Meet Celine Valensi, the ultimate Montauk dream girl. She surfs, she's chill, she's gorgeous, she loves herself a Goldberg's bagel - and oh, did we mention she runs the hottest restaurant in town?
Chances are you've seen Celine busy at her perch ready to welcome you to The Crow's Nest. Well, most likely she'll let you know it's going to be at least an hour and a half until there's a table available, but in like the nicest, most charming way possible that you'll actually stick around!
With the summer season just about underway, we caught up with the keeper of out East's most magical spot to learn what's new on the menu, who gets to skip the line, her favorite haunts around town and more!
How long have you been out East?
We opened The Crow's Nest in 2010 and I slowly left city life behind.
At this point, would you consider yourself a Montauk local?
Ha! Complex question. I'm a Manhattan local (but like, a born and bred New Yorker), so I just don't think my identity has room for anything else. Growing up in the city and witnessing endless incarnations of gentrification and feeling like everyone was suddenly "from New York City," I was always sensitive to people using that word. That said, my kids certainly are local to Montauk, and that's enough for me.
What's your ideal dinner order at The Crow's Nest?
Proper dinner at The Crow's Nest has to start at the beach bar for aperitif. If I don't opt for a sparkling wine, I usually default to The Daisy (our take on a spicy margarita).
From there, sitting down to a dozen oysters and a Tocai is how I parlay into a meal. You'd be remiss to not order our signature Mezze Platter (a mix of hummus, babaganoush, tabouleh, olives, naan and a feta dip). Without question, the best entrée is the Local Lobster Fettuccini.
I don't have a sweet tooth, but when I do I opt for a light sorbet for dessert. We have an eccentric guy named Rosario who hand makes all of our gelato and sorbetti. We ask him to make all sorts of concoctions (like olive oil and lavender tahitian vanilla). He kind of reminds us of the bus driver from The Simpsons, if that paints a picture at all lol.
Is there any trick to snagging a table on a Saturday night?
Come early (before 6PM), be prepared to have drinks at the beach bar while you wait and dress to dine al fresco. We honor a first come, first serve waitlist and don't accept reservations. If you're wondering, we do have one person we make exceptions for: it's Sir Paul McCartney. We also take reservations for hotel guests. Other than that, back of the line!
Where's the best seat in the house?
Table 501. It's on the lower level under the eave where the heat lamps are. People there are perfectly in the mix, while also tucked away. Most of the time, this table is occupied by the owner, Sean MacPherson. When he's not around, we try and save it for guests of the hotel.
What's your favorite new dish on the menu?
Hands down, the Gem Salad. We are expecting a lot of blow back from taking our classic kale salad off the menu. But, we've come to terms with the fact that every other restaurant in Montauk has a kale salad. We also feel the 90's are back, and gem lettuce really saw it's day with the rise of New American/local cuisine in New York 25 years ago. We're trying to get back to that...
Where could we find you on a day off?
I'm a surfer and my house is in Ditch. I triangulate between The Crow's Nest, my house and the beach all day everyday in Summer. I sometimes make the rounds at the local restaurants for dinner to keep up with the Jones's. Other than that, I hide, hide, hide from the tourist crowd.
What do you love most about summer in the Hamptons?
Summer in the Hamptons isn't really summer in Montauk... Despite Montauk's growing popularity over the years, it's still quite a savage place. 85% of Montauk is protected lands.
Every time I feel overwhelmed by my job, my kids, the summer crowd etc., I honestly am reminded to simply live in gratitude for this incredible place. The nature is honestly what has kept me here. I think it's important to remember that while Montauk is technically in the town of East Hampton, it's not really considered the "Hamptons."
What do you love least?
Fighting for a bagel at Goldberg's when the summer people are here. It gets competitive to get into restaurants/get food here because places are typically always understaffed and overwhelmed (as a result of the housing crisis) and there are just SO. MANY. PEOPLE.
Beach of choice?
I live across the street from the dirt lot at Ditch. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't there everyday..
What's the best kept secret in Montauk?
The Marram. The hotel is fab, yes. But that's not the draw..... there's an amazing team of Argentines who work with renowned chef, Fernando Trocca running a sincerely incredible food program there. I had the pleasure of working with the pastry master Carolina once. She is so talented, that I have to stay away in order to mind my figure. It's also worth mentioning that this team works at La Huella in Uruguay during the winter season. That restaurant was one of the main inspirations of The Crow's Nest. The mind boggling aspect of this? They all look like models....
Weekdays or weekends?
Weekends. 100%. At least I'm hunkered down at the door of The Crow's Nest and somehow, most at home there, at the host stand.
What are you most excited for next?
The end of covid is obviously affecting the energy so dramatically.... People seem so happy, relieved and simply much more grateful. We typically run an extremely tight and ridgid ship at The Crow's Nest, but I think we've decided to let our hair down a little this year. You've heard of "hot girl summer"? This is the year of "hot restaurant summer" for us! Season 12 ought to be a doozy....