Nick & Toni’s is one of the most iconic restaurants in the Hamptons. Jeff Salaway and Toni Ross opened the space in East Hampton in 1988, and it immediately garnered well-deserved praise. The restaurant is rooted in farm-to-table Mediterranean cuisine, the philosophy being to source everything possible locally, and the menu is inspired by simply prepared seasonal produce with emphasis on natural flavors.
On Thursday, December 8th at 6:30 p.m. Nick & Toni’s will be holding “Feast of the Seven Fishes.” This wine dinner will feature a six-course menu created by Chef Michael Zuckerman and Pastry Chef Kelsey. Old-world Wines from Italy chosen by Beverage Director Chimene Macnaughton will be paired with the dinner. Chimene spoke more about what attendees can expect from the dinner, and what went into creating the menu and beverage selections.
What is your process for choosing wine pairings?
CM: Since the cultural soul of Nick & Toni’s is “molto Italiano,” we began the wine selection process with the slightly daunting idea of indigenous Italian varieties. There are at least 355 known grape varieties originating in Italy, so we come to each evening’s “theme” by thinking about specific Italian regions, and the farming families who champion the grapes that have always grown there, versus transplanted international varieties made popular in just the last gen of wine drinkers. For this series, with its expanded schedule from December to June, we’re back in Italy for three of the dinners; venturing out to Austria, France, and we’ll wrap next June ushering in pink wine season with an all-rosé pairing event.
What can guests expect from the dinner?
CM: Guests can expect a delicious and fun multi-course evening beginning with a walk-around reception of canapés and usually something bubbly, followed by a seated, coursed-out meal with wine(s) paired to each dish. Many guests who attended our first series of dinners this past spring shared that they felt the food was some of the best they’ve had over their years and even decades of dining at Nick & Toni’s, and I really have to agree. The dining experience is heightened and enhanced by the effort that we all put into not just the ingredients and the pairings, but what we call the “finer points of service”: from wine-specific crystal glassware to our friendly floor captains, we’re deep in the details of guest experience. At the same time, these meals are totally un-fussy, with the focus being deliciousness, not highly esoteric wine jargon that we’ll all forget by morning! Like the community tasting workshops I launched over 20 years ago and brought to the retail shop I created in Wainscott in 2014 as #WineWednesday Workshops, I’m a huge proponent of sharing expert-level wine knowledge in an interactive, all-levels way, so I want our guests to experience the joyousness that wine discovery can bring, absent any snooty somm-vibes. The evening’s wines are made available for purchase with special pricing through our retail partner Jacques Franey, of Domaine Franey on Pantigo up the road from us.
Can you talk about what goes into working as the beverage director?
CM: This is a new role for Honest Man Hospitality—Nick & Toni’s parent company—which means I’ve had the incredible opportunity to shape the job over my time here. I like to joke that “I’m in charge of everything liquid,” and while that’s strictly true, I also devote lots of time and resources to our bar and floor teams; training and sharing product knowledge with them as we continue to expand and refine each of the restaurant’s back bar and cellar offerings in accordance with their established and individualized culture and “personality.
As part of overseeing all five restaurants, (Nick & Toni’s, Rowdy Hall, La Fondita, Townline BBQ, and Coche Comedor), I’m also the wine director for N&T’s, so I’m responsible for both maintaining and buying for our 35-year-old cellar while continuing to drive the narrative of Nick & Toni’s as a world-class wine destination. I’m super proud of our list, especially our acquisitions over the past two years, and of course I love the industry buying clout that we’ve earned over time. It’s an honor for me to represent this exceptional program, for sure.
Can you tell us about the menu and what went into creating it?
CM: The culinary team at Nick & Toni’s—Executive Pastry Chef Kelsey Roden, Chef de Cuisine Mike Zuckerman, and Sous Chef Eddie Schall work closely with HMH Executive Chef and Partner Joe Realmuto to craft each of the dinner’s courses. It’s a very collaborative process. We feed off of each other, sometimes the theme is decided, and that shapes the regions which decide the wines. Sometimes, like with our inaugural event last winter “Wines with Altitude” I’m dreaming of Italy’s mountainous regions’ wines, and they’ll counter with unbelievably authentic, region-specific dishes that come together in a progressive and dynamic menu just guaranteed to dazzle our guests. I’m thinking back right now to this “carne salada” appetizer that we served with that first Altitude dinner- über traditional from the Südtirol, elegantly simple, and actually paired (as is the local tradition) with a rich white wine, though the dish is meat-based. That course and that wine were total home runs. The thinly sliced Wagyu beef was cured in-house, and we chose a Pinot Blanc blend (that I’m still pouring at Coche Comedor!) made in a castle by a Count in the Italian Alps- you cannot make it up!
Can you talk about the seasonal inspiration for this dinner and the beverages as well?
CM: I was thrilled (and a little surprised!) when I mentioned adding a December date to the series and using the biggest night in the Italian-American food calendar—traditionally Christmas Eve—as our inspiration: “Feast of the 7 Fishes”. Chef MZ loved it from the jump! From even the first draft of this menu- it’s obviously way more labor-intensive for the culinary team than for me and Jacques, but I’m so grateful that the Chefs were into it, it’s shaping up to be our best pairing yet!
To get it right, this dinner has an additional course, but we all agreed that we wanted to keep the ticket prices the same throughout the series, matching last season. (Tickets are $150 per person + tax and service). Once the Chefs penciled the courses, Jacques and I chose the wines pretty quickly from recent tastings of different regions around Italy that we felt best mirrored each of the dishes.
As for the seasonal aspect, I’m working on different seasonal syrups for some of our bar programs- so I thought to offer a few of those ideas to create different spritzes during the reception. As guests arrive, they can choose a refreshingly dry organic Prosecco from one of our Ligurian faves Bisson, or we’ll build on that with a splash of seasonal flavor- maybe pear, blood orange, cranberry- we shall see! One thing I love about collaborating again with Jacques is that he and I have similar tasting sensibilities so we think about pairings in a similar way. A couple courses into the meal, we’ll travel back to producer Bisson paired with Lobster Fra Diavolo. To me, the lobster pasta is kind of a “gimme” for the guests- it’s that dish that’s just so heck-yeah luxurious and crowd-pleasing that we have a little latitude to venture out with the wine. Here we chose a Ciliegiolo. A deep and brilliant rosé that Italians glug by the gallons- or should I say litres- Ciliegiolo drinks like a light red- its gorgeous tannins, supple texture, and vibrant acidity a fine answer to the dish’s subtle heat. The lobster dish on its own already shimmers and shines, and then we’re hopefully giving our guests this moment of vinous discovery, free of the usual rigors of buying and trying something “weird” or unpronounceable. Think of the lobster pasta as the guests’ safe space… haha!
Can you tell us more about the wine dinners at Nick & Toni’s? What makes these dinners successful, and what sets them apart from any other experience in the Hamptons?
CM: These evenings are about “experiential hospitality”- we want to give our guests an elevated dining experience that feels unique- you know that it-may-never-come-again feeling you get as a diner when you’re in one of your bucket list restaurants the world over? That is my inspiration. In this post-CV world that we’re all carving out together, it feels more important than ever to create evenings where our community can come together and experience something wonderful, something delicious, and yes, something we might not find at any other local restaurant, nor attempt to re-create at home à deux (so many crystal glasses!). Joyous evenings full of soul and empty of fuss is what I am all about.
How long has Nick & Toni’s been doing wine dinners? How did the idea come into conception?
CM: In spring of this year, as our community began letting us know that they were comfortable gathering again in busy dining rooms, we launched Nick & Toni’s first season of wine pairings with events held in March, April, and June. While N&T’s certainly has an earned rep for its prestigious, sought-after, deep-cellared rarities, these evenings allow our team to take a group of guests along with us on the same journey of discovery that’s really the core of my process as a buyer. And that’s about so much more than Grand Cru Burgundy and 100-point Napa Valley “cult” Cabs. The format of these pairing evenings harks back to dinners hosted by Della Femina (also with Jacques as our retail partner) way back when I first landed on the East End in 2005. Della was my first restaurant home here; and during that same timeframe, Della Femina was the LI home to American Sommelier, a certifying body based in NYC. In April of 2006, I completed 26 weeks of advanced-level sommelier coursework at Della, testing top of my class in blind tasting and wine theory. Looking back, I guess I’ve had my wine-sights trained on Nick & Toni’s forever, so these dinners feel like an easy return to a familiar format, hosted in rooms over one of the top cellars on LI and beyond.
What’s your favorite thing about being located in the Hamptons?
CM: There’s so much I love and am grateful for in the life my husband and I keep creating here. I’ve lived out east year-round since I landed here “for a summer” back in 2005. And Craig and I were married at Indian Wells beach in 2011. I’m still flat-dazzled by the light on the surrounding water, and my sighthounds and photographer husband are all living their best lives on the ocean and bay beaches 7/365. I left the farm-to-table San Francisco dining scene at its apex for a western ski town over 22 years ago, so I am firmly and forever a country mouse on a two-lane road going 40MPH or less! But I love that I have the entire wine world at my networking fingertips just a Jitney away; it’s made me a better taster which hopefully is reflected in the programs I manage.
Can you share some of your favorite beverages and favorite beverage/dish pairings?
CM: I’m passionate about high altitude, low alcohol wines. Always #allthebubbles with grower-Champagne driving that sparkly bus! I love pairing indigenous wines from tiny production organic-for-generations family farms to dishes which might be suffering a perceived “varietal fatigue”. I try to create space in my lists for guests to ask: does steak always have to go with Cabernet Sauvignon? Can N&T’s famed whole fish shine with red instead of white wine? What about an aged rosé with medium rare breast of duck? Or a bone-dry grower Champagne with our (perfect) chicken? I’m driven by joy in the glass at every price point. This thinking is probably even more a part of the relatively much smaller wine programs at our other restaurants. I think about what Channing Daughters winemaker J Chris Tracy once said to me long ago- probably over some experimental, weird-for-the-time skin contact white- “…yes, but is it delicious?”
I’m also a student of broader industry trends when it comes to cocktails and artisan spirits. One of the best things about my role with HMH is the opportunity to conceive and develop the cocktails for each of the programs. Bringing the age-old yet white-hot liqueur Chartreuse to the back bar at Coche, where it pairs phenomenally with their agave spirits and Chef Juan Juarez’s velvety molés. Incorporating on-trend cocktails from the modern canon throughout the group, riffing on pre-Prohibition classics at our own classic, Rowdy Hall. Peppering in hand-crafted spirits with micro-local ingredients from Matchbook Distillery at Townline BBQ. For the back bar at N&T’s, bringing hyper-traditional aperitivi and digestivi into the molto Italiano mix. Happening now: Borgogno bianco vermouth from Piemonte and the clear Alpen bitter Salers come together in the wintery white Negroni “Blondes Have More Fun”. From seasonal spritzes and made-to-order sangrias, all the way through to our house-made limoncello, I’m striving to anticipate our guests’ every liquid desire.
Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about the dinner, future dinners, Nick & Toni’s, or otherwise?
CM: The second series of Thursday night wine pairing dinners runs from “Inspiration: Feast of the 7 Fishes” December 8, 2022 into June of next year, once a month except May. Tickets are $150 per person + tax and service and can be booked through our reservation partner Resy. Each of the evenings will follow a familiar progression: at 6:30pm, guests are welcomed into the restaurant with a walk around tasting reception, and seated at 7pm for a multi-course tasting journey through that night’s chosen theme.
Dates are as follows, and we’ll have these nights open in Resy shortly for guests to book ahead if they wish:
December 8, 2022 Inspiration: Feast of the 7 Fishes
Jan 26, 2023 Inspiration: Winter in Austria
Feb 23, 2023 Inspiration: Italy: TBD
Mar 30, 2023 Inspiration: Tour de France
Apr 27, 2023 Inspiration: Italy: TBD
No event in May 2023
Jun 8, 2020 Inspiration: Rosé, Beyond Provence
The offered wines will be available to guests for purchase with special event-only pricing through Jacques Franey at Domaine Franey.
For more information about Nick & Toni’s and their wine dinners visit https://www.nickandtonis.com.