East End Eats: Plaza Cafe, a Treasure Endures

A well-regarded restaurant specializing in seafood for almost 22 years
Lobster shepherd's pie is a longtime specialty at Plaza Cafe. Laura Donnelly Photos

Plaza Café
61 Hill Street
Dinner Tuesday through Sunday,
5:30-10, Saturday until 11

Plaza Cafe in Southampton was my very first restaurant review. I don’t recall how long ago, but it was a long time ago. I was thrilled and honored to be taking this important task on when our beloved and talented Sheridan Sansegundo moved to San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico.

I brought a gaggle of friends and was super bossy. “Let me taste that dish. Don’t put it on my plate, your sauces will get mixed up in my sauces. Don’t say my real name. Everybody has to get dessert, blah, blah, blah. . . .” I’m sure I was a real nuisance. 

The meal was divine, the service excellent, and the following morning I sat down with my notes to write. And then I noticed a glaring error. I had been so focused on the food that I neglected to notice anything about the decor and atmosphere. What color were the walls? Where was the bar? Were the floors wood? Was there a fireplace? Were there tablecloths, artwork, candles? I had to go back that night on my own dime to do a proper, comprehensive review. Lesson learned.

Plaza Cafe has been a very well regarded restaurant specializing in seafood for almost 22 years. The meal we had the other night was as good, if not even better, than the two I had blankety-blank years ago. And now I know to observe atmosphere and decor.

The space is large with a soaring ceiling, and the tables are nicely spaced. The floor is wood, the walls a sea green, and the fireplace has beautiful, intricate tile work around the mantle. There are paintings by Lynn Mara, a local artist, around the room depicting various familiar sights — beach plum picking, fluke, grape harvesting, and more.

Upon being seated we were served nice warm whole grain rolls with olive oil. For appetizers we tried the tuna crab tian, prosciutto-wrapped wild Pacific shrimp, and baby arugula salad. All three were superb. 

The tuna and crab tian had a layer of avocado, slightly spiced with wasabi, and then a layer of tuna tartare, and a top layer of citrusy crab. There were droplets of pale yuzu vinaigrette all around the plate. Yuzu is an absolutely delicious citrus. Common in Japan and Korea, it is very perfumy, like Meyer lemons. 

The prosciutto-wrapped shrimp (three big ones) were served on a rich porcini risotto. It was a bit spicy, had a hint of saffron, and was smoky, perhaps from paprika. The shrimp were perfectly cooked and juicy. 

My favorite appetizer was the salad. It was the kind of dish that I immediately wanted to try to duplicate at home. The arugula was in a somewhat warm sweet dressing with bits of end-of-season roasted corn kernels, chanterelle mushrooms, pancetta bacon, and heirloom cherry tomato halves that had been seeded. A generous amount of grated ricotta salata on top added a bit of richness and salt. Somehow the salad managed to be delicate and hearty at the same time.

When it was time to order our entrees, our waitress, Kiki, told us that half portions were available for almost all of the items on the menu, the logical exclusions being chicken and steak. We all opted for half portions and got the Faroe Island salmon special, the bay scallop special, and lobster-shrimp shepherd’s pie. Again, all three were outstanding, and other than the dainty bay scallop dish they didn’t seem like half orders at all. 

The salmon looked like a six-ounce portion and was cooked medium rare. It was served on top of a wild rice pilaf with cubes of acorn squash and had a hint of curry. The bay scallop dish had about 10 scallops, seared to caramelization yet still tender-raw on the inside. This is no small feat; it probably takes 30 seconds in a scorchingly hot pan. The scallops were nestled in a velvety cauliflower puree with frizzled leeks on top. The only garnish they didn’t need were the mandarin orange segments beneath the leeks. 

The lobster-shrimp shepherd’s pie, I’ve been told, is a signature dish at Plaza Cafe, and even the half order was generous. It had plenty of lobster meat and red shrimp mixed with lobster mushrooms and vegetables in a creamy sauce. The mashed potato topping was perfectly seasoned, flecked with chives piped onto the filling and browned to a crisp on top. A potato gaufrette and one shrimp made the whole presentation quite lovely. The effort it takes to make potato gaufrettes alone is very impressive. The potato is cut into a paper thin lattice-patterned wafer and fried, kind of like a waffle fry but classier, because it’s French!

The service on the night of our visit was professional, and our waitress Kiki was a delight. The prices are somewhat high but when you consider the option of “half” portions ($20 each for the scallops and salmon, $25 for the lobster-shrimp shepherd’s pie!) it can be quite reasonable. The quality and sophistication of the dishes and delicacy with which they are prepared is exceptional. The chef-owner Doug Gulija is most definitely masterful in handling fish, both local and from afar.

Appetizers are $17 to $32; entrees are $34 to $52. There are no sides offered but every dish is satisfyingly complete. Desserts, all made in house, including ice creams and sorbets, are $13 to $15.

For our final course we ordered Grandma’s chocolate mousse cake, crème brûlée, and apple pecan cake. All were excellent. The chocolate mousse cake was served in a wedge on top of artfully drizzled chocolate and white chocolate sauces. Confectioner’s sugar and dark cocoa powder dusted the rim of the plate, and the cake was served with creamy cappuccino ice cream and a crunchy rolled tuile cookie. The cake was moist and the mousse airy. The crème brûlée was lightly maple flavored, served in a fat little Ball jar with a spoonful of fig compote/jam on the side, and two crisped madeleine cookies. The crème brûlée was smooth and creamy and the brûléed sugar on top had that satisfying crack when broken into. The apple pecan dessert was a little round cake, absolutely delicious, topped with vanilla ice cream just starting to melt, and a dried crunchy apple slice on top. The plate had a pool of vanilla crème anglaise, sprinkled with bits of candied pecan pieces. Are you hungry yet?

Reflecting on our meal, I started to wonder why I haven’t been back to Plaza Cafe in a few years. Frankly, I’m just lazy, Southampton seems soooo far away from where I live. (It’s actually 23 minutes, 11.2 miles, I just checked.) 

So if you want to treat yourself to an expertly crafted seafood-centric meal, try Plaza Cafe. It is a treasure.

Since her first review for The Star at Plaza Cafe, Laura Donnelly has learned not only to note the decor, but to photograph it.