A foodie phoenix rises from below

Claude’s: Haute Cuisine, Downstairs

The only downside about Claude’s at the Southampton Inn is that it’s down. Stairs, that is. There’s elevator accessibility, but there is a feeling that the diner will be heading down into a grotto or a dark and gloomy place.

That’s completely false. The dining room at Claude’s is light and bright, and features an outdoor dining patio as well, which was populated with happy diners on an end-of-summer early evening. But it still maintained the feel of having stumbled upon a little gourmet Shangri-la, hidden in a European-style courtyard.

The menu, headed up by Executive Chef James Carpenter, is very good, and reminiscent of the local restaurants where he ran the kitchen — Della Femina, The American Hotel, and East Hampton Point, among others.

Our starters included rope cultured mussels in coconut broth with lemongrass, ginger, garlic, and kaffir lime; Maryland crab cakes with a yuzu remoulade and local sweet corn miso salad; and a special salad — local peaches, black mission figs with wildflower honey, whipped ricotta, and baby arugula, with a fig balsamic dressing.

The crab cakes were the best of the bunch, some of the best we’ve ever had, we decided, as we shared family-style. This was most apropos, since we were family; this meal was with my husband, Eric, and our son, Bing, his last night before heading off to college.

The mussels were plump and juicy, with a mellow broth, and served in a large silver metal bowl, beautifully presented. The flavor was a little blander than expected, but still there wasn’t a bad one in the bunch, and the dish was finished. And the fig and peach salad was very tasty, a nice nod to the fruits of summer, offset by the spicy local arugula.

We also shared an appetizer of seared diver scallops served with segments of ruby grapefruit and Valencia oranges and a citrus vinaigrette, an absolute winner.

Our main courses included a truly splendid pan roasted day boat halibut, served with a wild mushroom ragu, truffled potato puree, and crispy leeks. The mushrooms and truffled potatoes added the umami essence and the entrée was perfectly prepared. A filet mignon au poivre with a side of parmesan asparagus was also delicious in taste and temperature, the meat buttery and perfectly prepared.

But the winner of the entrée battle was Bing’s seafood fettucine with truffle cream, featuring huge chunks of lobster, scallops, shrimp, and crab. We all agreed it was worth another taste, another time.

Other main dishes include sheep ricotta gnudi with mint lamb meatballs, grilled Scottish salmon with a vegetable toasted pearl couscous, Angus hanger steak and fries, and more.

We finished the evening with a sticky toffee date cake in a bourbon Anglaise sauce, a sweet ending to a fine meal.

Claude’s serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a brunch, although off-season it’s best to check the website since hours may vary.

Having been familiar with long-past previous incarnations of that property, we were pleasantly surprised by the high level of service, the bright and airy feel of the place, and the top-notch menu. Claude’s also presented Thursday night cabarets during the summer. There are also other rooms available for conferences, weddings, and on-site catering is available for any event, large or small.

The restaurant is a great place to stop in for a romantic meal, or a get-together with friends. But get there soon, while it’s still a somewhat secret hideaway at the bottom of the stairs.

Menus and hours can be found online at www.southamptoninn.com/dining.

bridget@indyeastend.com