The Living Room Elicits Swede Sensations
by gary walther
C/o The Maidstone, a 19-room inn dating back to the 1800s, has the patois of patrician understatement down pat: a brick walk lined with an honor guard of box hedge, a shingled white façade, windows flanked by forest green shutters and underscored by planters toppling with begonias.
But sitting in The Living Room, as c/o The Maidstone’s restaurant is called, I’m thinking, captivating, but it’s nothing like it seems. The walls are covered in a densely patterned floral print of sharply serrated tendrils and blossoms, in black no less, on a sand brown background—a German Expressionist woodblock print writ large. The chair fabric is a rhapsody of bright yet meditative colors, and overlooking my table is a black-and-white portrait of three grand marshals of the 1980s goodtimes parade, Steve Rubell, Andy Warhol, and André Leon Talley. (Bob Colacello, the Boswell of the 1970s and ’80s art and nightlife worlds, took the picture at Bianca Jagger’s 1981 birthday party at Mortimer’s.) There’s just a hint of tradition in the sconces and the tall brass Skultana candlesticks on the tables, but the overall feeling here—and throughout the hotel—is one of convention flouted, both rigorously and roguishly.
That reflects the personality of the owner, Jenny Ljundberg, the Swedish heiress to a construction company fortune and a Columbia Business School graduate. She purchased the property four years ago. It is the first US domino in her c/o hotels, which stands for “care of” and reflects Ljundberg’s conviction that caring for guests is the hotel’s number one responsibility. (The group’s five other hotels are in Sweden.)
Ljundberg closed the hotel for four months, hired Nadia Tolstoy—yes, the great granddaughter of the Tolstoy—to redo the interior décor, and took out as many walls as she could, literally and metaphorically, in an effort to extricate the property from what she saw as stifling Hamptons conservatism. “What struck me in the Hamptons was how little stood out,” she says. “I was really surprised, given all the money and sophistication.”
Ljundberg has an Eagle Scout earnestness about c/o The Maidstone: It’s not a hotel; it’s a demonstration project, a smorgasbord of exemplary behavior that reflects how “I live my own life,” beginning with environmental stewardship. Ljundberg replaced bottled water with Natura Water, which is filtered on site and served in reusable glass bottles. She donates five percent of the revenue to Group for the East End, which is dedicated to preserving the environment of Eastern Long Island. The restaurant is a member of Slow Food, 30 percent of the wine list is local, and the bread, ice cream, and sausage are all house-made.
One third of the menu is Scandinavian, among the standout appetizers is the Toast Skagen, a toasted brioche piled with baby shrimp, crème fraîche, dill (natch), Swedish löjrom caviar when available (American caviar when it’s not), and the house-made gravlax in a creamy cilantro sauce. Just as good (but not Scandinavian) is the sautéed seasonal forest mushrooms tanged with brandy. On the entrée side, go native by ordering the Köttbullar, Swedish lamb meatballs. The flavors in the roasted heritage chicken with parsnip puree are as surely balanced as a tightrope walker, whereas the Long Island duck breast glazed in lingonberries and served with stoemph (pureed mashed potatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes, and parsnips) is more a middle linebacker of tastes.
The wine list is impressive for a small hotel, especially in white Burgundy and red Bordeaux and is broad enough to encompass the range of dishes. I’d order the 2010 Beckmen Pinot Blanc (or, for a splurge, the Du Mol Chardonnay) with the Toast Skagen and the 2005 Domaine Duclaux Châteauneuf-du-Pape with the duck.
Ljundberg says the dining room is “very subdued, which the celebrities like.” Local scuttlebutt includes Paul McCartney having his birthday party at The Living Room this year; Jerry Seinfeld coming for Sunday breakfast regularly in off-season; and Billy Joel preferring the oval table just outside the bar area. Also spotted: Chelsea Clinton, Betsey Johnson, Alec Baldwin, Alexander Skarsgård, Tony Bennett, and the “Sex and the City crowd minus SJP,” says Ljundberg. 207 Main St., East Hampton, 324-5006
photography by eric striffler (c/o Maidstone); jason kempin/getty images (baldwin); sylvain Gaboury/Patrickmcmullan.com (clinton)