Italian restaurants are like Italian people; each obtain their own unique, robust personality with one commonality, a love for food. Occupying the former space of EMP Summer House and Moby’s at 341 Pantigo Road in East Hampton, is Paola’s East. What began 33 years ago in New York City has made its way to the Hamptons. Paola’s has officially opened its heart and kitchen doors to the East End community, bringing family recipes from Rome.
From the moment I entered the doors to shaking owner Stefano Marracino’s (son of Paola Bottero) hand as I left the restaurant, the team was attentive and warm; it brought me back to dining at Don Peppe’s in Ozone Park, Queens. Folding napkins when guests got up from the table, memorizing the orders, allowing digesting time before bringing out the next course, lightheartedly smiling in small conversation — all with classic Italian music playing in the background. Rosemary Clooney, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Frank Sinatra, tunes from yesteryear brought me back to dancing with my grandfather in the living room on Sunday mornings as “Sounds of Sinatra” echoed in the background.
A red wine arrived, 2016 Pinot Noir from Oregon, at a chilled, roughly, 51 degrees Fahrenheit. It added a lightness to what was bound to be a traditionally heavier meal, as did the light, fluffy bread with olive oil for dipping. To start, an insalata di barbe, roasted fresh beets with Montrachet goat cheese, toasted hazelnuts, orange segments, and watercress. It was fresh, light, and the hazelnuts almost convinced me I was eating a healthy version of Ferrero Rocher. Alongside it was Roman style meatballs with veal, all-natural Hampshire Pork meatballs, tomato sauce, and ricotta and pecorino cheese. It had a more fluid consistency than the sauces I’ve tried in the past, without being watered down, and with a mild, rather than spicy, flavoring. In each bite, I could taste the bread holding all the juices together, making it a soft but subtle consistency.
The first courses were two pasta dishes. A fettuccine Bolognese with grass-fed beef and natural Hampshire pork. Making tabletop headlines was the veal and spinach ravioli, served at room temperature with shaved grana, black truffles, and hints of sage. Each forkful absorbed more of the light, white truffle sauce before it hit my tongue in an explosion of satisfaction.
Before continuing onto the next courses, my guests and I sipped our wine as we observed the staff greet guests, refill our waters whenever the glasses were below the half line, and mingle on the side with one another. This is more than a restaurant, it’s a true team of staff who genuinely enjoy each other’s company and want to be there, many of whom uprooted from the city to move to the area. It’s a devotion, and dedication, that’s rare.
A veal Milanese arrived that I could’ve continued to eat endlessly. It was thinly sliced, lightly breaded, and tender. With a touch of lemon on the rucola salad and tomatoes, it made for a meaty yet simplified dish. With it, a skirt steak that appeared small in portion was actually the ideal size. I opted for rare to medium-rare temperature and it came out exactly as such, with a slightly crisp outside.
When asked what to have for dessert, out of three choices, I felt obligated, as a food writer, to try all three. All the better to inform the public, of course. Ricotta and mascarpone cheesecake, tiramisu, creme caramel. I couldn’t pick a favorite, but the cheesecake stood out because I can honestly say I’ve never tried one with mascarpone cheese and it made an understated but notable difference.
When a restaurant serves consistency on each plate, there is no need to anchor the menu with an over-the-top item. Paola’s East menu is executed in such a way that every dish, from start to finish, is unwaveringly delicious. For more information, visit www.paolaseast.com.