November 01, 2006

Main Course

Country Dining in East Hampton

The Inn at The Maidstone Arms is one of those venerable East Hampton institutions that attracts out-of-towners and locals alike. In short, it's been around forever.

And rightly so.

It doesn't get much more quaint or cozy than at this sweet little place on Main Street overlooking Town Pond that evokes a simpler time on the East End. There have been a few changes in the past few years, however, with regard to the Inn's on-site restaurant. Chef Peter Miller (formerly of Peter Miller's in Sag Harbor) has taken over the kitchen recently with partners and dubbed the eatery CoCo. The owners, who originally intended for the menu to have a Caribbean flair, have recently retreated back to more traditional offerings like lamb chops, grilled filet mignon and a few hearty fish and shellfish dishes.

The result is that a very good dining experience can be had at CoCo. We recently visited the inn and were pleased to see that not much has changed there; it still has a very clubby feel. Dark wood paneling and comfy sofas line the entrance and vestibules. The restaurant's staff is very accommodating and friendly. There's no snobbery here. We started out our meal with a couple of Ketel martinis that arrived icy and bone dry, just as requested. For starters, we opted for a bowl of Prince Edward Island mussels ($9) that were expertly steamed in a mixture of shallots, garlic, white wine and a touch of cream. Our group also enjoyed a dish of crunchy fried calamari ($10) that was served with a dipping side of Ponzu and sweet and sour sauce. Also good were Miller's crispy island spring rolls ($10) that were stuffed with shredded pork, cabbage, and shitake mushrooms. CoCo's classic Caesar salad ($9) was also a winner, tossed with a tangy anchovy dressing. Now it was time to pick a wine from CoCo's comprehensive drinks menu. We were in the mood for a silky and full-textured Pinot Noir and found it in a 2004 bottle of Wild Horse from the Central Coast of California ($45). The intense, jammy fruit of the Pinot was complimented by its more subtle notes of clove and sandalwood. Yum! There were other good (and perhaps exotic) choices like a 2002 Chassagne Montrachet and an Arrowood Chardonnay. Wines from Greece, Spain, Alsace, and, of course, Italy, are well-represented. A local sparkling wine from Lieb was also offered the evening we visited.

On to the entrees: one diner in our group chose a hearty dish of macadamia-crusted lamb chops that sat atop a soul-satisfying mix of watercress and fried fennel, all sauced with an herbed demi-glace ($35). We also enjoyed the large grilled sea scallops that accompanied a savory tomato and asparagus risotto ($28). There are interesting side dishes: baby bok choy for one, and roasted red baby potatoes. For pasta lovers, an old standby — linguine with clams — is recommended, a dish that's served simply with Manilla clams tossed with extra virgin olive oil, garlic and white wine ($22).

After all this, we decided to forgo an assault on the dessert menu and instead shared a light and creamy crème brulee that was garnished with fresh strawberries. Coffee all around was also a good call.

History buffs may enjoy these tidbits: In the early 1700s, the area was dubbed "Maidstone" after the home of the original settlers who came from Maidstone, England. The inn began life as a historic landmark building on Main Street. The house was later destroyed and rebuilt in the early 1800s in the Greek Revival style popular at the time. But it was not until the 1920's that the property became a thriving summer bed & breakfast and was named "The Maidstone Arms."

Today the restaurant and inn are open year round.

CoCo at The Maidstone Arms

207 Main Street

East Hampton, 324-5008.

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