There is good food on the East End. Sometimes, very good food. But with few and far exceptions, not a lot of surprising food.
Of course, when people are shelling out $40 and change for a lobster roll, surprises maybe aren’t so welcome — but if you get the chance over the next two weeks, grab one of the 16 available seats at chef Robbie Felice’s wild and wonderful Water Mill pop-up, Pasta Ramen, and prepare to be dazzled, confused, delighted and by the omakase’s end, thoroughly satisfied.
Using part of the space that belongs to Kissaki (along with their drinks list and wine and sake selections), Felice, a James Beard nominated chef, uses the palate of Pasta Ramen as a mash-up of Japanese and Italian cuisine — a kind of greatest hits and then some, using both broad and detailed influences to find the common ground.
“I say if you can’t tell me which culture — Japan or Italy — a dish leans more toward, then I’ve done my job,” says Felice, who has staged these pop-ups all over the country. (There is a brick-and-mortar version as well in Montclair, NJ; its reservations sell out in 15 minutes flat typically the morning they’re released).
Felice grew up in a food family. His father is a restaurateur, and he’s been working in kitchens since he was a kid. He owns three restaurants in New Jersey: the stay-put Pasta Ramen in Montclair; the rustic Italian dishes of Viaggio in Wayne; and the chic but locavore-driven Osteria Crescendo in Westwood.
But it’s Pasta Ramen where he seems to have the most fun. The speakeasy-style idea grew from the pandemic, and so far he’s done 15 in New Jersey, three in Miami, one in Seattle and Los Angeles, respectively, and four in New York City. Water Mill is his first foray into the Hamptons, and the only version of the concept where you can actually make a reservation (for all the others, it was invitation only).
What can you expect? At either of the two seatings — 6:00 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. — somewhere around 10 courses from the open kitchen where you watch Felice and his crew spin, slice, squirt and stack an array of ingredients into magical little dishes of delight.
Felice talks you through each plating, explaining the map of how he got to where he did via all the fine details and thoughts behind the dish. He does it in a way, though, that gets you as jazzed as he is about what he’s doing – and good thing, because there’s a lot that goes into each one.
Like the sea-and-land circular starter bite that presents like a lovely little bauble-topped jewel box and is packed with flavor – carabinero prawn, both flesh and oil made from boiling the crustacean’s head, infused with a zip of lime and yuzu and served atop a little disc of emulsified artichoke heart sitting in artichoke cream and puree and, finally, topped with crunchy bits of toasted arare rice.
A brave and bold dish that didn’t look particularly brave or bold was all about what lay beneath the unassuming simple-seeming surface of smoked pine nut spuma. “I recommend you plunge your spoon all the way to the bottom to get the full effect,” instructed Felice. Indeed, when you did as you were told, your little excavation through the nutty, creamy heart turned up dill-infused tapioca and the full umami burst of Japanese uni.
Two ramen courses (of course, it’s in the top billing!) showcase that noodle’s muscled, morphing texture — one a mirror of creamy carbonara made with miso, sauteed pepperoni, whipped sour cream and caviar. The second a total show-stopper: truffled porcini version where the ramen is par-boiled first and then finished in a shoyu-porcini brodo and topped with two kinds of shaved truffles, summer black and Périgord.
There’s more. So much more. A multitude of dishes from crudo to seared, dry aged, flavor packed Wagyu, that at once make your senses laser focused and cause your head to spin, but in the nicest way. It’s worth the ticket. Get yours ($250/person) here.