The Riverhead Project
(631) 284-9300, Riverhead
“What’s a girl like you doing in a place like this?” is the phrase that crossed my mind as I dined at this exceptional restaurant. Translation: “What’s a restaurant like The Riverhead Project doing in a town like this?” The answer is apparent; it’s the centerpiece of a resurgent Riverhead. Along with the newish Suffolk Theater and a number of other initiatives, this solid, no nonsense, blue-collar town is on the ascendency. Nowhere is that more obvious than at The Riverhead Project, a sleek, modern spot with a short, sophisticated menu that would be at home in Manhattan.
Its dramatic dining room is made stunning by floor to ceiling windows, multi-colored flickering candle lanterns, outdoor light-festooned trees and bushes, all of which shimmer and reflect on towering glass partitions. The décor says “do not expect the ordinary” and the kitchen delivers—it is now commanded by the recently installed Lia Fallon. The talented Fallon earned well-deserved kudos at the Jedediah Hawkins Inn in Jamesport; with her ability to create alternately elegant and homey new American dishes offering rich, explosive flavors. It’s difficult to find a humdrum dish here.
The four refined and rustic starters reflected both of these aspects: Delicately crusty shrimp and crab fritters on a bed of sweet corn and summer herb aioli ($15); a silken, subtly sweet carrot and ginger soup with a centerpiece of tiny, soft pieces of ginger ($9); an unusually tasty risotto dotted with braised butternut squash, toasted pepitas and pumpkin seed oil ($15); and a so called fig-a-licious that surrounded its fresh torched figs with candied pecans, baby greens and crumbled blue cheese ($15).
Apart from a tasty but tough Crescent Farms duck breast with an uninspired pork braised collard greens plate mate ($30), entrées scored too. Especially noteworthy was the thoughtfully selected root vegetable torta—tomato bruschetta and frizzed leak accompaniments with a soft, mellow, fall-away tender hunk of boneless braised short ribs ($26). Seafood selections did not take a back seat to the land-based picks, either. Among them are moist, fresh local striped bass, which was enlivened by fresh green lentils and a medley of fall vegetables ($30) and the tricolored quinoa, pear, tart cherry and walnut chutney with the sensitively blackened Dover scallops ($32).
Despite an awkward-to-eat “ice cream sandwich” that’s actually two double chocolate chip cookies on top and underneath chunks of vanilla ice cream that doesn’t hold together ($10), every sweet was superb. The aptly named chocolate mess is a decadent swirl of whipped espresso cream with chocolate mousse and chocolate crumble ($10/$14) and a remarkably rich, fresh peach crumble for two is full of ripe, vibrant fruit and raspberry coulis ($14). Finally, a velvety panna cotta alive with brandied cherries ($9) is a lovely choice for lighter eaters.
Photo by Paul Kim / thefphoto.com