Off Beat: Looking For Something Different?

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Karen LaRocco
Karen LaRocco

Here are two Long Island restaurants that offer special dining experiences.

Dining Club at Bistro Etc.

Karen Melanie LaRocco’s Dining Club not only satisfies the guests at Bistro Etc., her restaurant in Port Washington; it also keeps her on her toes as a chef, she says.

Four to six times a year, LaRocco offers a four-course themed dinner with an optional choice of wine as an accompaniment to each course.

So far this year, dinner themes have been “Wild Game” and “Southern Comfort.” The game meal featured roasted quail and then a salad of baby watercress, radicchio and feta with roasted garlic vinaigrette. The third course—“Wild Duo”—presented New Zealand venison and bison short ribs. Dessert was a “Not so Wild” apple and cranberry tart.

LaRocco enjoys the process of putting together the menu for her dinners. “What will appeal to people?” is the first question she asks herself, and then the research begins. She draws from the food from her childhood, her training in classical French techniques, her 20 years of experience in the kitchen and her collection of 400 cookbooks. Joining her in the decision-making is her husband and partner Peter Whitelaw, who manages the front of the house and tends the bar.

Diners receive a menu that lists not only the dishes, but also the pedigree of the ingredients and how the dish was prepared. So, you find out that quail is from a family farm in South Carolina where it ranged free, ate wholesome grains, and did not receive any hormones or antibiotics. The bison, you learn, was raised “in the vast past in the U.S. and Canada” and “seared on high heat to give it that beautiful crust.” The description continues, “We slowly braise them in red wine and aromatics for that ‘fall off the bone’ tenderness. The sauce is then reduced to a beautiful sheen.” Pure poetry guaranteed to entice the taste buds of meat eaters.

Coming soon is “Comfort Food.” The chef says she is sure to include grilled cheese and tomato soup with her own special touch, such as home-baked artisanal bread. The tomato soup might be made with yellow tomatoes or served cold in hot weather.

“I try to give people something unique to look forward to,” says LaRocco.

Michael Wilson
Michael Wilson

Chef’s Table at Prime

Imagine having the chef say to you, “Come into my kitchen and I will cook for you. and our sommelier will select the wines that go well with the dishes I prepare.”

This is possible at Prime in Huntington where you and three others can dine at Chef’s Table in the kitchen, as Executive Chef Michael Wilson serves up a six-course meal designed for your special interests.

Here’s how it works: after you make your reservation, you consult with a managing host to discuss your preferences, aversions and allergies. That information is brought to Wilson and the sommelier, Francesco Belcastro, where the three plan the menu. During the meal, Wilson serves each dish and Belcastro pours the wine, describing their choices and answering questions. “I love it because you are connecting directly with the guests, discussing each course and getting instant gratification,” says Wilson.

Chef’s Table is reminiscent of family dinner for Wilson, growing up in Sayville. “My older sister and I did the cooking,” he says, “and everyone had to be home for dinner.” Dinner often was clams and crabs caught off the dock. “I love cooking Long Island food,” he says, “especially seafood.” Wilson’s culinary school education was at Johnson and Wales, and he cooked in restaurants throughout Long Island and the Florida Keys before joining the Bohlsen Restaurant Group, which owns Prime and several other Long Island restaurants.

A dinner in February consisted of roasted butternut squash; braised octopus with endive, kumquat vinaigrette and red pepper hummus; pappardelle with wild mushrooms and prosciutto; leek-crusted tuna; and Japanese A5 Kobe strip steak with cauliflower lobster brûlée. Dessert was warm cinnamon bread pudding and toasted almond panna cotta. The wines started light, with an Austrian white for the squash course, leading up in intensity to a California cabernet sauvignon. Argentine late harvest wine was served with dessert.

Wilson says that most of the guests after speaking with the host leave it up to him to make the decisions, but he welcomes input. One diner in a group was a vegetarian, and so a separate menu was prepared for him with the appropriate wines.

Chef’s Table is offered Sunday through Thursday, from Labor Day to Memorial Day.

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