The Big Chill

THE WORLD KNOWS ALL ABOUT MONTAUK IN MIDSUMMER. BUT THE PLEASURES OF A RESPITE AT GURNEY’S IN THE FROZEN MONTHS? THAT’S A SECRET WE’RE ALMOST RELUCTANT TO SHARE. DAVID GIBBONS DIVES INTO THE INDOOR SALTWATER POOL—AND A SUPPER OF WINTER SCALLOPS.

The venerable Montauk institution we all know and love as Gurney’s—official name Gurney’s Montauk Resort and Seawater Spa—has nimbly survived a major renovation and rejuvenation, once again cementing its place among world-class destination hotels. Few who’ve spent any time on the East End don’t have fond memories of the old Gurney’s, with its Italian-American comfort food and slightly rumpled, Brooklyn-accented charm—and it’s true that with this major face lift, the old dame has a trim and slim and slick new look. Yet her standout features remain: Those gorgeous ocean views, that deserted stretch of pristine beach, the spa with North America’s only heated indoor seawater pool . . .

Every fall and winter, thrice weekly for the 20 years she owned a house in East Hampton Village, my mother would trek out to Old Montauk Highway for a swim in that pool. There were family dinners out, usually around Christmas, and one memorable December 31, renewing old acquaintances and ushering in the new year. After my mother sold the house, before I managed to work my way back to town, there were the occasional weekend stays in what were essentially glorified motel rooms back then—but the views, those views, and that 2,000-foot private beach . . . 

Since purchasing Gurney’s in 2013, George Filopoulos, a real estate developer and part-time South Fork resident, has spearheaded its upgrade without trashing tradition; Paul Monte, whose uncle Nick was its longtime and legendary innkeeper, remains as a senior adviser. Monte started out washing dishes standing on a milk crate in the kitchen at age 12 and was general manager for 26 years. Now, he’s the liaison to (and unofficial archivist of) the family’s—and the business’s—past.  

“Gurney’s has certainly commenced its next evolution,” says Monte. “George has implemented it, and it’s an intelligent move—preserving some sort of links to the past not just functionally but in terms of the feeling, the tradition and culture, at the same time stepping things up and catering to the needs of today’s new guests.”

 Filopoulos brought in LDV (for la dolce vita) Hospitality, which, true to its name, added some impressive drinking and dining options, highlighting by Scarpetta Beach, the East End outpost of LDV’s flagship New York City restaurant, and the Regent Cocktail Club bar, with its fire pit out on the deck overlooking the ocean and deejay parties in the heat of summer.

In charge of these venues is Dane Sayles, who was elevated to the position of executive chef in 2016 after several years as a sous chef at Scarpetta in New York. If you met him in a different setting, you might not expect Sayles—who is from Kingston, Jamaica, and admits to a secret passion for baking apple and pumpkin pie and roasting venison in fall—to specialize in Italian cuisine, but he has spent nearly a decade immersing himself in its techniques and traditions. 

“I really enjoy delving into different cultures and definitely fell in love with the Italian,” says Sayles, who’s done multiple stages in restaurant kitchens in Rome and Florence. 

Gurney’s Italian flavor, embodied by natives such as Piero Zangarini, the director of hospitality, and Tommaso Pintauro, bartender, is also deeply rooted in the Monte family’s history. Angelo and Filomena Montemarano came from the village of the same name, about 50 miles east of Naples, settled in Brooklyn, and lived with their seven sons above their restaurant, Monte’s Venetian Room, on Carroll Street. Nick, son number five, eventually took over the business. He had vacationed in Montauk since the late 1940s and, in 1956, bought Maude Gurney’s 20-room motel, perched on a hillside above the Atlantic Ocean, expanding it to a year-round resort and opening the spa in 1978.

Nick Monte—who bought Gurney’s in 1956—was hoisted into the surf in 1978, the year he added a spa to the resort’s attractions. The East Hampton Star archive.

On a crystal-clear October afternoon, in his office lined with family photos and mementos, Paul Monte quickly summoned fond winter memories. “The whole family loved celebrating the holidays. Christmas Eve we would always do a very traditional feast of the seven fishes, with clams alla Monte, shrimp alla Monte, and lobster fra diavolo. The lobster fra diavolo had a little bit of everything—shrimp, clams, mussels, scallops, scungilli—served in a rich tomato sauce over linguine. You had the whole feast almost covered in one dish. It was so good, I’m salivating sitting here just thinking about it!”

Sayles’s culinary approach echoes Monte’s recipe for tradition amid innovation: “We try to mix a little of the old in with the new and always move forward. That’s what keeps us going.”  

Sayles sources his seafood, most of which is local, exclusively from another venerable Montauk institution, Gosman’s. There’s always a scallop main course on the menu, which changes several times a year, as well as a crudo, with the bivalves sliced razor thin and dressed in a lemon-and-olive-oil vinaigrette. The big excitement happens each year starting on the second Monday of November with the opening of the Eastern Long Island bay scallop season. These precious delicacies are then subbed into both dishes. “The bay scallops are a lot sweeter than your regular diver scallops,” says Sayles. “They’re smaller and have a lot of flavor, so we don’t sear them as heavily. We serve them on the medium side, so they stay as juicy as possible and keep all that flavor intact.”

Sayles was kind enough to share one of his favorite scallop recipes, a modern fall classic. For the Monte family’s lobster fra diavolo, go see Angelo “Chip” Monte, Jr.—Paul Monte’s brother and the former chef at Gurney’s—whose retirement job is running the food truck for Sammy’s on the Go, off West Lake Drive, next to Gosman’s.

Okeeto Bennett, a member of Dane Sayles’s cooking crew, in the airy dining room of Scarpetta Beach on an autumn afternoon.

Cover Image: The saltwater pool. Gurney’s Montauk Resort and Saltwater Spa. Via Gurney's Inn.

 

SCARPETTA BEACH SEARED SCALLOPS

WITH ROOT VEGETABLE PUREE

(Serves 4)

This recipe absolutely screams “November.” It can be made with regular sea (or diver) scallops; if using the more delicate and succulent bay scallops, don’t cook them as long. Precooked chestnuts don’t require blanching.  

 

• 1 lb. Scallops 

• 4 Apples, peeled and cored

• ½ lb. Parsnips, peeled

• 1 lb. Celery root, peeled

• 1 Dozen chestnuts, shelled and cleaned   

   (or use pre-cooked packaged or jarred)

• ½ lb. Chanterelles 

• 10 Sprigs thyme, two stripped of leaves

• 6 T. Extra-virgin olive oil, 

   plus more for drizzling 

• Salt and freshly ground black pepper

• ½ Cup white wine

 

Preheat the oven to 350 ° F. Cut two of the apples, the parsnip, and the celery root into 1-inch pieces. Place the apples and root vegetables in an oven-proof baking dish, drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, add the thyme sprigs along with 1 cup water, and toss to combine well. Roast the vegetables for 1 hour, until tender. 

Remove the thyme sprigs and purée the roasted apples and root vegetables in a blender in two batches, adding up to 1 cup of water per batch to achieve a smooth purée. Season with salt and pepper to taste; set aside in a covered bowl. 

Cut the remaining 2 apples into 8 wedges each, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with stripped thyme leaves, and roast for 15 minutes, until slightly tender. 

If using raw chestnuts, blanch in boiling salted water for 2 to 3 minutes, transfer to a bowl of ice water to cool, then drain. 

Break the chestnuts into pieces. 

Place about 2 tablespoons oil in a sauté pan over medium high heat; when hot, add the chanterelles and cook for 2 minutes. Add the chestnuts and apple wedges, season with salt, and cook for another 3 minutes. Reserve the contents of the pan in a warm place.

Season the scallops lightly with salt and pepper. Wipe out the pan, raise the heat to high, add 3 to 4 tablespoons of olive oil, and, when hot but not quite smoking, sear the scallops on one end for about 4 minutes, until nicely browned. Turn the scallops over and sear on the other end for another 4 minutes. (Smaller bay scallops will only require 2 to 3 minutes.) Remove the scallops to a large paper towel-lined plate. Deglaze the pan with the white wine and cook down until quite thick.

Spread the root-vegetable purée on plates; arrange the sautéed chanterelles, chestnuts, and apple wedges on the purée and top with the scallops. Drizzle with the reduced pan juices and serve.

David Gibbons

Gibbons is a former sports writer, literary agent, book producer, and publishing executive who’s been a freelance editor and writer for the past two decades. Dave grew up in Princeton, N.J., where he remembers seeing John Forbes Nash pace the sidewalks in his Burberry raincoat and red Converse high-tops, muttering to himself. He has ghost-written six cookbooks for chefs and, with Max McCalman, co-written three books about cheese, one of which won a James Beard award. Gibbons currently writes the cheese column for Wine Spectator and was the most prolific contributor to "The Oxford Companion to Cheese." Andy Warhol once spilled a drink on his shoes at a party and said, "Oh, sorry."