White barriers lined the way into the bustling parking lot of the yet-to-be-opened H2O in East Islip, a building aglitter with bright lights bouncing off clinking glasses from a warm scene inside. Three valets huddled together against the chill, springing apart immediately when my car rounded the bend.
Inside, a thrum of excitement was pervasive throughout a completely transformed space. Crowds of excited Bohlsen Restaurant Group regulars, friends, family, and press filled the space around a new oval-shaped bar, an addition sure to make this restaurant a hot hang-out for those looking for a casual, open atmosphere while enjoying crafted cocktails.
This was only one of the major changes made to the previous Beachtree Café, the discontinued family-friendly, value-based option in the Bohlsen Restaurant Group portfolio.
Since its closure on April 10, 2016, the family has been hard at work extensively renovating the space to meet its upmarket seafood brand’s standards. Ultra-modern cable railings lead to an upstairs dining space with soaring ceilings sparkling with lights amid exposed white beams. Elegantly nautical hues in the soft goods cool down warm golden oak, and mosaic tile on the floors and accent counters add seafood shop tones without actually going there.
Emulating the popular Smithtown location’s concept, much has been carried over for South Shore patrons, including the stellar menu. A wide range of bites from it were presented during the cocktail party, representing a section of nearly every part of the menu.
From the sushi section, both of H2O’s signature Tornado Rolls were served, a creative concept that wraps sushi fillings in a deep-fried potato shell made of angel hair-thin shavings of the starch. It’s hard to wrap your head around, yes, but basically, imagine an extra crispy French fry shell, but textured and striated. Tornado I featured king crab, avocado, cucumber and eel sauce; Tornado II had spicy tuna, scallions, spicy mayo, and eel sauce. Both were delectable.
Spicy tuna rolls and crunchy California rolls were served for the classicists, and the Starr Roll with salmon, mango, panko, avocado, and spicy mayo made its rounds as well. To continue with raw items, oysters on the half-shell were passed.
Mini deep-fried crab cakes were high in demand, made with claw meat, brightened with fresh lemon, and topped with a remoulade type of dressing (listed on the menu as Creole mayo). The popular minced shrimp and lobster “wontons” (really closer to a potsticker than a wonton) were equally delicious and topped with a drizzle of hoisin sauce and miso mustard. The third item from the Smithtown starters section were shrimp buns. Think soft, steamed Peking duck mantou pockets with seared shrimp compressed into a firm patty topped with spicy mayo and nestled in bibb lettuce.
Not on the starter menu but perfect hor d’oeuvres nonetheless were chicken teriyaki morsels and beef grilled with sweet chili sauce, both conveniently served on sticks.
Chicken also made its appearance in chicken and waffle bites, where tender morsels of chicken rested on thick, sweet Belgian-style waffles—a tantalizing allusion to the brunch offerings set to come in January. Lastly for the generous variety of light bites were the miniature Boston lobster rolls. A dollop of tangy herb mayo topped about a tablespoon or so of butter-poached lobster on adorably puffy, dense rolls.
Generous pours of cocktails accompanied, including signatures like the Babylon Express—refreshing and delicious, with cucumber vodka, St. Germain, pineapple juice, fresh lime juice—and a beautifully presented gin and grapefruit juice cocktail with fresh rosemary garnish.
Sparkling wine also flowed, and wine from the restaurant’s list was served upon request.
“We’re really excited to bring this concept to the South Shore,” Kurt Bohlsen, owner and third-generation restaurateur shared over a cocktail as Executive Chef Luis Polanco thanked guests and supporters beside him. “We invited many of our loyal customers from the Smithtown location as well and are looking forward to hearing everybody’s take.”
With its commitment to seasonality, sustainability, and high-quality ingredients, plus a proven menu concept in an stunningly designed setting, it’s hard to imagine that the community’s reception will be anything but warm … a perfect toddy for the cold winter doldrums to come.
H2O opened in East Islip on December 20, 2016.