East End Eats: Go for the Duck

We began our meal with soup dumplings, chicken lettuce wraps, hot and sour soup, and salt and pepper calamari
Red Stixs has a youthful, party atmosphere, but is very serious about its duck. Morgan McGivern

Red Stixs
1020 Montauk Highway
Water Mill
Open weekdays, 6-10 p.m.,
weekends, 6 p.m.-2 a.m.

If you love texting and valet parking and disc jockeys spinning and you like your restaurant hostess to wear neon lipstick and not particularly care about your interest in a table, all while paying a fortune for your meal, you will enjoy Red Stixs in Water Mill.
Having never made it to Trata during its run along the Montauk Highway, I can’t really tell you what has changed decor-wise at this attractive Water Mill restaurant space. It is mostly white with bright red accents. Upon entering, there is a long bar on the left. Several dining rooms continue toward the back. The floor is black, the chairs and tables white, and some garden trellises have been painted red and attached to the walls. There is an outdoor lounge area with lots of comfy looking sofas.

We were a party of three arriving at an early bird hour, before the vampire weekenders came after dark. Thus we were given the table by the swinging doors to the kitchen. Take that, reservationless fools! There is a large print disclaimer on the menu that states: “Red Stixs has no affiliation with Philippe Chow or any Philippe Chow restaurants.” Uh, okay, but this place sure gave me deja-vu vibes from the time I visited Philippe on Three Mile Harbor Road in the location of rotating nightclubs, currently Sienna. That was a few years ago. Back then at that restaurant, the Peking duck was $65. Now it is $79. At least we got to take the carcass home this time. While Red Stixs “has no affiliation” with Philippe Chow, the chef at Red Stixs and much of the staff are from Philippe Chow.

I arrived before my guests so I sampled one of its cocktails at the bar. It was a lychee martini with coconut cream in it and the lychee had been dyed red. Lychees are delicious but alarming to look at, kind of like slippery albino eyeballs. Dye one red and you’ve got an even creepier looking cocktail garnish. It was $19! This may be the Chinese year of the horse, but I felt like an ass paying that much for a small, sweet, adult beverage. The bartenders were super fun, though, and there were at least four or five of them.

We were seated shortly after by our gum-chewing hostess, who we thought was practicing a Kim Kardashian-esque walk down the aisle. It was super slow and caught the eye of every busboy in the joint. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, I’m getting too old to go to places like this.

We began our meal with soup dumplings, chicken lettuce wraps, hot and sour soup, and salt and pepper calamari. The soup dumplings were outstanding. Six plump and tender dumplings arrived in the appropriate bamboo steamer. My friends Ellen and Chris explained how to eat them. You place a dumpling on your ceramic soup spoon. Poke a little hole in it with your chopstick and the soup spills out into the spoon. You sip this as you nibble into the pork. The pork was fatty, as it should be for flavor, and the soup was delicious, hints of black vinegar, ginger, and scallions in it.

The chicken lettuce wrap was a dud by itself, but was much improved by the condiments on the table — hot sauce, hoisin, and vinegar. The minced chicken was combined with tiny diced green and yellow squash, perhaps some mushrooms. You spoon the mixture into iceberg lettuce cups, wrap them up, and chomp away. The hot and sour soup was okay, but was carelessly served lukewarm. The salt and pepper calamari was a very good dish, the crunchy, scored pieces of calamari were given heat by lots of black pepper.

If you want Peking duck, it needs to be ordered 45 minutes in advance, which we did. For our entrees, besides the duck, we ordered shrimp fried rice and black bass with two sauces.

The shrimp fried rice was dull. This is a dish that can be truly wonderful when prepared with care and flavor. The black bass was also a disappointment. All three of us were absolutely sure that two different kinds of fish were used; each had a different texture. The portion was rather small for $64 (meant for two people). The sauces were okay. One was fermented black bean, the other garlic.

Now for the Peking duck. This is my absolute favorite meal and this version was as good as can be. The duck was presented to the table whole, crisped and mahogany colored. It was then expertly sliced and served on a platter with excellent homemade, paper-thin pancakes in a bamboo steamer, and the traditional accompaniments of hoisin sauce and slivers of cucumber and scallions. The skin was crisp with not too much fat underneath, the meat still moist and flavorful. Ellen and Chris spent many years living in Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Singapore, and they declared this duck “100 percent correct.” Was it really a seven-pound duck? Was it worth $79? To me, yes, because we got to take home the carcass and make Thai duck soup.

The prices at Red Stixs are high. All entrees are priced for two people. If you only want one portion you pay an additional $5. This means you can’t get any entree for less than $35. Soups, salads, and appetizers are $10 to $24, satays are $15 to $44, lettuce wraps, dumplings, and noodles are $14 to $24, entrees are $48 to $79, rice and vegetable sides are $9 to $14, and desserts are $14.

Aside from the hostess, the service on the night of our visit was very good. Our waiter was delightful and happy and peppy and charming. The wine list is short and also very expensive. You can try to find a cheap bottle of wine but you will have to pay about $65 for average stuff.

We were assured that the desserts are made in-house, but they most certainly are not. The choices (on display on a sideboard in the dining room) were mini apple streusel pies, red velvet cake, chocolate lava cake, and key lime tartlets. The chocolate lava cake was mediocre, as was the lime tartlet. The filling was nice and tart, the crust stale.

As someone who is on the back nine of life, a little worn around the tread, I don’t think this is the place for me. I would, however, be willing to spend the money on takeout Peking duck and enjoy it in the peace of my own home, with a reasonably priced bottle of wine or ice cold Tsingtao.