Peter Gianotti’s Newsday Review

Newsday ~ Luce & Hawkins.  By Peter Gianotti

Photographs: Randee Daddona

Keith Luce wanted to open a country inn on his native North Fork. Moving into the Jedediah Hawkins’ kitchen, he’s now serving a singular experience.

Luce, whose resume includes The Herbfarm outside Seattle, PlumpJack Cafe in San Francisco and a stint in the Clinton White House, returned to Long Island’s wine country this year.

The restored Jedediah Hawkins Inn dates to 1863. It was reborn in 2006 with a lively restaurant to go with the rooms. This season, the dining areas have been refurbished and streamlined.

A sunny, greenhouse-style space called Luce’s Landing is a platform for the chef’s appetizing, small-plate courses. As of now, dishes from this menu also are available in the dining room.

Luce & Hawkins is the stage for a minimally described, five-course, $75 tasting menu, which changes regularly. Wine pairing from the house’s list: $50. The bold, intricate culinary show currently is inspired by Luce’s garden out back.

THE BEST

On a recent tasting menu, shiso-leaf tempura and lens-like rounds of Peconic Bay “water gel” flanked lustrous, thin rectangles of sushi-grade tuna. Juicing borage leaves, then clarifying, seasoning and cooling, yielded the gel, which included the bay water as an ingredient. Lovage and tarragon accented a delectable mouthful of poached lobster, finished with sun-gold tomatoes, olive oil and foamy “lobster froth.” When Luce goes molecular, it’s flavorful fun. A square of pork belly, which must have been cooked all-day, arrived moist and tender, almost lacquered on top, paired with ovals of smoked-pork tenderloin and peas, completed with a hint of just-snipped mint. Rosy rectangles of lamb loin became a savory vehicle for basil and pesto. Chocolate sorbet and mini-strawberry shortcake highlighted a finale.

At Luce’s Landing, where dishes were in the $5 to $16 range, you could enjoy pastrami-cured, smoked bluefish; a lush version of lobster rolls; a crunchy, oyster po’boy; a delicious union of foraged morels and sweet peas; and addictive cinnamon doughnuts.

THE REST

Sassafras didn’t improve rice pudding. Chorizo, smoked mussels, spreads: respectable.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Early fireworks.

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