Roots Bistro Gourmand
West Islip, (631) 587-2844
French food in the form of bistro fare is inching its way back onto Long Island. The healthy eating trend of recent years took its toll on haute cuisine French restaurants that featured rich, sauce-dominated dishes high in calories and cholesterol, while some anti-French political attitudes also had a negative effect.
Until now, relatively upscale, fancified establishments have dominated the new wave of bistros. All that changed when Roots Bistro Gourmand opened in West Islip. This modest spot with its pressed tin ceiling, bare tables and floors, blackboards and almost fanatical emphasis on using local ingredients is the real thing: An authentic French bistro turning out often modern versions of traditional dishes.
Its undeniable bistro spirit has been created by two powerhouse owners: Philippe Corbet, a French born and trained executive chef, and James Orlandi, the restaurant’s general manager and also a chef with both Manhattan and Long Island experience. Both of them adhere to the very French attitude that treats food and restaurants with near religious fervor. Chef Corbet comes with eight years experience in Michelin star-rated restaurants as well as two years as executive chef at Bouley in Manhattan and stints at Stone Creek Inn, Oscar’s of Saint James and O’s Food and Wine Bar here on the Island. Orlandi, who keeps a sharp eye on the dining room and pitches in serving dishes when things get especially frantic, is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education who met Corbet at O’s Food and Wine Bar. He has traveled extensively in Europe and saw service at Jean Georges at the Trump International Hotel in Manhattan.
Together they have trained an excellent waitstaff who know the menu and its ingredients, and also know who ordered the dishes they are delivering. They recite the prices of specials, eliminating the need for often-embarrassed diners to ask what the dishes cost.
Local suppliers are prominently listed on a blackboard and local ingredients like carrots, cherry tomatoes and fava beans dot the dishes at Roots. Its menu will change four times a year and the preparation of individual dishes like the foie gras ($22) change weekly. When we sampled that dish in October, it boasted delicious soft pear slices, roasted acorn squash and a red spice wine reduction in a squash purée. Another bistro mainstay, slow cooked pressed suckling pig ($16/$30) with a sturdy skin and a soft, moist interior, featured a wide array of enhancing platemates like caramelized heart of palm, fresh baby carrots, caraway-lavender honey and spring onion compote. Not as successful were risotto lollipops ($9), three bland under-seasoned rice balls.
Among the entrées, the snappy bouillabaisse with its slightly spicy saffron fish broth and super fresh shell and flatfish ($28) tasted like Marseille, not West Islip. The Roots Royal 8oz skyscraper bistro burger ($18) was too tall to eat with its cheddar, tomato confit, pickled cucumber, onion relish and sweet raw onion. When reconstructed it was still mighty satisfying. So too was the shelled, creamy, smooth butter poached lobster ($38) accompanied by polenta, Vidalia onions, cherry tomatoes, fava beans and a citrus beurre blanc in a sumptuous lobster bisque emulsion.
Think chocolate at dessert time. The inspired, creative trio of chocolate ($11), molten cake, white chocolate ice cream and pot de crème chocolate, is at the top of the list followed by a sundae sampler ($9), three medium-sized bowls, one featuring chocolate with caramel, nuts and chocolate crème fraiche.
We are told Roots plans to deaden its noisy dining room. That is much needed. The headache-producing clamor was one of the only unpleasant aspects of dining at Roots.
Photos by Stephen Lang