The word “deal” sometimes seems anathema in the Hamptons, where even a gallon of milk can cost $8. For the year-round crowd, however, the off-season is a time of opportunity, to rejoice in the cleared streets and stores, to indulge in whatever menu delights happen to be discounted to attract us.
Few restaurants have a better sense of the importance of this — of retaining local clientele — than Southampton’s Le Chef, a French bistro. For 38 years, since its 1980 opening, the restaurant has served impressive cuisine. Since 1987, the restaurant has served said impressive cuisine from prime real estate at 75 Jobs Lane. While it’s hard to consider anything shoestring budget-worthy east of the Canal, Le Chef’s prix fixe menu is — wait for it — actually affordable.
Owner Frank Lenihan was born in Galway, Ireland. He hails from a long line of culinarians (Lenihan is the sixth generation of his family to work with food), and his style is informed by an approachable European aesthetic. Approachable might as well be the name of the game when it comes to Le Chef.
Aside from the location — which is easily among Southampton’s most coveted spots for a business — Le Chef feels distinctly down-to-earth. Don’t expect a posh dining room, or a Hamptons White space. Don’t expect a Ramona Singer sighting, because she’s almost certainly at the other 75, 75 Main. But, after all, you’re not here for updated ambience or reality star sightings; you’re here for the food.
About the food, then. Appetizers and entrees are distinctly French, including such standbys as escargot, country paté, steamed mussels, French onion soup, and steak frites. The wine list is more international in scope, featuring bottles from France, Italy, California, among other regions. The most expensive wine on the list is Dom Perignon, for $295 (compare that to other Hamptons restaurants, which sling bottles priced in the thousands of dollars) but you can do just fine for $50 to $70. There are even some steals, like a Barolo for under $100.
The real draw of Le Chef, however, is its impossibly inexpensive set menu, from which diners can choose between three appetizers, four entrées, and two desserts — all for about $30. Yes, you can order à la carte, and you should, particularly if you’re craving a dish absent from the fixed menu. But in a time of overwhelming options and expense, as the Hamptons keep raising prices to compete, it is heartening to know that one can still eat honestly and well and internationally without forfeiting a $100 bill.
Modesty is everywhere, from the simply kept bar to the simply decorated tables (tablecloths, rolled cloth napkins, black chairs that may be as old as the restaurant, banquettes, and a sprig of season-appropriate evergreen here and there), although the art on the walls, to be clear, is far from modest. Museum lighting highlights framed works of art, a thoughtful touch underscoring an underlying passion. And while the attention to the art, drawn from the lights and spare surroundings, is lovely, it’s also only part of the point.
The point, really, one might argue, is a respite from the culture that has become the Hamptons, the eat-or-be-eaten quality of the times. Step through the doors of Le Chef and walk backward in time, to the Me Era that you may not have even known you were nostalgic for. Dip into the country paté with wanton disregard for waist management and cholesterol count. Inside the walls of Le Chef, you can choose your own adventure, and it need not be the adventure of salads without dressing and $20 glasses of Pinot Grigio.