18 Bay Restaurant
(631) 749-0053, Shelter Island
The markets dictate the menus at 18 Bay on Shelter Island. Only the produce, fish and fowl that grow and live on Long Island or swim around it appear on the restaurant’s four-course $55 prix fixe menus.
After working together at two restaurants (including the diminutive original 18 Bay in Bayville), chef/owners Elizabeth Ronzetti and Adam Kopels discovered they were both deeply devoted to the Island’s bounty and wanted to cook using local ingredients as exclusively as possible. Just as importantly, after three years of working together professionally they discovered they were deeply devoted to one another as well. They married in 2010, the same year 18 Bay closed its doors in Bayville after a successful five-year run. The next year the larger, new 18 Bay opened in a lovely, historic 1873 house in an appropriately peaceful, pastoral part of Shelter Island. Ms. Ronzetti and Mr. Kopels followed their dream to the source of the food they wanted to prepare. Even their tea, honey and syrups come from local producers who painstakingly handcraft these ingredients in small batches.
The farm-to-table, local product phenomenon is anything but new. Many restaurants profess to follow it and some certainly do. But few if any pursue it like this dedicated husband-and-wife team who display an almost religious fervor to do it right and do it every time. In fact the only time 18 Bay closes is when its purveyors do and the catch-it-grow-it-menu items they covet aren’t available. A sweet, attentive waitress confessed that the crusty whole wheat bread served with a mild, garlic purée came not from the East End, but from the (exceptional) Tom Cat Bakery in Queens.
While there is an “antipasti, housemade pasta, meat or fish entrée, dessert” pattern to every dinner at 18 Bay, the weekly menu changes every Wednesday, which means the dishes we sampled probably won’t be the same ones you will. Yet, no matter what the ingredients, the king-sized four-compartment antipasti platter is an absolute wow. Our array harbored a hearty, housemade chicken and ramp sausage stuffed peppers; a pizzette with a tiny quail’s egg, fontina and culatello Americano (think prosciutto) much like a mini breakfast pizza; and an upscale assemblage of organic snap peas and shoots with carrot vinaigrette and shimmering, almost-transparent, raw fluke crudo paired with grapefruit and sea beans. The housemade pasta was a small bowl of al dente spaghetti à la chitarra liberally studded with tasty, buttery little neck clams and pepperoncini flakes.
Entrées and desserts offer diners their only choices. There were two of each. The mains were a crisp-skinned, sautéed black sea bass with grilled local lettuces, a simple tasty fish unencumbered by its accompaniments and two thick, tender slabs of rosy Painted Hills New York strip steak with sautéed spinach and pungent pickled ramps.
Desserts were more basic and less exciting than the preceding courses. Yet the vanilla affogato (ice cream with a mild coffee syrup) and a chocolate cupcake with real whipped cream and berries were all we could handle.
There have been many restaurants at 23 North Ferry Road, some of them quite good, but 18 Bay is the first great one. It offers creative cooking, superior ingredients and a skilled kitchen crew and waitstaff in an idyllic country setting.
Photos by Paul Kim / T.H.E. Fitzgerald Photography