Colicchio’s Latest in Culinary Innovation @ The Topping Rose House

Two weeks ago I got a taste of one of the Hampton’s newest restaurant additions – The Topping Rose House. The Topping Rose has the promise to be the new luxe destination for summer weekenders this season. It’s going to come at a price, of course. Rooms go for ~$1,000 per night, but you will be able to decompress at what looks like it will be an impressive spa and enjoy the fine dining experience that comes with a Tom Colicchio restaurant. I am going to focus on the restaurant more than the Inn itself, but they did do a great job of restoring an historic landmark in the center of Bridgehampton. From the outside, the building fits in nicely with the town’s surroundings and does not stick out as a gaudy eye sore. I think this was some people’s concern upon fist hearing about the new luxury accommodations coming to town. The inn and spa are not in full swing yet, but promise to be by the summer rush not too far off. In the meantime, people, like myself, who sometimes make the trip out there in the off-season have the privilege of testing the restaurant before it becomes impossible to get a table. Come Memorial
Day that will surely be the case.

Topping Rose is elegant but not in the same way Colicchio designed Craft or Riverpark where you enjoy a meal in a lavish dining room. The setting itself is rather quaint and it feels as though you are dining in the middle of a farmhouse. The decor is wonderful and brings forth a comfortable ambiance. The real elegance at Topping Rose lies rather in the preparation of the food. This is not my first Colicchio experience, so I know what to expect in terms of food quality and his general flare for modern and seasonally appropriate cooking. The off-summer menu was definitely reflective of winter and early spring flavors, so I will be interested to see what comes next in the summer time when Hampton tomatoes, corn and other farm-fresh goodies blossom in abundance.

The menu item of the night at our table was the Tilefish. I strayed from the other three and decided to try one of the pastas instead. Given the exuberance and high recommendation for the Tilefish, however, it’s probably worth a try. The fish is served with gold and blue potatoes, leeks and preserved lemons. Now, be careful here. When the server described the dish to us it was conveyed that there would be a puree of leeks beneath the fish and a noticeable serving of said preserved lemons. What actually came out was a delicately prepared fish with a light sauce infused with leek and lemon flavors. This was confusing to a few members of the table, who insisted they get to the bottom of this mystery and find out where the leeks and lemon resided. To their dismay, the puree was not missing just slightly misrepresented from the beginning. Nonetheless, the overall review for the fish was positive and all three people I dined with seemed to enjoy the light and flavorful dish.

I do not order pasta very often, but on this occasion I had a particular craving for a new and inventive carb creation. I tried the restaurant’s Smoked Pappardelle, which is topped with a slow poached egg. All of the pastas at Topping Rose are made in house and, in the case of the Pappardelle, they actually smoke the pasta noodles so they taste just the faintest bit of delicious smoked meats. The sauce is light and the poached egg adds a rich twist to the dish. I am glad I ordered the smaller portion because anything more may have been too decadent. For a starter, I had the Fennel, Radish, Celery and Cucumber Salad which is one of the appetizers I hope never comes off the menu. It’s great for every season and filled with fresh, refreshing greens and finished off with a light goat-yogurt herb dressing. While I enjoyed my entire meal this simple preparation was probably the highlight.

Additionally, we ordered the Fried Oysters with Braised Chili Bacon which were a nice twist the standard raw oyster. I am no huge fan of oysters myself, but these were delicious (maybe because they did not really taste like oysters!). The oysters were not over-fried and together with the bacon I could almost transport myself to a beach BBQ. Yet another good preparation for all seasons. The other must-do on the menu is checking out the side dishes. Generally side dishes are not a main attraction for any meal, but picking up the Brussel Sprouts and Roasted Cauliflower are a great way to round out a meal at Topping Rose. They are simple, but you won’t be disappointed.

 

There was, of course, some dessert to finish off the meal. By this time I was quite satisfied, but I did need something small and sweet to top me off for the evening. There were quite a few inventive ice cream flavors to sample and even though it seemed like the simple choice I went with a few scoops of coffee ice cream. There was also Lemon Meringue Tart and Apple Tarte Tatin at the table so I snagged a small taste of each. They were both great, but the Tarte Tatin beat out and would be my pick to anyone looking for a dessert suggestion. The restaurant also brings out petit fours of mini chocolate chip cookies and other small chocolate treats, so I doubled up on my ice cream and enjoyed a few of those. At the end of the meal, in true Colicchio fashion, you receive a small satchel of house made granola to remember the restaurant by as you enjoy breakfast the next morning.

Topping Rose will be a great addition to the Hampton restaurant scene, but it should definitely be reserved for a special occasion. To me, this is not a restaurant you bring the little kids on a random Friday evening or make a standing reservation at every weekend. Some people might do this, but I think it de-values the special nature of the place. It’s not gaudy, pretentious or over-the-top, but when you walk in you know you’re in for a treat so savor it that way. I would love to check out the brunch and will likely do so at some point this summer when occasion allows, so be sure to look for a Topping Rose update.

The Topping Rose House, One Bridgehampton – Sag Harbor Turnpike, Bridgehampton, NY, 11932. Phone: (631) 537-0870.

When To Book: I recommend booking a table at Topping Rose as early as you can plan. Even in the off-month of March, our options for a Saturday seating were 6 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. It will be even busier in the summer so get to planning sooner rather than later.

Taking on L.A.’s Brunch Scene @ Blu Jam Cafe

I traveled to L.A. a few weeks back for a long weekend and discovered a new brunch spot that I have been craving ever since I left. It may have been my first time stumbling into Blu Jam, but its is by no means a hidden gem to those who regularly peruse the L.A. brunch scene. I thought I was being sly by trying the restaurant on a Monday afternoon in an attempt to avoid the Saturday and Sunday rush, but this, however, backfired and did not work out as planned. Apparently everyone else wanted to brunch of their day off too!

We arrived at Blu Jam around 1 p.m. and even from a couple blocks away I could see the groups of people crowded outside the restaurant waiting for their names to be called (Note: remember we are in California and it’s actually warm there in February). If I was in New York I might have called it quits right there and then – there’s always another time to stop by and there are also usually five other options within a three block radius.  Since I am only in California every couple of months, my friends and I decided to stick out the wait since we all wanted to give the place a try.

The host alerted us it would probably be an hour wait, but I thought this was just a ploy to discourage people and turn them away. I was starving, but I was also convinced the wait would be 40 minutes at worst so we sucked it up, put our name on the list and meandered around Melrose Ave to pass the time. When we arrived back at the restaurant a short 40 minutes later I expected we would be the next threesome called. Wrong again! We were still third. A couple of tables cleared shortly after and then we were next. I could almost taste the eggs! One hour passed, then one hour and ten minutes, and just as our hopes were dwindling at the one-hour-and-twenty-minute mark, the host called our name and I immediately felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders (and my stomach).

Normally popular restaurants with long waits feel no remorse. They are the “cool,” “trendy” and “hip” place to be so obviously you’re supposed to wait your turn before getting the opportunity to enjoy such a coveted experience. That’s what I expected from Blu Jam – a curt apology for the wait but nothing more. The restaurant, however, takes a different approach and actually finds a way to make patrons feel good even after an appetite-provoking wait time. Upon being seated there was a piping hot order of the restaurant’s signature Crispy French Toast compliments of the chef. Apparently Blu Jam believes that if you patiently wait for an inordinate amount of time you should be rewarded. I cannot remember a time where such a nice (and delicious) gesture was offered to me, and I commend the restaurant for its hospitality. Immediately sold! It also felt good not having to spend the extra $12.95 to try Blu Jam’s signature breakfast dish. The french toast is prepared with brioche toast that has been rolled in crunchy corn flakes and topped with berries, bananas and a vanilla bean sauce. I had not eaten french toast in a while, but this version was lights out. there should be an order on every table for each person to at least have a small taste.

 

In addition to the french toast Blu Jam offers a great menu of breakfast and lunch items. The best part is that breakfast is served all day seven days a week. I am a huge fan of breakfast/brunch food so any place with quality food that also offers breakfast options anytime I want gets a gold star in my book.   The menu is extensive so the decision process was daunting, but I think it’s difficult to go wrong. When we asked our server what his favorite egg dish was, he got so excited about the menu that by the time he finished running though his “top” picks we realized he had just spoken about 50 percent of the options. That did not really help narrow our decisions, but at least we knew he thought highly of the chef.

I had been eyeing the Eggwich since the beginning of our wait time so I stuck with my gut. An egg sandwich may seem generic for a place that has so many diverse choices, but this was anything but dull – over easy eggs with strips of crispy bacon, avocado, sliced tomatoes, arugula and pesto aioli on ciabatta. The sandwich was huge and I was not sure if I would even be able to pick it up, but I handled it just fine and there was not even one leaf of arugula left when I was through with it. I did not try the Norwegian Benedict or Make-Your-Own Scramble that my friends ordered, but they each seemed equally satisfied with their meals.

So what’s the verdict? Long waits can be a drag, but if you have the time on a sunny afternoon and want a hearty brunch or just have a random craving for breakfast I suggest stopping in at Blu Jam. You can probably be smarter than I was and go at off-peak times such as a random weekday or Saturday/Sunday before 11 a.m. and after 3 p.m. to expedite the process. The food was delicious and fresh with plenty of options for everyone, and the service was amicable. Even though the restaurant was extremely crowded and there continued to be a wait outside while we were dining, I did not feel hurried through our meal and the food was served within a very reasonable time frame.

Blu Jam Cafe, 7371 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA, 90046. Phone: (323) 951-9191

When to Book: Blu Jam Cafe does not take reservations and can be extremely busy during peak hours. Expect to wait thirty minutes to one hour during brunch rush hour.