By Nora Workman By Nora Workman | July 6, 2022 | Food & Drink Food & Drink Feature Food & Drink
The father-daughter duo Valerie and Robert Mnuchin
The Mnuchins make their debuts as restaurateurs on the always-charming Shelter Island.
Shelter Island, known and loved for its tranquil stretches of beach and sea, is soon to be home to your new favorite hidden gem: León. The brainchild of father-daughter duo Robert and Valerie Mnuchin, León will be the first independent restaurant venture for the pair, who share decades of combined experience in the art and real estate industries between them. The restaurant shares its name with Valerie’s globe-trotting paternal grandfather who immigrated stateside to New York City from Belgium early in the 20th century. The entire experience is evocative of what a typical European summer may have been for the original León—simple, good food enjoyed with a sea breeze in your hair.
Valerie Mnuchin attributes a lifetime spent in East Hampton with family to the restaurant’s heart and soul. “Léon is a love letter to Shelter Island,” says Mnuchin. “The restaurant represents our opening a new home to this wonderful community. Shelter Island reminds us of being in the Riviera, surrounded by water and memories to come. We are thrilled to offer fresh and local ingredients prepared with care in a lovely, unfussy environment.” No effort has been spared to ensure that the restaurant’s environment matches the quality of its food. Having grown up in the worlds of design, art, entertaining and hospitality, Mnuchin is no stranger to what it takes to make a restaurant tick (one of her earlier endeavors includes shadowing her parents’ major renovation of Connecticut’s famed Mayflower Inn & Spa).
While the restaurant’s inspiration comes from overseas, local influence can be tasted throughout the menu. The local offerings are a key ingredient for the Mnuchins’ winning formula—French-Italian dishes are prepared in the Provençal style with an emphasis on native ingredients, herbs and plenty of olive oil. The results are simultaneously rich with flavor and refreshing, a reflection of the quality of their sources. A menu must-have? The strozzapreti packed with basil, Pecorino Romano and fire-roasted tomatoes takes on the dish’s Apennine Peninsula roots with an East Coast twist. A wood-burning hearth sits in the restaurant’s center and serves as the grounding point for the menu, with the majority of dishes using the crackling heat to bring out hidden complexities in the ultra-pared-down ingredients. Try, for example, the striped bass accompanied by the vibrantly colorful spicy peperonata, a classic summertime plate on both sides of the Atlantic. Need more fuel after a day at the beaches and boutiques? The fresh notes of citrus, parsley and cilantro with the grilled ribeye chermoula paired with herbed, crispy potatoes are sure to tantilize your taste buds.
Come July, patrons will be able to enjoy the Mnuchins’ bright vision for themselves. Working hand in hand with architect Robert Kahn, the eatery comes to life with exposed wooden beams, old brick and white quartered oak tables in the main room. The completed restaurant will seat 70 guests between the indoors and outdoor patio, minutes away from Crescent Beach. If you want to enjoy the flavors and ambiance of a summer on the European coast sans jet lag, look no further than León. 29 West Neck Road, Shelter Island, leon1909.com
Photography by: PHOTO BY SIDENY BENSIMON