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The Hamptons
10 Best East End Eateries

BY STEVEN GAINES AND BETH LANDMAN KEIL

1 Mirko's
Hidden away in a parking lot behind the post office in Water Mill, this pleasantly formal establishment -- now entering its eighteenth season -- is the best-kept secret on the East End. The restaurant's fiercely loyal following of Southampton dreadnoughts has no interest in venturing any farther east, where all those "new people" live. And they don't have to. Chef Mirko Zagar's European-style kitchen produces a wide selection of dishes, including Croatian stuffed cabbage, venison carpaccio, mustard-seed-crusted rack of lamb, and an addictive dessert of caramelized oranges with Grand Marnier sauce over vanilla ice cream. (Water Mill Square, 670 Montauk Highway; 631-726-4444. Appetizers start at $11, entrées start at $22.)

2 American Hotel
This legendary Sag Harbor restaurant is known to regular customers as "Surly Manor," but you'll be just fine as long as you don't offend the management with your manners, your cell phone, your short pants, or the tone of your voice. Owner Ted Conklin's impeccable taste pervades all, from the epic menu (foie gras, caviar, sushi, bison, and shellfish) to the luxe setting, and he metes out restaurant justice with a velvet fist ("I don't care if you're Steve Kroft, no T-shirts in the dining room."). (Main Street, Sag Harbor; 631-725-3535. Appetizers start at $8, entrées at $20.)

3 Sunset Beach
This Shelter Island restaurant created by hotelier André Balazs looks as if a tornado had lifted it -- like Dorothy's house in The Wizard of Oz -- from its foundation in Ibiza and deposited it whole on Crescent Beach, along with the live D.J. and ambient-music mix. The crowd is tan, young, and pretty; the fare is bistro (tasty fish, steak-frites, grilled vegetables); and the sunsets across the bay are so perfect they look like special effects. (35 Shore Road at Crescent Beach, Shelter Island; 631-749-2001. Appetizers start at $8, entrées at $17.)

4 Star Room
Will the homos homogenize or will the new Star Room in Wainscott remain a gay and lesbian bastion? Two fairy godfathers, advertising executive Scott Storbo and banker Scott Gray, bought the place in February and waved their magic money wands: pouring on five coats of paint, adding a wall of glass doors, and luring former Della Femina chef Kevin Penner to invent a Southeast Asian menu that includes a tangy langoustine appetizer and Penner's signature dish of pan-seared halibut. The sold-out crowds so far include curious cognoscenti, gourmands after Penner's handiwork, and a few middle-aged gay men. (Montauk Highway, Wainscott; 631-537-3332. Appetizers start at $10, entrées at $26.)

5 Tierra Mar
Last year, chef Todd Jacobs moved his six-year-old operation from a more traditional setting on the Montauk Highway to the Westhampton Bath & Tennis Hotel, a huge oceanfront wedding-and-bar mitzvah ballroom with a glistening chandelier and seating for more than 200. Jacobs made his bones working as a chef at the American Hotel -- and his wine list (with more than 600 labels) and his varied and extensive menu (including local boneless flounder, Long Island free-range duck, and ostrich) prove it. (231 Dune Road at the Westhampton Bath & Tennis Hotel; 631-288-2700. Appetizers start at $6, entrées at $25.)

6 Nick & Toni's
Some people actually go to the East End's highest-profile restaurant to watch the chefs artfully flip whole fish in the wood-burning oven and enjoy Mediterranean dishes like fava-bean salad with fresh pea shoots, micro-greens, and shaved Pecorino cheese, but most are too busy ogling fellow diners like Steven Spielberg, Gwyneth Paltrow, Tom Hanks, Melissa Etheridge, and Martha Stewart. (136 North Main Street, East Hampton; 631-324-3550. Appetizers start at $9, entrées at $22.)

7 Red Bar
East Hampton residents' heading to Southampton for a meal is like downtown people's going uptown for dinner -- the place has to be a powerful draw. This American brasserie is such a magnet, and with its bentwood chairs, large windows, and candlelight, it manages to be both romantic and social. The endive-and-watercress salad with Stilton, fresh pears, and hazelnut vinaigrette and the Maine salmon with truffled celery purée would actually be worth a drive from the city if there weren't already a Red Bar there. (210 Hampton Road; 631-283-0704. Appetizers start at $7, entrées $21.)

8 The Plaza Cafe
This New American restaurant, tucked behind the Southampton Cinema, may not be a scenester's destination, but the high-ceilinged room, with its fireplace and fresh flowers, serves creatively prepared fresh local fare like shepherd's pie with lobster and shrimp, and sautéed striped bass with black-bean arugula salad, mango salsa, and chipotle aïoli. Leave room for homemade desserts like chocolate-mocha torte with cappuccino ice cream and chocolate sauce. (61 Hill Street, Southampton; 631-283-9323. Appetizers start at $8, entrées at $19.)

9 Pacific East
Don't despair as you see lobster and shiitake pancake with champagne and kim-chi cream, Jakartan grilled filet mignon with tamarind barbecue sauce, or honey-toasted-coconut baked Alaska being whisked under your nose. Chef Michael Castino has also created a low-fat seven-course tasting menu, which weighs in at less than 750 calories. If you're seeking a quiet dining experience, you're better off skipping Saturday night. The bar crowd gets so deep you can't appreciate the dramatic room with its flowing white curtains. (415 Main Street, Amagansett; 631-267-7770. Appetizers start at $6, entrées at $22.)

10 Babette's
Sooner or later, everyone, including Bill Clinton and Jerry Seinfeld, pops into this café, best known for its organic breakfast selections like steamed, vegetable-stuffed egg-white omelettes with turkey bacon and a side of steel-cut oatmeal, or French toast with ribbons of cinnamon and real maple syrup. Babette's also serves lunch (don't miss the smoked-tempeh burrito) and is surprisingly cozy for dinner -- when you won't have to wait 40 minutes in line with the post-workout throngs, all sweaty and edgy with hunger. (66 Newtown Lane, East Hampton; 631-329-5377. Appetizers start at $9.95, entrées at $19.)

 
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