Il Buco, the famed downtown Manhattan Italian restaurant, is having a pretty notable summer, pandemic be damned. Not only is it the subject of an upcoming cookbook, Il Buco: Stories and Recipes, with a forward by farm to table pioneer Alice Waters and a blurb from open fire cooking trailblazer Francis Malliman, the NoHo favorite recently launched a beachy pop-up eatery in the Hamptons. But instead of serving the hearty pastas and steaks found at its rustic flagship, the Il Buco satellite's rotating menu focuses more on lighter, ocean-inspired fare like smoked and seared yellowfin tuna tacos, grilled head-on shrimp with tahini, yellow cucumber and golden tomato, and a daily selection of fresh market vegetables, grains and legumes.
The Il Buco off-shoot sprouted amid the grassy dunes at Marram Hotel in Montauk, a 96-room oceanfront retreat distinguished by a laid-back luxury vibe and lush thickets of local dune grass and switchgrass. The Marram, which opened last summer, is named after the dense, spiky tufts of dune-stabilizing grass found in neighboring Shadmoor State Park. Montauk, located about a three hour drive from New York City, has long been an East End favorite for surfers, artists and other travelers looking to escape to the town's pristine beaches and dramatic oceanside cliffs, and the Marram is likewise designed to be a respite from city life.
The exterior is clad in hand-trimmed cedar that weathers over time, with mahogany hand rails and white oak ceilings in the surf cottage-style rooms. All have naturally-cooling cement floors, sustainably-sourced rugs, and glass-enclosed private patios. But there are no TVs on the property, which is part of the hotel's purposefully disconnected "barefoot luxury" ethos.
"We believe that by not putting TVs in the rooms we're actually giving people the freedom to have a screen-free experience," explained Marram general manager Teach Mayer. "We want to be an oasis where people can focus on life's simple pleasures, where they can unplug and reconnect."
Hotel activities have included sunrise yoga, surfing lessons and woodworking classes where guests learn to carve a surfboard or skateboard with the help of experts from Grain Surfboards in nearby Amagansett. However, all hands-on lessons have been paused in the name of social distancing, and face coverings are required on hotel walkways and in the lobby.
Guests come here primarily to relax at the Marram's private beach and pool. Some unwind in the evening at fire pits near an open air beach bar—though the hotel goes quiet by 10 p.m.—while others borrow cruiser bikes to peddle five minutes into town for seafood restaurants and outdoor bars, surf stores and fishing shops. (Peter Benchley wrote his 1974 novel, Jaws, after reading about a 4,500-pound Great White caught by Montauk shark hunter Frank Mundus.)
As for how a downtown Manhattan institution like Il Buco ended up in this far-flung beach town? Blame it on Coronavirus. Fernando Trocca and Martin Pittaluga, the culinary partners behind the hotel's regular outdoor cafe, Mostrador, are stuck in South America due to pandemic travel restrictions and couldn't come to Montauk this summer. The stranded chefs suggested that their friends at Il Buco— owner Donna Lennard and chef Justin Smillie—could make arrangements to fill in for them, and the Il Buco Montauk pop-up was born.
"Donna is very close with Fernando, and it was just the perfect fit," said Atit Jariwala, owner of the Marram Hotel and CEO of Bridgeton Hospitality. "Il Buco is one of New York’s best restaurants due to its focus on amazing food and an upscale vibe. This fits perfectly with our brand."