A HEADLINE for The Lake House might read ”Local Boy Makes Good.” Make that very, very good. Matt Connors grew up in Bay Shore on Garner Lane, just around the corner from his excellent new restaurant, which opened in March. He returned to Bay Shore with laurels from Manhattan, where he had been the chef de cuisine at Veritas from its opening in 1998 until his departure earlier this year. He is joined in the kitchen by Charles Treadwell, the sous chef, who worked with him at Veritas and later cooked at Gramercy Tavern.
The third member of The Lake House triumvirate is Eileen Connors, Mr. Connors’s wife and a co-owner of the restaurant. On our visits, she not only extended a gracious welcome but also talked to customers throughout dinner, making sure everything was going smoothly. She was never idle; she poured water when needed and helped set up tables. The staff followed her lead, and the meal jogged along pleasantly. Service was nearly flawless, the only glitch being a busboy who failed to bring more butter when additional rolls were offered.
For more than 30 years, Long Islanders knew this location as the home of the Duck Pond Inn. Lawrence Lake is no longer being referred to as ”that duck pond,” although in fact diners can still see ducks, geese and perhaps a lone swan. The lake is illuminated at night, as is a waterside grouping of Adirondack chairs around a fire pit where people have been known to congregate for an after-dinner smoke.
The restaurant consists of three rooms. The largest is the bar with its hostess station, a lovely curved wood bar with seating for 10, a fireplace crowned with an abstract painting and a corner table popular with large groups. A small glassed-in porch overlooks the lake and a somewhat larger dining room also affords water vistas. Here, patrons with their backs to the lake can see reflections of it in the large, attractive mirrors on the opposite wall.
The food steals the show from the view, though. An amuse-bouche consisting of a poached shrimp topped with a bit of cucumber salad and set upon fresh avocado was a gratis bite that ranks as the best of that genre. The wonderful rosemary rolls and mini-baguettes were other early indications that the food would be special.
Every dish sampled was a winner, so it’s safe to simply head for your favorites. An appetizer special that will linger in my memory was one of airy gnocchi tossed with meltingly tender shards of braised rabbit, pancetta, chanterelles, pine nuts and golden raisins.
Equally hard to resist were starters of creamy wild mushroom risotto anointed with truffle oil, homemade pappardelle with braised duck and shiitake mushrooms, giant ravioli filled with braised beef and wild mushrooms in a truffle-flecked cream sauce and a New England chowder with tender clams, shiitake mushrooms and Yukon gold potatoes.
Lighter openers that scored were an elegant sea scallop salad atop couscous and a very tasty tuna tartare.
The grilled veal chop was proclaimed ”best ever” by the diner who ordered it. Winning, too, were a perfectly roasted rack of lamb, a delicious braised lamb shank special, and a combination of grilled beef sirloin and braised short ribs.
Seafood also delighted. Butter-poached lobster, removed from the shell and placed atop a mélange of chanterelles, tiny cubes of butternut squash, bacon and leeks, was a top-of-the-line pick. Also splendid was roasted local striped bass in a bouillabaisse broth holding baby clams and Israeli couscous. A red pepper aioli crowned the fish.
All the desserts drew raves, but the warm bread pudding with slices of banana and an ice-cream topper ranked as No. 1 in my book. Also turning heads were the individual lemon cheesecakes; the Valrhona chocolate soufflé, a molten-center cake with caramel ice cream; the tangy homemade passion-fruit sorbet and the homey warm pear and sour-cherry crisp à la mode. All were delectable finales to an excellent meal at a charming new restaurant.
The Lake House
240 West Main Street
THE SPACE — Cozy yet elegant lakeside charmer. Not wheelchair accessible.
THE CROWD — Well-turned-out couples and small groups. Very few children.
THE BAR — A curved wood beauty with seating for 10 plus a large table in the corner. The international list of 132 wines has bottles ranging from $25 to $310 with plenty of choices in the $20’s. There are 16 wines by the glass ($7 to $15).
THE BILL — Dinner entrees, $22 to $36.
WHAT WE LIKE — Clam chowder, braised rabbit gnocchi, ravioli, pappardelle, tuna tartare, wild mushroom risotto, sea scallop salad, lobster, striped bass, sirloin-short rib combo, rack of lamb, veal chop, lamb shank, all desserts.
IF YOU GO — Open for dinner, 5 to 9:30 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday; till 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday. Reservations are essential.
Reviewed Nov. 5, 2006