Set in an 1830s house, this “tiny”, “pleasant” Aquebogue bistro serves “creative” French-American cuisine that “emphasizes local ingredients”, including produce from its own gardens and wine from its own Comtesse Thérèse vineyard; “intimate” rooms with “provincial decor” and “warm, friendly” service make it “perfect” for post-winery dines, and though it tends expensive, prix fixe specials offer a budget alternative; P.S. closed Monday–Tuesday.
Published: June 1, 2011 2:20 PM
By Joan Reminick
It’s a natural, the concept of a restaurant within a winery. But it wasn’t until last fall that Long Island’s first, Comtesse Thèrése Bistro, was born at its namesake vineyard.
A historic restaurant, for sure, fittingly situated within a 19th century manse, along with the vineyard’s wine-tasting room.
In a dining room furnished with Duncan Phyfe period pieces, constellations are painted onto the ceiling; ornate mirrors line the walls. I’m told diners and crew alike have seen shadowy reflections. Ghosts? Something to ponder as I sip the winery’s big, dark reserve merlot.
Past and present merge in chef Arie Pavlou’s French bistro menu, which optimizes local resources and herbs grown on-site. The $35 prix-fixe on Wednesday and Thursday evenings is quite the buy.
A prime starter on that dinner is a lovely cream of asparagus soup, the springtime elixir crowned with a fresh asparagus spear. On the a la carte menu, escargots are plump, redolent of garlic. I’m surprised how light and appealing a combination of Brie and wild mushrooms in puff pastry turns out to be.
My favorite prix-fixe entree is a juicy, peppery hanger steak au poivre. Locally caught fluke with capers and olives, while good, can’t compete. Nor can the a la carte lamb shank confit, a trifle dry. But the Crescent Farms smoked duck breast — hauntingly smoky, tender and moist — is the hit of the evening.
Crepes Suzette in a fragrant Grand Marnier sauce crowned with house-made vanilla ice cream are very good. Better yet is an almond-crusted local blueberry tart that epitomizes wine country eating.
Upstairs, we check out the library and Versailles Room, used for private wine tastings and dinners. Stuffed foxes and pheasants from vineyard owner Teresa Dilworth’s taxidermy collection add to the sense that the past lives on at this very North Fork dining spot.
Charming is the word that comes to mind when arriving at Comtesse Therese Bistro in Aquebogue. Extraordinary is the word I’d choose to describe it after having a meal there.
The Comtesse Therese Winery added a French bistro almost three years ago when Chef Arie Pavlou set up his kitchen and began cooking classical French dishes with local ingredients.
We began with a glass of Comtesse Therese Russian Oak Chardonnay, which was slightly sweet and very mellow with an easy, pleasant finish. It went perfectly with our meal, which started off with fresh-from-the-oven French rolls, sprinkled with fresh herbs—oregano, thyme and marjoram.
Next, Chef surprised us with a traditional French delicacy—escargot. If you’ve never had the opportunity to try escargot (yes, I’m talking about snails) I would recommend you give Chef Pavlou’s a try. Cooked with butter, garlic and fresh herbs the plump morsels of snail were moist, tender and just about melted in my mouth.
The heady flavor of garlic and butter mix with the earthy flavor of the escargot to create a tasty mouthful.
Next we tried a baby octopus and mesclun salad with zesty lemon vinaigrette. The octopus was cooked perfectly, the edges crispy-crunchy and the meat inside tender. The lemon zing from the dressing paired wonderfully with the octopus, and I loved the fresh herbs Chef used, giving the salad a very refreshing quality.
Continuing our bistro journey, Chef treated us to his pan-seared Hudson Valley Moulard foie gras, served with a delectable morel mushroom sauce. This duck liver was easily the best I’ve ever eaten, cooked and seasoned with such skill and care— its buttery texture had me closing my eyes, as I ascended to foodie heaven.
For the next course, we tried two soups. The tomato and Asiago cheese soup with sliced almonds was topped with a fabulous dome of flaky puff pastry. As you break through the pastry, a blast of tomato and cheese aroma gets your mouth watering.
It’s tomato soup for the adult diner, and we enjoyed every bite. We also tried the soup du jour, featuring fresh asparagus from the farmstand just down the road. The soup had the essence of asparagus and was surprisingly light for a cream soup. There were adorable discs of asparagus that were incredibly delicious floating throughout. Topped with a fat stalk of tender asparagus and served in a white porcelain bowl, the soup was beautiful to look at and my pleasure to eat.
For our main courses, we chose the Crescent Farms crispy duck leg and the lamb shank confit. Chef gets his duck fresh from the neighboring Crescent Duck Farm. The skin was perfectly crisp, and had that wow factor when it hit my taste buds—another blissful foodie moment. Served with that delectable asparagus was a tower of rich and creamy scalloped potatoes. The lamb shank was tender and full of flavor, nearly falling off the bone and was paired with an earthy, rich Madeira sauce.
As if all that French food wasn’t enough, there was dessert. Chef makes his own mint chocolate chip ice cream from the fresh mint that grows all around the bistro. It was the best mint chocolate chip ice cream I’ve ever eaten. It was like a crescendo of mint in my mouth, and I’m sure I’ll be daydreaming of it.
We tried the tart du jour, which had fresh, local blueberries and a crust made with almond paste, served with fresh whipped cream. It was delicious: the blueberries bursting in my mouth, paired with a nutty, crunchy pastry crust and pure, delicious whipped cream. The apple tarte tatin was French pastry perfection—a tower of tender apples atop a smooth shortbread crust, served with a dollop of vanilla ice cream and a fragrant mint garnish.
The apples were warm with flavors of cinnamon and vanilla, and a drizzle of caramel lent a hint of nuttiness. Chef also had us taste the housemade chocolate truffle ice cream, which was quite simply ice cream perfection, and I would buy it buy the gallon if he sold it. Rich, creamy, smooth and decadently chocolate, you simply must try it.
We didn’t go home empty handed—Chef also makes chocolate truffles that are sold by the quarter pound. I saved them for later, when I need some French-inspired comfort.
This restaurant is sure to be a staple on the North Fork for many years to come.
Restaurant Review: Comtesse Therese
By Stacy Dermont
The North Fork’s newest destination restaurant, Comtesse Thérese in Aquebogue, is cute on the outside, with six wine barrels spelling out “BISTRO” at the foot of the driveway and white wrought iron lawn furniture in the back courtyard. But its outward appearance didn’t prepare us for what lay within.
After we entered the front door of this circa 1835 country rectory, we passed through a narrow hall and boom! We were suddenly on the North Fork of France. Who knew? Owner and winemaker Tree Dilworth has spent several years realizing her rich fantasy in this unique establishment.
Opened just four months ago, Comtesse Thérese looks like it’s been here, on the North Fork of France, for a good 180 years. One expects to run into novelist George Sand or perhaps Honore de Balzac at the tasting bar.
We passed through The Sky Room and into The Constellation Room for our meal. Aubusson-style carpets, hand-gilded details, crystal chandeliers, lyre-back chairs – the décor is High Romantic French Country but my manly husband was not at all chastened by the fabu atmosphere. In fact, he was very proud of himself for noting the grape motif along the edges of the large mirror near his seat. Bon travail, mon chere! He also quite liked The Versailles Room, which is used for private parties. We took a peek at its red walls, petit point wall hangings and taxidermy residents. Definitely fit for a king.
And what pastoral French bistro would be complete without a fast-talking, wise-cracking Bostonian sommelier? Dianne Delaney hails from Bean Town but she trained in Europe and she certainly knows her wines. Delaney is always at hand to offer suggestions for wine choices and apropos wine pairings. Some Comtesse Thérese wines, such as their 2005 Chateau Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (peaking right now), are available exclusively at the bistro. The house’s most popular wine is its 2005 Hungarian Oak Merlot. Try it; it’s dry and subtly spicy.
And then there’s the food. Fantastique!
For all you Francophiles: OUI! The foie gras and creme brulee are all that they should be. And my apologies – with all the specials at hand we failed to sample the escargot. I trust that Le Cordon Bleu grad Chef Aristodemos Pavlou does that just right as well. It’s on the regular menu, so you can try it any time.
We started with soups – lentil for moi, French onion for him. Both were perfumed with rosemary from Comtesse Thérese’s herb garden. I didn’t know how very rich duck broth was until I tried this soup. Chef sent out an amuse bouche of sliced Crescent Farms duck leg. I’m a little standoffish with duck – but when in Aquebogue…the duck was not gamy but very flavorful and moist. Daily specials included Smoked Duck Breast, a Veal Chop and the Catch of the Day was Pan-seared Shinnecock Scallops served with jasmine rice. My husband went for the scallops, I chose the classic Chicken Chasseur from the regular menu. The scallops, bejeweled with pomegranate seeds were obviously very good – I didn’t even get a taste! My braised chicken was a tender perfection, in a well-balanced sauce of wine and olives.
Most of the ingredients are local, of those that aren’t local – most are American grown. In fact, the apples and cider come from Woodside Farms, immediately next door.
When I asked Chef Pavlou if he had any special equipment in his kitchen he quipped, “The chef is the equipment!” I took an opportunity to watch him in action as he cut the ties from long rolls of braised rabbit, prepared for that evening’s Slow Food dinner party. He will forever be Arie “The Blur in the Toque” Pavlou to me.
One of the few true French bistros on the East End, Comtesse Thérese is filled with delights. Make your Valentine’s Day reservations now – it’s sure to be popular with lovers.
My dessert recommendation for valentines: share a piece of the puddlingly chocolatey Gateau de Chateau from the same plate and then buy a bottle of red wine and some house-made Belgian chocolate truffles to go – enjoy them at home denude….
Comtesse Thérese, 739 Main Road, Aquebogue.
When he’s not in the kitchen, Aristodemos Pavlou, the chef at Comtesse Thérèse Bistro in Aquebogue, hunts for game and forages for mushrooms, ramps and wild fiddlehead ferns. He gets duck from his neighbor, the Crescent Duck Farm, and fish from Phil Karlin, a Mattituck commercial fisherman. The twenty types of herbs he uses come from the Bistro’s own garden. Apples and cider are just a lot away at the Woodside Farms. Other ingredients come from nearby farm stands and the eleven wines available originate at Comtesse Thérèse from its own vines, for it is the Island’s only vineyard with a restaurant.
The restaurant is in an 1835 house that once served as a church rectory. It has been brought back to life by the keen eye of its owner Thérèsa (Tree) Dilworth, a tax attorney by day and a winemaker away from her lawyer duties. She spent four years converting the 180-year-old building (doing much of the construction herself) into a quaint, charming, country-style restaurant with rooms that make diners feel as though they are eating in the home of a bygone era.
All of this would be unremarkable in France where lovely old homes, local ingredients, antique furnishings and very distinctive, individualistic restaurants are the rule rather than the exception. But on Long Island, Comtesse Thérèse is one of a kind.
Although the restaurant’s signs, wine barrels (six of which spell out the word “bistro” in flashing neon), etc. are a bit over the top, its tasteful interior is a place of hand-gilded detail, old breakfronts holding silver and glassware, bare polished wood tables, carpeting, chandeliers, oversized framed mirrors and traditional art.
Comtesse Thérèse’s French-skewed food is traditional as well. Dishes like escargots, onion soup, brie en croute, foie gras, chicken chasseur, tarte tatin and crême brulée dot the menu. Most of them are rewarding successes. And why not? Mr. Pavlou is a classically-trained French chef educated at Le Cordon Bleu L’Art Academe in Paris.
Long Island Pulse photo by Stephen Lang
After receiving some exceptional, warm, house-made rolls and soft butter, we sampled a dense French onion soup ($16) for the ages, bursting with the flavor of a local duck stock. Had it been any thicker, it could be cut with a knife. A cream of asparagus soup of the day ($7.50) offered delicate taste and consistency, but needed a hefty dose of salt. Six good, garlicky escargots ($11.75) and brie en croute, ($12) or warm brie and wild mushrooms in puff pastry paired with cool greens, are other recommended starters.
Among the entrées, the fish of the day ($24), rascas, a firm white-fleshed bay fish popular in France paired stew-like with fava beans and tomatoes was light and fine. A huge take home-sized lamb shank confit ($25) was tasty but hard rather than fall-away tender. Well-done, smoked local duck breast retained its taste and most of its moisture, but would’ve been better medium rare (our competent waiter didn’t ask how we wanted it). Sautéed chicken ($23), in a rich cream sauce, more than passed muster.
The house-made desserts here are an especially strong course. The large tarte of the day (blueberry one day) accompanied by almond cream is a steal at $7.50. The tiny tarte tatin ($9) boasts a scoop of house-made ice cream, three chocolate truffles ($10) made with wonderful Belgium chocolate are delicious and best of all is the gâteau de château ($8.50), a powerful chocolate cake drenched in warm chocolate, blackberry brandy sauce that provides chocoholics with an almost orgasmic high.
(excerpt from a longer article)
September 9, 2011
In the Tasting Room, the Cheese Plate Evolves
By SUSAN M. NOVICK CUTCHOGUE, N.Y.
Last fall, Comtesse Thérèse in Aquebogue opened a bistro on a half-acre with a small vineyard and an herb garden. It offers wines from the 10-year-old Comtesse Thérèse winery as a complement to the French-inspired menu of the chef, Arie Pavlou, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu in Paris; the manager and sommelier is Dianne Delaney.
The restaurant is allowed because the property is zoned for commercial use, according to Theresa Dilworth, the owner of Comtesse Thérèse; the main vineyard is about a half-mile away.
The emphasis is on fresh, local ingredients like smoked duck breast from Crescent Duck Farm in Aquebogue and pan-seared Montauk sea scallops. Wine tastings are offered in the bar or in the garden, with nibbles that include house-brined herbed olives and house-smoked bacon. (Although a small amount of wine is made on the premises, the Comtesse Thérèse wines are made primarily by Premium Wine Group in Mattituck.)
During lunch and dinner hours, customers can order from the bistro menu and sample wines in the 28-seat restaurant. On a recent afternoon, a rich onion soup was paired with the 2008 Comtesse Thérèse Russian Oak Chardonnay; the escargots with a 2008 rosé; and the smoked duck breast with the 2006 Hungarian Oak Merlot.
Ms. Dilworth recalled her early days as a vineyard owner when none of the vineyards offered any food. “I never really liked the idea of standing up and drinking wine,” she said. “I prefer the food and the wine to be on equal footing.”
POUR IT ON Dianne Delaney is the manager and sommelier at Comtesse Thérèse bistro in Aquebogue
Duck confit is on the menu at Comtesse Thérèse bistro, which opened last fall