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Eat & Drink

Apr 14, 2009 4:14 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Dining Out: Changing of the seasons at Red/Bar Brasserie

Apr 14, 2009 4:14 PM

Red/Bar Brasserie opened 11 years ago with an eye toward establishing upscale dining in an elegant, but casual, atmosphere.

“We want you to feel comfortable,” co-owner David Loewenberg said recently at his Southampton Village restaurant. “We’re going to pamper you.”

“We knew that we wanted to have a fun place that had great food, great service, consistency ...” he said, recalling how Red/Bar got its start. “We opened pretty strong and along the way have been lucky to attract some great, great staff.”

The executive chef, Erik Nodeland, has been with Red/Bar Brasserie since day one, as have co-owner Kirk Basnight and several members of the staff.

Mr. Nodeland, who prepares Red/Bar’s European-inspired American cuisine, is a classically trained chef and Culinary Institute of America graduate. He came to Red/Bar from Bridgehampton restaurant Karen Lee, which has since closed.

Beyond the staff and the food, Mr. Loewenberg credits his restaurant’s success to his regulars.

“We’re very blessed with a loyal clientele,” he said.

Some customers he doesn’t see all summer return in the fall, he said, and at the end of each spring, there’s a passing of the baton to the summer clientele. “Or a passing of the wine glass, if you will.”

Many families come to Red/Bar together, Mr. Loewenberg said, noting that he’s watched children grow up at the restaurant. “For us, it’s really fantastic to have such a long history with some of our clientele,” he said.

Mr. Loewenberg is also an owner of Beacon in Sag Harbor and Fresno in East Hampton. His establishments share the same customers and, sometimes, staff too, he said. “There’s definitely a sense of camaraderie among the restaurants.”

He has also worked at East Hampton restaurants Nick & Toni’s and Della Femina. He was born and raised in Manhattan, where he made a living at every level and in every capacity in the restaurant business, he said. Now 45, he entered the restaurant world at 14. “I just had to make some money,” he said. “Then I fell in love with it.”

His first restaurant of his own was 95 School Street in Bridgehampton, which later became Alison and is now vacant. Mr. Loewenberg opened 95 School Street around 18 years ago and left three years later. During that time, he met Mr. Basnight. “We found that our connection was very strong,” Mr. Loewenberg said. They decided to work together and eventually decided to open Red/Bar Brasserie in the building on Hampton Road that formerly housed Balzarini’s for many years.

Mr. Loewenberg said the name of the new establishment was inspired by the red neon sign reading “Bar” by the entrance to Balzarini’s.

“We coined it ‘Red/Bar Brasserie,’ which gives us a little poetic license,” he said. “We are a restaurant with a very small bar that rocks.”

And the poetic license extends a bit further. The French word “brasserie” can mean “grand café restaurant” as well as brewery or “beer hall.” But Red/Bar is no brewery and is more of a dinner spot than any kind of café.

Mr. Loewenberg’s wife, Sarah, a decorator, designed Red/Bar’s dining room.

“We looked at a space that had great bones,” Mr. Loewenberg said of finding the restaurant more than 11 years ago. “It had great history. We wanted to keep that Old World charm.”

The naugahyde was removed from the bar, the carpets were torn up and the interior was gutted, he said. There was no air conditioning and all of the wiring needed to be replaced, he added, noting that just as much work went into updating the kitchen with modern appliances as went into the dining room.

Mr. Loewenberg selects the choices for Red/Bar’s wine list himself and goes on international buying trips each year to keep the shelves stocked with wines he says his customers might not find elsewhere—quirky wines from regions clients may not have been introduced to yet.

He also shops in established regions for labels that are little known in the international trade. Over the last year, he’s been to the Burgundy region of France for a buying tour, and he headed to Italy in March.

Wine is part of the restaurant’s culture and he holds tastings for the staff, he said. “We consider ourselves to be wine-centric.”

And he can recommend wine by the glass or bottle to complement every dish for every course.

Red/Bar’s wine list is pages long and includes both domestic and foreign wines.

Bottle prices start in the $40 range and reach $295. By-the-glass prices start at $10 and reach $16 for Veuve Clicquot Champagne.

Appetizers range from $10 for hummus with grilled flatbread and spicy marinated olives, to $17 for homemade terrine de foie gras with red onion confit and brioche.

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