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Mavericks in Montauk Invites You to Dine, Not Feed

Tue, 05/09/2023 - 10:00
Remy Ertaud, the pastry chef at Mavericks, with sorbets he made from fruit picked locally -- including kiwi from Colin Ambrose's tree -- and frozen last summer while they waited out the delay in opening.
Laura Donnelly

He's a handsome hunk of a guy, witty as can be, as local as local gets, and most of all, he's a talented chef. He befriends the farmers and fishermen, forages the forageable, ferments the fermentable, adores his family, and hates the Red Sox.

Jeremy Blutstein is the executive chef and a partner at Mavericks in Montauk, a new restaurant in the enviable location that was for many years East by Northeast.

It's a family affair at Mavericks. Mr. Blutstein met his wife, Jarhn, when they worked together at E.N.E. and even had his prom photo taken beneath the lone tree on Fort Pond years before that. His wife is in charge of the beverage program at Mavericks, and his business partner, Vanessa Price, is the sommelier. Ms. Price comes to this new adventure with vast experience. She is a wine columnist for New York magazine, author of "Big Macs and Burgundy," a wine educator, and founder and creative director of the Vinum Collective.

The building itself, once a hotel with a restaurant, is over 100 years old and was originally located near Navy Beach until a hurricane made a move necessary. On this site it has been various iterations: Bill's Inn, the Windjammer, Stone Lion Inn, and E.N.E. It is now a sleek and modern space, painted inky black on the outside, the inside reconfigured to showcase the splendid water view with 1,700 square feet of glass facing due west.

At the entrance there is a 700-pound shark sculpture by the street artist RISK, a.k.a. Kelly Graval, encased in glass and titled "Face Your Fears." The restaurant's logo, painted on the wall outside, is a long and thin, languorous M, looking as much like a wave or the wings of a soaring gannet as an M for Mavericks.

The long road to opening a restaurant became even longer in the case of Mavericks in Montauk, where Jeremy Blutstein, center, a die-hard locavore, is a partner and executive chef. Scenes from the restaurant's development over the past year include, at bottom left, a staff meeting from last spring, when it was originally supposed to open. Laura Donnelly and Michelle McSwain Photos

The interior is two levels, a lounge with a baby grand piano and a dining area closer to the water, with a long bar in the middle. Some walls are deep blue, some light wood, some fabric. The lighting is superb and the sound proofing welcome, as this place has 180 seats inside and 40 out.

One wall near the entrance has been adorned with literally one ton of oyster shells. Turn right toward the restrooms, yes, that is a signed Andy Warhol "Cow." Look up at the ceiling in the center of the restaurant, there's a magnificent light fixture in the shape of the constellation Taurus, repeated four times. Are you getting the bovine steakhouse theme yet?

However, to call this a traditional steakhouse or surf 'n' turf kind of place would be exceptionally inaccurate. In describing the philosophy and food at Mavericks, the eminently quotable Mr. Blutstein veers from waxing poetic about his favorite farmers and fishermen to scoffing at lazy and unimaginative vegetarian options and out-of-season produce, to potty-mouthed descriptions of what you won't find here: "We are inviting people into our home to dine, not feed." "We'll be offering an elite product that's unique to this area." "It would be silly to say we won't be expensive, but I can sleep at night knowing I've provided the best product." "The salads will ring a bell but won't be the same tune." 

"We'll have tomatoes in season, mushrooms roasted in beef tallow, creamed spinach with beef marrow. Our cheese program will be all Mecox Bay Dairy and some goat cheeses from Andy Marcelli, a cheesemaker and importer from Marcelli Formaggio in Abruzzo. All of the beef will be from four small production farms in New York State, all prime, 32-days-aged wet, then we will continue to dry age. All fish will be on the bone, whole fluke, black sea bass, swordfish, all cooked in our wood-fired kitchen. No limp-dick asparagus or par-boiled button mushrooms!"

And don't even get him started on cauliflower, either served as a "steak" or roasted whole served with steak knives. He credits Layton Guenther of Quail Hill Farm and Marilee Foster of Foster Farms, Amanda Merrow and Katie Baldwin of Amber Waves Farm, and many more for his produce. Colin Ambrose, the chef and owner of Estia's Little Kitchen in Sag Harbor, is a pal from way back who gives Mavericks kiwis from his restaurant's garden. This is spun into an ethereal sorbet by Remy Ertaud, executive sous and pastry chef, freshly returned from some esteemed Michelin-starred establishments in Paris like Le Pre Catelan and Des Gateaux et du Pain. 

He even gives a shout-out to Greg Goldberg for the Mavericks firewood. And he'll be using locally made knives.

"It's a steak place, but it's not a steak place."

Some other dishes coming down the pike are smoked bluefish rillettes, served with house-made crackers, and wood grilled oysters with kimchi butter (the kimchi also made in-house). Pastas are made in-house. Look for ramp cavatelli and lobster radiatori made with local tomato paste, along with chicken marinated with oregano and local sumac. Yes, he foraged sumac somewhere along the Amsterdam Beach Trail in Montauk.

The genesis of this story began in February of 2022, when the Mavericks team was eying a spring opening, then mid-summer, then maybe the fall, then spring of 2023. The idea was to observe and report on the laborious process of opening a big, unique, special steakhouse.

On the first visit the damp wind was whipping through the skeleton of the building as we picked our way through the rubble and workmen. On yet another Mr. Blutstein, Mr. Ertaud, and Ms. Price hacked away with hammers, breaking down wooden delivery crates. Ms. Price looks like she could be a model, but she is not afraid to get her hands dirty, or splintery.

Slowly, Mavericks began to take shape and last May, its first staff meeting took place on the grass by the pond. Everyone introduced themselves and said where they were from. It was a veritable United Nations. Mr. Blutstein explained the philosophy of the food: "We're going to celebrate everything the East End has to offer." Ms. Price pointed out that "when you anticipate a meal at the special restaurant you save your appetite, you want it to be fun. The atmosphere is important. We're going to soften the edges of the classic masculine steakhouse. It'll be more feminine, and of course, using local ingredients."

They had bought the building in 2018, then worked through the permit process, and then Covid hit. During this time Mr. Blutstein worked as a private chef and his wife gave birth to their daughter, Poppy.

"Besides all the hurdles of opening a restaurant, add supply chain issues," he recalled. "We had some custom-made furniture from Bali get stuck in China due to the war in Ukraine." Closer to opening the wrong sized hood for kitchen ventilation was delivered, causing another significant delay. They stayed positive. "The delays are helping us build the back of the house." That's restaurant lingo for the kitchen.

In their "downtime" they would retreat to Ms. Price's farm upstate, test recipes, explore resources, design the menu.

"This is the first project that's not lipstick on a pig, this is built from scratch, everything is new," Mr. Blutstein recalled.

He was 14 when he began working at the Farmhouse in East Hampton. He has opened other restaurants and worked in many steakhouses. Some of his finer establishments are the Crow's Nest in Montauk, E.N.E., Almond in Bridgehampton, Del Frisco's in Manhattan. He started the Kimchi Jews product line with a friend and fellow chef, Jason Weiner of Almond. In other words, he's got the chops to cook your chops.

The kimchi fried rice is made with house-fermented kimchi. Laura Donnelly

I had the honor of dining at Mavericks twice recently and the food is spectacular. I've had the stuffed mushrooms made with Mecox Bay Dairy's Sigit cheese and house-made speck, the Parker House rolls with lemon thyme, fluffier than a pure goose down pillow, fluke crudo with fennel and grapefruit (the best I've ever had), the Maitake mushroom "steak" with aged Jerez sherry vinegar and a zesty green herb topping, and kimchi fried rice. I sat at the bar and chatted with Salvatore Termini, who worked on the construction at Mavericks. He had done a demolition job at Surf Lodge when Mr. Blutstein was cheffing there and recalled seeing him late at night breaking down animals and fish. "His personality is magnetic. We've stayed friends through all of his restaurants." This is the loyalty and fandom Mr. Blutstein inspires.

On a second visit I tried the smoked bluefish rillettes with bay leaf oil and house-made crackers. It wasn't the usual cream cheese and horseradish concoction; it was light and flaky with a hint of lime and grapefruit zest. I also tried the "dressed" oysters with compressed pear, ramp kimchi, and sesame oil, creamed spinach with marrow bone, a petit filet with both au poivre and bearnaise sauces, and the baked potato with the "usual suspects." I had leftover meals for two days. For dessert I ordered some sorbets, which a smiling Mr. Ertaud presented himself. (When they couldn't open last summer, they gathered all the local fruits they could and froze them.) I had pear, muskmelon, strawberry, and Colin's kiwi sorbets, all superb. And just for the kitsch factor, I ordered the chocolate layer cake reminiscent of the Palm's, but this one was infinitely better: moist dark cake layered with bittersweet ganache and buttercream.

When I reviewed Gurney's Showfish restaurant in 2019, I described Mr. Blutstein as a "potty-mouthed, bad ass, Wu Tang Clan-loving maverick, fiercely loyal to local talent."

Well, it's still true. He is a young man of immense talent, with great pride but no ego. And now Montauk can rightfully claim to have the best steakhouse and fish restaurant on the East End of Long Island.

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