Salvatore’s in Hampton Bays has been relegated to the dustbin of East End culinary history.
In mid-March, a new eatery named Barona Bay opened in Salvatore’s former location on Montauk Highway and began serving an eclectic menu that executive chef and owner Romeo Auer describes as “a fusion of New American and European cuisine.”
Classically trained in his native Austria, Auer spent the last decade as executive chef of Elegant Affairs, a Glen Cove-based caterer with a well-heeled client roster that Auer refers to as “The Hamptons zero-point-one percenters.”
In May 2022, Auer purchased Salvatore’s from Salvatore Biundo, who also owns and operates Centro Trattoria and Bar, which is about 1.5 miles to the west of Barona Bay on Montauk Highway. (Both properties are owned by John Torterella of J. Tortorella Swimming Pools, who leases the spaces to the respective chefs.)
Locals may remember that before the space was occupied by Salvatore’s, Biundo briefly operated it as an American bistro he named The Hamptons Standard. But Biundo’s vision for The Standard never had a chance to fully coalesce.
In 2019, he was served papers for trademark infringement by Standard International, a global hospitality group whose properties include The Standard Hotel in downtown Manhattan.
Soon after the lawsuit was filed, Biundo went back to his comfort zone, renaming the restaurant Salvatore’s and replacing The Standard’s continental menu with tried-and-true, mid-priced Italian dishes.
Even in the mercurial world of Hamptons restaurant real estate, it’s unusual to see three different eateries serving three different cuisines at the same location come and go over a four-year period. But that’s exactly what happened when Barona Bay opened in March.
After assuming ownership last May, Auer made minimal changes to Salvatore’s, essentially running it on autopilot while he and managing partner Dana McCall prepared for the opening of Barona Bay.
The new restaurant’s layout feels very similar to its predecessor. The reception area, the ample bar, most of the well-spaced tables and the dedicated takeout area are all in pretty much the same locations. But the 5,200-square-foot space, which can seat about 120 people inside and about another 100 outside on two separate patios, has gotten a makeover.
The lighting has been ratcheted down, the interior is darker and more muted and the wall art is more understated. McCall points out that the design changes were part of a purposeful effort to attract an older, more culinarily sophisticated clientele.
The Barona Bay name is a variation on “Barahona,” a province in the southwest of the Dominican Republic where Auer’s wife was born and where the couple own a second home.
“We wanted to pick a name that meant a lot to Romeo,” McCall says. “And we liked the variation we created when we took out the ‘H’ because it doesn’t pigeonhole us into any specific kind of cuisine.”
As Auer develops his first summer menu for the restaurant, he plans to draw on a wide range of cuisines and cooking styles — though visitors shouldn’t expect to see very many selections from his native Austria.
“I could make schnitzel or something like that,” he says. “But I don’t want to be put in a corner. I want to go all over the globe with my food.”
When asked to cite some of the food he most enjoys cooking and eating, Auer ticks off dishes and ingredients at random with the blissful abandon of a food lover and master chef: “a nice runny risotto with scallops and bacon … bouillabaisse … pork bellies on spicy coleslaw … halibut … bok choy … sea bass … porcini and chanterelle mushrooms … tuna tartare …”
The only certainty about Barona Bay’s summer menu — which is set to debut sometime in May — is that seafood will figure very prominently on it.
“We’re in Hampton Bays. The fishermen go out and bring in beautiful fish every day,” Auer says. “So our summer menu will be way more heavy on seafood than our spring menu.”
Barona Bay is one of several recent additions to the Hampton Bays dining scene to feature internationally trained chefs with impeccable credentials. Auer joins Ülfet Ralph at Good Ground Tavern, Alex Bujoreanu at R.AIRE and others who are helping to put the hamlet firmly on the East End epicurean map.
It’s much too early to know whether Auer’s new venture will have staying power in a space with something of a checkered history. But while its doors have been open for less than a month, it’s already clear that the newcomer’s menu will be a lot more daring than its predecessor.
“I want to surprise you as a guest,” Auer says.
Of course, not everyone in Hampton Bays is looking for their next big culinary adventure.
McCall tells the story of a woman who came in with her husband a few days after the restaurant had transitioned to its new Barona Bay spring menu. After spending a minute or two perusing the new offerings, the woman mumbled something to her server about an emergency at home, and the couple left without ordering.
On the way out, the woman’s husband apologetically pulled their would-be server aside and explained the real reason for the couple’s hasty exit: “All she wanted was eggplant parmesan,” he admitted.