September 13, 2006

Main Course

By Amy Patton

Labor Day is a traditional time of slowing for most East End eateries. After the frenetic summer season, many restaurants scale back to weekends-only service. Come Columbus Day you'll be hard pressed to find any place left open where you can enjoy a cocktail and a satisfying meal with friends.

Not so, Michaels at Maidstone Beach. It's a true neighborhood joint with the cozy feel of a country inn. Michaels is the kind of place where locals sip draft at the small bar while diners enjoy the white linen-topped booths that are adorned with flickering candles in the evening.

Black and white family photos dot the vestibule and bar area, and art from local painters hangs throughout the restaurant. A recent visit to Michaels proved that its solid reputation is well earned. Chef Juan Torres (formerly of Peconic Coast) has put together a menu that's an uncluttered mix of classic seafood and land choices. The wine list has some familiar labels like Chateau St. Jean Chardonnay ($31) and Australian Shiraz ($31-$33). Our group of four settled on a bottle of Argyle pinot noir from Oregon ($39). The wine was redolent of ripe cherry and raspberry and boasted the finely textured tannins that are typical of a good pinot.

Now on to the food.

We couldn't resist the appetizer offering of tasty and plump littleneck clams that were steamed in their own juices and expertly accompanied by garlic, white wine and herbs. Thank you, Juan! We also sampled a plate of panko-fried oysters served in their own shells on a bed of homemade tartar sauce. Also good was a basket of crispy fried calamari sided with spicy marinara. Another recommended starter: an unusual salad of horseradish-dressed red and gold beets topped with a red onion marmalade.

We swooned over the grilled steak off Michaels' $24.95 prix fixe menu. The savory steak (dubbed "superb" by a tablemate) was served medium rare and sauced with a brandy-peppercorn concoction. Other entrée standouts: a creamy and fragrant sea scallop/asparagus risotto and a "surf and turf" dish of filet mignon and a six-ounce lobster tail. Pasta people will enjoy the garlic sausage and broccoli rabe penne and the homey, if humble, spaghetti and meatballs.

Michaels' prix fixe menu is not to be missed, where comfort food abounds: herbed meatloaf with mushroom sauce, fried local flounder, Long Island duck and a 12-ounce shell steak are just a few of the entrée options. On Friday and Saturday nights, Michaels offers a three-course prime rib dinner for $28.95. Soup or salad, a vegetable and dessert are included. Sunday brunch is also worth checking out (10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.), with favorites like eggs benedict, vegetarian frittatas and prime rib sandwiches.

We finished up the meal with excellent coffee and a sampling of desserts, including a generous serving of buttery banana cream pie, chocolate cake sided with ice cream and vanilla bean gelato.

Owners Debra and Rich Gherardi have succeeded in restoring Michaels to its former glory as East Hampton's most neighborly destination.

Michaels at Maidstone Beach

28 Maidstone Park Rd.

East Hampton, 324-0725

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