Hamptonite Valerie Mnuchin Dishes On Her New Shelter Island Restaurant, Léon 1909

by Guest of A Guest · August 23, 2023

    A resident of Sag Harbor, John Steinbeck really should have saved his brilliant quote "Positano bites deep," to describe the wonderful, away-from-it-all, anti-scene scene that is Shelter Island.

    Forever worth the ferry ride, the quaint escape is home to many a charming spot, including Léon 1909, a most recent addition serving up a Provençal-style menu of French and Italian fare. Grilled Squid with pimento and oregano, Slow Fired Half Chicken with sweet corn succotash and summer squash and a Cornmeal Pound Cake with blackberries, blueberries and whipped cream - sounds like a thing to do, no?

    The passion project of father-daughter team Robert and Valerie Mnuchin, the restaurant has quickly become a favorite among locals and island-hoppers alike.

    Curious what Valerie has to say about Shelter Island and the restaurant scene out East?

    You and your family recently moved to Sag Harbor full time. Have you long been coming out East long?
    I've been coming out east my entire life. I was born into life in Westhampton - back in the days when Ina Garten had the first Barefoot Contessa in Westhampton. We gradually migrated east. 

    How did the idea for opening up a restaurant come about?
    Spending time on Shelter Island made me believe we needed to create a wonderful dining experience that felt like home.

    How did you settle on Shelter Island as the spot for Léon 1909?
    The restaurant is a love letter to Shelter Island.

    How does the scene in Shelter Island differ from the Hamptons?
    I internationally chose Shelter Island because I think of it as different from the Hamptons. I didn't want to create another pop up summer restaurant scene. Though I have many favorites of my own on the south fork.

    What's your trick to timing the ferry and not getting stuck in that line of cars?
    I never seem to have a problem with the ferry or the line. Maybe because I get to work earlier than dinner time  - I like to be there for our 4:30 pre-service meeting. But the ferry ride is like magic to me.

    What are some of your favorite dishes on the menu?
    I love the entire menu and gain such pleasure from watching others enjoy all the dishes. some standout favorites - caesar salad, strozzapretti, tuna tartar, fluke, bananas split.

    What are some of your other favorite spots on the island to hit?
    I love shopping at Marie Eiffel who is a friend. I also never turn down a game of mini golf.

    The Hamptons crowd can get a bad rap for being a bit demanding - was that intimidating from a hospitality standpoint?
    We have such wonderful year round clientele. But yes, hospitality in summer can be a trick. Though the customer is always right, I care deeply about protecting my staff. 

    Any favorite night of service so far?
    I love the super crazy busy nights. Nothing like a Saturday night in summer. Though best night so far was New Years Eve- I stood on the bar and toasted the people who make Léon what it is. Every person who works there makes it special.

    Dream celebrity guest slash any familiar faces you've seen so far?
    Dream celebrity guest would be Josh O'Connor. I just finished watching the Durrell's on PBS and would love to meet him! And of course my grandfather - Léon.

    [Photos courtesy Leon 1909]