Guy Reuge, well known chef of Mirabelle and Sandbar, has taken on another venture, this time with restaurateur Christophe Lhopitault. The two have collaborated on a sophisticated new restaurant in a most unlikely spot—the Smith Haven Mall.
Le Vin, which means “the wine,” is a magnificently decorated wine bar and tapas restaurant with a comfortable French flair. Lhopitault most definitely has an eye for detail. He transformed a 1,043-square-foot yogurt store into an elegant and refined space that invites guests to linger over a glass of wine. High tables and chairs and a separate cozy lounge area, both surrounded by lots of stunning woodwork and artwork, make this restaurant stand out from anything you’ve seen at the mall before.
The bar is made from wine barrels, and the wood counter is actually a whole piece of cottonwood tree brought in from Virginia. Menus are not handed out; it’s written on a very large wall-to-wall chalkboard, because the menu changes every month and a half. Le Vin features fresh organic ingredients from local farms. Across from the bar towards the left side of the restaurant is perhaps Le Vin’s most unique feature—a jamón ibérico ham, which is prominently on display. For guests not accustomed to seeing such a sight, a chalkboard above it reads: “Jamón ibérico is the ultimate cured ham. Decadently rich and nutty, melting in your mouth. It comes from an ancient wild breed of pig, fed from acorns only found on the Iberian Pennisula, known as Cerdo or ‘Pata Negra.’ It takes up to four years to cure. For many ham lovers, it’s as good as it gets. It is recognized as the finest ham worldwide.”
According to Reuge, “It is very unique, but is similar to prosciutto. The pig is cured for four to five years, and then it comes to us in beautiful packaging. It lasts in the restaurant about 1 ½ months, and it doesn’t need to be refrigerated. The ibérico ham is really a focal point for us.”
As for the rest of the ever changing menu, I found it to be extremely interesting and diverse. The food was spectacular. My favorite of the day was beef bone marrow, baked in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes and served with horseradish gremolata. It was creamy and light, and perfectly seasoned. I’m still dreaming about it.
What’s great about Le Vin is that you can try so many different things, and everything is reasonably priced.
“The idea behind this menu was to do what they do in Spain: tapas, small dishes, except this is French,” said Reuge. “We have some dishes that are inspired by other countries, like barbecue which is American, or from places like Spain. This is the way we cook now. It’s mainly French with other influences.”
It was Lhopitault’s concept to open a wine bar where small dishes served tapas-style was offered, and where people could come in and have a glass of wine and a small dish. Lhopitault is no stranger when it comes to food and restaurants. Born in Paris, France and raised in the Savoie, Christophe Lhopitault began his career at 13 when he attended a five-year program at Thonons-Les Bains Technical School in France. Upon completion of his scholarship and brevet, he began working in Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais’ restaurant at the Hotel Mont Blanc in Megève, France. He then moved to Switzerland where he worked in several Michelin Star rated restaurants. Additionally, he spent two years in England and then moved back to France where he worked at the prestigious three Michelin star , La Bonne Auberge. By 1992, Lhopitault moved to New York and went on to open Daniel as a captain. He spent some time in Connecticut working as a maître d’ at a prestigious French restaurant, before opening his New York City restaurant, Destinée, which he co-owned from 1997 until 2002 with two Michelin star chef Jean Yves Schillinger. Lhopitault eventually decided to pursue his passion for wines, and came to Stony Brook where he opened Lake Side Emotions Wine Boutique, which he still runs today.
Teaming up with Reuge, one of Long Island’s most prominent chefs, was the next most logical thing to do. He contacted Reuge, and after a seven month renovation Le Vin was born.
“Christophe and I have known each other for many years,” said Reuge. “He approached me with the concept. He is always looking for something fun to do, and me, I am always looking for something fun to do. I thought, yes, why not?”
The two co-own Le Vin. Reuge runs the kitchen, and Lhopitault runs the front of the house. Born in Normandy, France, and raised in the Loire Valley, Reuge began his culinary career at age 14, working a three-year apprenticeship in Orleans, France. He has worked in restaurants in Strasbourg and Paris, France, in Switzerland and in various restaurants in New York City including Rene Pujol, Maxwell’s Plum, La Tulipe, Le Cygne, and Tavern on the Green, where he served as executive chef. He and his wife, Maria Harrison, who was an editor at Gourmet magazine in 1975, came to Long Island and opened the original Mirabelle restaurant in an old farmhouse in St. James. Reuge went on to receive many culinary awards including “Chef of the Year” by the Maitres Cuisiniers de France (Society of Master Chefs). He is also a cookbook author and has been featured in Bon Appetit magazine, Gourmet, The New York Times and Newsday. He has also been a guest on several Food Network shows.
With a team like this, how could this restaurant not be good? Along with the bone marrow, I had a trio of homemade hummus, one of which was made with green olives; a deliciously creamy burrata served with a tomato jam and Melba toast, and wonderful shrimp with mango chutney. Each dish was presented beautifully. I also decided to try one of the few “standard” menu items, a charcuterie board. I went for the combo board so I could try the cured meats and the cheese. I watched as Reuge intricately prepared the charcuterie, which included the ibérico ham, hot sausage, duck prosciutto, garlic sausage, Serrano ham, smoked gouda, Vermont blue cheese, brie from Maine, apple and berry compote, grainy mustard, vegetables, cornichons, and thin slices of walnut raisin bread and farmer’s bread. It arrived at my table like a piece of artwork. I ended the meal with rich and sinful pots de crème served with warm madeleines and a strawberry.
I enjoyed the dishes so much, that I visited Le Vin again. On my second trip, the menu was completely different except for the charcuterie. I had a very tasty lamb taco, a delicious tomato and goat cheese tart, sliced Thai chicken and some gruyere puffs. I couldn’t resist another pot de crème, which I was happy to see was still a dessert item. One dish they have to bring back is the bone marrow. I cannot say enough about it. I’ve had nothing like it before.
There are 120 – 140 bottles of wine to choose from, and eight white by the glass, and eight red by the glass. Glasses of wine start at $5. Small plates range in price from $7 to $14. The standard charcuterie ranges from $18 to $28.
Monthly educational wine tastings are offered, where guests can learn about wines and how to pair them with foods, as well as “Paint and Sip” events. Paint on canvas in a relaxed setting while enjoying a complimentary glass of sparkling wine. Check the website for updates on events.
Le Vin also features its own smartphone app that you can download from the app store to receive a 10 percent discount every time you visit.
Le Vin is open seven days a week from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.