Honey and (Thai) Spice
It’s an indisputable truth that life on the North Fork would be perfect if only there were a farm-to-table Thai restaurant in one of its towns. Mattie Bennett and Rupert Noffs, the Aussie co-owners of New York City’s justly-acclaimed Lucky Bee, see it that way, too. And so, for the second summer in a row, Bennett (the restaurant’s chef) and Noffs (its business manager) have opened a pop-up in Greenport. The Aussie couple, who are married, have set up camp at Bruce and Son at 208 Main Street, and will be serving dinner on select weekends through the end of August.
Before he came to New York, Bennett was at Longgrain, one of Sydney’s best southeast Asian restaurants. He also trained under David Thompson, the erudite chef-historian who has arguably done more than anyone else to bring authentic Thai flavors to the West. A former sous-chef at the Fat Radish, Bennett brings a modern sensibility and a farm-to-table ethos to the project. At the Greenport venue, he’s been doing street food from across Asia: mortar-and-pestle curry pastes, noodle dishes, and locally-sourced fish, poultry, and red meat with Thai, Vietnamese, and Cambodian elements. Butter-poached lobster on betel leaves, anybody?
Bennett began as a classically trained chef. Bored of cooking with olive oil and butter, he found himself strongly attracted to such clean-tasting Asian ingredients as lemon grass and kaffir lime leaves. Last summer, he found inspiration in the edible chili flowers that bloomed during the final days of autumn; the earthy flavors of pigs that had been feasting on root vegetables; and the bittersweet Asian greens that grow in the fields at Sang Lee Farms. This year, plans are afoot for collaborative dinners with North Fork vintners. Local products from land and sea are treated with flair and brio in Bennett’s pork and sesame dumplings, Szechuan salt and pepper chicken wings, green vegetable curry, steamed fish and chicken poached in coconut milk.
Eventually, Bennett and Noffs hope to find a permanent summer spot in Greenport. “We’ll have a big garden with Asian herbs and vegetables,” says Noffs, whose yet-to-be-realized dream restaurant takes its design cues from The Palm in East Hampton, and such dramatically-appointed Manhattan restaurants as Indochine and Mr. Chow’s. “In a perfect world, we’d offer delivery service,” he adds, “even if I had to get on a bike and deliver curries myself.” The Bee’s kitschy Lower East Side digs feature big paper parasols and vintage textiles decorated with palm tree motifs. At the Bruce and Son location, the kitsch is limited to a discrete sign, in pink neon, in a corner of the plate-glass window. At the dream restaurant, “There’d be a horseshoe-shaped bar, and private dining areas and absolutely no neon lights,” Noffs deadpans. “When you step inside, you’ll be entering a whole new universe! All very upmarket.” He pauses. “But with a touch of the Lower East Side.”