charles Treadwell and Connors, friends with similar culinary backgrounds, are a team in the well-organized kitchen. Outside, they participate in The Farm at St. Peters, a cooperative where they grow and harvest fresh vegetables to serve in season.

“A chef must be an intuitive cook, one who can be thrown ingredients and know how they react to heat and combine to taste good. The whole process starts with imagining the taste and understanding how different textures and flavors contrast and complement. For instance, our striped bass is a nice meaty fish, served with braised leeks, truffle smashed potatoes with truffle foamy emulsion. Charles and I decided to surround it with a port wine reduction to give it acidity as a contrast. Unusual, but it makes the dish.”

Chef Matt Connors is pacing himself serving unpredictable fare and he’s making great time.

Signature Dish : Roasted Wild Striped Bass with Truffle Smashed Red Potatoes.
“This is one of the first specials offered when we opened The Lake House. It was received so well that it remains on the menu to this day.”

Roasted Wild Striped Bass with Braised Leeks, Truffle Smashed Fingerling Potatoes, Mushroom Emulsion and Port Reduction

Serves 4
Preheat oven to 350 degrees for leeks.

For the potatoes:
1 lb fingerling potatoes, skin on
½ c heavy cream
2 tbsp black truffle butter
1 tbsp truffle oil
1 tbsp chives, minced
Bring heavily salted water to a boil, boil potatoes for 20 minutes, until fork tender, drain and let cool. Crush with the back of a spoon. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, heat the remaining ingredients with potatoes over a medium flame, stirring occasionally. Cook for 5 minutes until cream has thickened. Keep warm until ready to plate.

For the mushroom emulsion:
2 c mushroom stock, preferably homemade
2 tbsp black truffle butter
2 tbsp crème fraiche
1 tbsp truffle oil
Salt to taste
In a large saucepot, bring all the ingredients to a simmer over a low flame. When ready to use, buzz quickly with a hand blender and use the foam only for plating.

For the port reduction:
1 c ruby port
1 c red wine vinegar
In a small sauce pot, over a low flame, simmer together the port and vinegar until thick and syrupy. Set aside.

For the leeks:
4 leeks, washed and split, white part only
2 tbsp unsalted butter
½ c chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 sprig fresh thyme
Place all the ingredients in a small roasting pan, cover with foil tightly and cook for 45 minutes in the preheated oven. Keep warm and set aside.

For the Fish:
4 8 oz filets of wild striped bass, skin removed, about 1” thick
2 tsp Wondra flour
salt and pepper
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Flour and season filets with salt and pepper. Place filets flour side down in the butter and oil in a very hot sauté pan until lightly browned. Finish in the oven in the same sauté pan for 8 to 10 minutes at 450 degrees. Plate fish with potatoes, leeks and mushroom emulsion. Drizzle port reduction around the dish and serve.

Seasonal Vegetable Salad With Soft Poached Farm Egg, Creamed Chanterelles, Grilled Asparagus and Humboldt Fog Goat Cheese

Serves 4

For creamed chanterelles:
1 c chanterelles, cleaned and sliced
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp shallots, minced
¼ c Madeira
2 tbsp crème fraiche
1 tbsp truffle butter
1 tsp truffle oil
1 tbsp chives, minced
Juice of ½ lemon
In a large sauté pan, medium flame, melt butter and sauté mushrooms for 4-5 minutes until soft. Stir in shallots and Madeira, and bring to a gentle simmer. Allow the Madeira to evaporate and then add the remaining ingredients, stirring gently to coat the mushrooms. Cover to keep warm and set aside.

For the egg:
4 organic or free-range large eggs
¼ c white vinegar
In a sauté pan, bring water and vinegar to a gentle boil. Drop in eggs and simmer for 4 minutes, or until the whites are set. Scoop out and drain onto paper towels. Keep warm and set aside.

For the asparagus and salad:
1 bunch asparagus, stemmed and peeled, grilled lightly
2 c baby arugula, washed and dried well
½ tbsp shallots, minced
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Juice of ½ lemon
4 slices brioche bread, buttered and toasted
½ lb Humboldt Fog Goat Cheese, sliced into 4 equal slices
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large bowl, toss together the arugula, shallots, oil and lemon juice, season with salt and pepper.

To assemble:
On a dinner plate, place ½ cup arugula salad, top with goat cheese slice. Place ¼ of the asparagus on plate and spoon creamed chanterelles over them. Place warm egg next to the asparagus and serve with warm toasted brioche. Season with salt and pepper.