Hazelnut path to Luce & Hawkins, a symphony at its best

With much anticipation, I finally dined at Luce & Hawkins which has been long overdue. 

My first visit to the Jedediah Hawkins Inn in Jamesport, NY was this past May. I attended an opening reception for our friend and artist Charles Wildbank at the Barn Gallery which sits behind the historic Victorian Inn and happens to face a Potager Garden that Chef Keith Luce has created for the Inn's Kitchen.

At the time I knew nothing about Chef Luce or his restaurant Luce & Hawkins. The Garden, however was beginning to tell me a story about what to expect if I was to dine there. I noticed the pathway through the garden was lined with Hazelnut shells which clearly defined a natural walkway and probably used to keep the weeds in check. This hazelnut pathway enticed a passerby like me to peruse amongst the lavender, grape vines and rosemary. It was as if the garden was carefully and thoughtfully measuring my every step, the crunching sounds beneath my feet were reminiscent of a clicker counter tallying up the anticipation of how long it would be before I would take a seat at a table in the dining room. 

As I was leaving the garden I got a glimpse of the kitchen staff at work and knew they must have been creating quite a symphony for what was to come that evening. I never forgot about that garden and said to myself I would be back to take a seat at Luce & Hawkins.

Five months later, I did.

My husband and I had a reservation for 8:30pm and we decided to arrive early for a cocktail to take in the prime time service vibe before we sat down to our meal. I learned that Chef Luce's first passion was music and I would say it was quite evident upon entering the restaurant, it felt as if we walked into the middle of a symphony; the hostess, bartender, wait staff and managers were working together, balanced and poised.

Chef Luce happened to come out of the kitchen to have a conversation with the bartender. Knowing his surroundings so well, he turned around and welcomed us to his restaurant as if he knew us for years and made us feel very much at home. Earlier that day I visited with the Crescent Duck Farm and knew Chef Luce served their product. I thought to myself, "What a great way to cap off this day with tasting a Crescent Duck breast prepared by Chef Luce!"

We sat down promptly at 8:30pm and was greeted by our waitress Shannon who has been working at Luce & Hawkins since May the same time I came across the kitchen garden. She was an absolute delight, a local from Mattituck, NY with a passion for making her own chocolates with homemade Jam. Her competency and training was evident as she was happy to accomodate my curiosity with such questions as: Did chef make his own butter? Where is the bread from? Is the cheese accompanying my salad from Catapano Dairy Farm and are these KK Haspel's greens? She was an integral part of the Luce Symphony, being the face for the kitchen to answer the various questions one may have. Many years ago I used to be a waitress at the Inn at Quogue in Quogue and it reminded me how the chef would instill in us the importance of understanding where the ingredients came from and to be the story of the restaurant. I gathered what we were about to have would tell a wonderful story about the north fork region.

First Course
The Harvest Salad with baby lettuce, farm stand veggies, goat cheese and a farm egg. The creaminess of the goat cheese was a nice contrast to the baby greens and veggies. The egg yolks were fire orange and fresh as can be! These simple local ingredients was a perfect starter for our palates for what was to come.

Crab Cakes with micro-greens was up next which was the special appetizer of the evening. I can taste Chef Luce's French culinary influence in this dish, the texture was velvety with a touch or horseradish which gently coated the crab and the sear on top was the perfect amount of crunch to counter the smoothness.

Second Course
Hand cut tagliatelle with cauliflower, roasted tomato, capers and breadcrumbs.
You can taste the eggs from Chef Luce's chickens in making this pasta which was light and fresh. The sweetness of the roasted tomatos, fresh cauliflower bits and the brines from the capers with a touch of breadcurmbs was a nice combination.

Crescent duck breast duckling confit & dried cherry tostada
I now understand what Douglas Corwin the CEO of Crescent Duck Farm meant by his product being discernibly different. Chef Luce honored this duck breast with the utmost care and perfection. It was meaty, yet succulent with a perfect sear. The cherry jus complemented the duck beautifully, which melted in your mouth. Bravo.

Farro risotto autumn squash, brussels & cipollini
I am very fond of risotto and it happens to be one of my signature dishes, but I have to say this was very well executed and probably the best risotto I have ever tasted. This dish sung autumn to me, the silky arborio rice coddling the nutty taste of the Farro with the autumn vegetables nestled in these pillows of creaminess was perfect. Maybe one day if I am lucky Chef Luce will show me how to make this dish. 

Dessert
Croissant pudding with rum raisin ice cream
Who would have ever thought to make bread pudding out of croissants. This was not my first choice and frankly was probably my last choice. However, Shannon the waitress suggested we must try this and so we did. Thank You Shannon, for letting us in on Jamesport's newest best kept secret the croissant pudding. To my surprise it was light and buttery with moments of melted chocolate and the rum raisin ice cream simply topped it off.

Our meal told us a story about Luce & Hawkins and the chef behind these creations. A historic place, with a team that has strong neighboring sensibilities, honoring and caring for the freshest of ingredients with respect to the local environment.

If you are taking a trip to the North Shore of Jamesport to visit Jedediah Hawkins Inn it is a must to visit the garden and walk the hazelnut path to make sure you take a seat at Luce & Hawkins sooner than later.