Story and photos by Babbie De Derian
Port Jefferson, Long Island -- a seaside gem on the North Shore
The ride from New York City to the Village of Port Jefferson Island, in the back of a stretch limo is a great start to what promises to be a special weekend that has been organized by the Graceful Rose Restaurant and Danfords Hotel and Marina.
When we arrive at the hotel, General Manager Stu Weiner and Director of Sales Therese Coppola are waiting to greet us; a crackling fire in the lobby fireplace adds to the warm welcome. My room is spacious and cozy with a rainwater shower and a large porch overlooking the marina. The sloops and yachts that fill the slips in the summer are still in dry dock, but the PT Barnum ferry to Bridgeport is in its berth. I watch it leave the dock and make its way out into the sound.
The Graceful Rose, a family owned restaurant, is a happening place with live music in the bar; a well appointed dining room, flattering lighting and a gracious ambiance. Chef Joe Dimaggio, a humble master of gastronomy whose career spans many continents and cuisines, takes great pride in pleasing our palates with a fusion of peppery, tangy, tart, salty, sweet and garlicky courses. Our knowledgeable waiter and Chef Joe himself set the stage for each course, describing the ingredients and preparation that went into each savory dish. The six course feast begins with torchon of foie gras in cumquat syrup on brioche. Peekytoe crab cakes, made with lump crab meat and garnished with fuzu marmalade and lemon are savory, moist, and delicately seasoned dish.
Chopped lobster, shrimp, fresh spinach and roasted garlic over angel hair pasta in a chardonnay garlic sauce is decadently rich and delicious. Chef cleanses our palate with his grandmother’s Sicilian orange salad: chunks of orange, fresh unfiltered extra virgin olive oil, the juice of the orange and a little Italian basil. The well orchestrated symphony of flavors hits high notes in my culinary repertoire, reaching a crescendo with fresh strawberries macerated in cane sugar and a teaspoon of Sambuca... served with a light lavender, mint and vanilla bean sauce.
Saturday begins with breakfast at Toast, a charming local hangout voted the best breakfast on Long Island. Seats are at a premium; walls are lined with colorful paintings by local artists; there is a happy buzz in the room. Owner Terry Scarlatos wows me with a signature vegetable stuffed omelet, served with his take on home fries... a mix of sweet and white potatoes; the peanut butter and banana French toast, made with thick slices of seven grain bread challenges my appetite. Toast and Terry are as warm and welcoming as its comfort food menu; no doubt the place to be for any meal. Soon to open, Terry’s new 80 seat eatery in Patchogue.
Danfords Chef Jonathan Levine, a personable dedicated professional, has traveled far in the culinary world: from working with three stars Michelin Chef Guy Savoy to creating “the best buffet in Las Vegas” at the Wynn Hotel. His new menu and farm-to-table concept for the hotel’s Wave Seafood Kitchen, earned three star rave reviews from Newsweek. The lunch menu is innovative and inviting. Local raw oysters on the half shell are fresh and sweet; succulent short ribs over sweet potato puree melt in my mouth; the Caesar salad is crisp and tangy, and the crème brulée, the most delicious I have ever tasted.
Our group heads off for a tour of the Port Jefferson Brewery, but I prefer to spend time at the hotel’s Blue Sapphire Spa.
Saturday Evening, we return to Graceful Rose for another taste of their impressive menu; Chef Joe has promised more surprises. Deputy Mayor Larry La Pointe joins us for a lively exchange of Port Jefferson shipbuilding history, and future plans to attract more visitors and residents. In the summer a high speed ferry connects New York City, and a complimentary jitney meets the Long Island Railroad trains.
Chef Joe does not disappoint; he is unrelenting in expressing his passion for cooking and desire to please. Highlights of tonight’s culinary concert: char-grilled langoustine in lemon, parsley and shallot butter, pumpernickel herb crusted salmon in a tarragon beurre blanc -- and a trio of deserts, my favorite: the traditional tiramisú.
After dinner, we brave the elements to attend an entertaining performance of the musical: “I Love You; You’re Perfect; Now change” at the historic Theatre Three.
Sunday at Danfords Hotel and Marina includes one of Chef Tiny’s made to order omelets and Chef Jonathan Levine’s in house smoked bacon; there is a buzz of activity: locals and guests, here for the great water views and sumptuous weekend brunch.
I head back to the city reflecting on the historical lore of ships to this port... restored sea captain houses on the hilly tree lined streets... the diversity of restaurants, shops, and art galleries... and the calendar of year round recreational activities for the young and the young at heart... such as the Dickens Festival and the Dragon Boat Races.
My thanks to: Chefs Joe DiMaggio, Terry Scarlatos and Jonathan Levine for sharing their passions and integrity. There is a New England charm about this Long Island village that welcomed me into its embrace. To quote Mayor Margot Garani: “Port Jefferson is a great destination for a day or a lifetime”.
For more info: www.gracefulrose.com
© June 2015 LuxuryWeb Magazine. All rights reserved.