East End Dispatch: Suddenly Kimchi and Superb Seafood at Southfork Kitchen

Chef Joe Isidori is gleaning from local farms and putting up vats of pickles, preserves and kimchi to pair with his seafood.

It would be an understatement to say that a lot of thought went into Southfork Kitchen, the just-opened, year-round restaurant in Bridgehampton.

Owner Bruce Buschel, who has written for GQ, Rolling Stone and The Village Voice, chronicled his “work in progress” for over a year on the Times‘s You’re the Boss blog, generating a heaping helping of crowd-sourced advice.

When all was said and done, he had found a great chef who shared his fondness for seafood and veggies, and lined up the farmer and fisher contacts to supply that chef (Buschel is on the board of EECO Farm in East Hampton). The location ain’t too shabby either—the former Wild Rose, a roadside entertainment venue since 1900, holds fond memories for anyone who partied in the Hamptons in the 1980s and 1990s. On a recent night, as diners settled into the dim, cozy, wood-clad interior, a few ball-capped gentlemen saddled up to the bar, perhaps thinking that the Rose was open again after all these years.  “The alchemy lives on in the ground,” said Buschel.

And it lives on in the food too, where we were sated and dazzled, by course after course bursting with ultra-fresh vegetables like cauliflower gratin; sea life like scallops, clams (served with pasta and kimchi) and oysters; and flavors seldom tasted this side of Flushing Meadows.

Captained  by Chef Joe Isidori, born and raised in Yonkers, and formerly a chef at Pacific East in Amagansett and at DJT at the Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas, where he earned a Michelin star, this seafood joint bucks convention by skipping popular salmon and tuna, as well as cod and farmed seabass—in a sort of inverse homage to Paul Greenberg’s Four Fish. There’s no swordfish either, even the kind caught off Montauk. But there’s plenty of other, less conventional local tasties, including recently porgies that had been boned out, fried until crispy and served on top of a celery root remoulade with organic jalapenos—a dish that attracted praise from the East Hampton Star’s Laura Donnelly. There has already been both tautog (blackfish) and squid a la plancha. And the chef is looking for a Long Island lobster source—despite dismal supplies.

Scallops with pickled gooseberries and Maine uni, the bar, and the sign bearing the much-deliberated name.

And like an ant preparing for winter, chef Isidori pointed to two refrigerators packed with various matter pickled, packed and preserved, including gooseberries, sunchokes and tomatoes. He favors such garnish for his crudo or sashimi dishes, and we crunched through a few tiny whole red onions in his clam chowder.

Not to mention the apples, raspberries and other fruit he’s been dehydrating for desserts like disks of watermelon and savories like the fluke sashimi salad (which is becoming a signature dish for the whole region) with dehydrated apples and Satur Farm greens.

And then there’s the kimchi, which Isidori’s been making for years, including to go with the mussels at his well-reviewed, but now-closed Manhattan restaurant, Harbour. “Right now I’m making it with anything I can get my hands on,” he said, listing baby carrots, the last of the Kirby cukes, and of course cabbage. It could well be the only kimchi on a restaurant menu east of the Canal.

Chef Isidori says Southfork Kitchen is giving him a chance to “practice what you preach” in a way he couldn’t necessarily in big city venues. “Now I get my tomatoes from Dale and Bette, one mile away,” he says. “The bayman calls me when he’s got some tautog or bay scallops.” The wine and beer are heavily tilted towards the Empire State too.

And, since we are about to enter that time of the year when ingredients choices—at least in the plant family—become more slim, he’s been making gleaning calls to local farms urging: “Bring it to me, I’ll plum it, preserve it, pickle it, put it on our shelves, give you some of it and use some in the restaurant.” He just got in a big batch of green tomatoes from Amber Waves in Amagansett, and we look forward to tasting them in the weeks and months to come.

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Brian is the editor in chief of Edible East End, Edible Long Island, Edible Manhattan and Edible Brooklyn. He writes from his home in Sag Harbor, New York, where he and his family tend a home garden and oysters. He is also obsessed with ducks, donuts and dumplings.