Hats Off To Panama Hatties
By Pete & M ike/
If you had just one chance to dine out in
a year, this would be the place to pick.
For over a decade, Panama Hatties has been cooking to critical
acclaim, consistently earning stars from reviewers, praise
from the food bloggers and astonishment from its diners. The
restaurant has earned the coveted “Exceptional”
proclamation from the New York Times’ Joanne Starkey,
and is consistently rated by Zagat’s among the Island’s
top 10 for food. Simply put, Panama Hatties is a diamond in
hef/owner Matthew Hisiger is a Dix Hills resident who bought
the restaurant in 2003 after working several years in the
kitchen. With a master’s degree in business and a passion
for cooking, Hisiger has put together a restaurant experience
that shines on all fronts.
From the moment Hisiger greets diners and escorts them into
the restaurant’s staid
interior, diners have his full attention until he says his
thank you as they leave the restaurant. The attitude extends
to the service staff, whose discreet attentions leave no one
But Panama Hatties is about the food, and it’s the creative
cookery, currently under Chef de Cuisine Daniel Chamagna –
who earns the restaurant raves.
The top dining experience would almost be a surprise were
it not for the reviewers. Located in a strip mall on Jericho
Turnpike, the restaurant’s exterior does little to convey
the dining experience that awaits within. But on the other
side of the glass paneled doors, that experience begins.
Sober tones of chocolate-bronze and deep green mark the comfortable
interior spaces, which give a regal air without being overly
luxuriant. The front dining room, where one is likely to be
seated at lunch, is light and airy while the main dining space
at the back has a more sober tone. Deeply cushioned banquettes
line the walls, and tables are draped with crisp white cloths
— a sign that some serious dining lays ahead.
With soft music on the sound system, we were given time to
settle in and look over a menu of starters. A plate of cheese
selections was tempting to these fans of all things “fromage,”
but we were readying for some serious sampling. A tradition
at Panama Hatties, an amuse bouche, which is literally French
for “mouth amuser,” comes compliments of the chef
and gives a preview of what lays ahead. It also takes the
edge off one’s appetite while looking over the menu.
On our recent visit, the chef’s choice was a lively
tasting tidbit of marinated salmon and kimchi slaw on a puff
pastry. Just a couple of bites, it was a perfect mood setter.
As it was, our tastes ran toward the seafood. From the first
course menu, we made what for us were somewhat predictable
selections. Diver scallops rate high on the Foodies’
favorites list, and ahi tuna selections also tend to grab
our attention. In this case, the scallops ($15) – perfectly
pan seared to preserve the buttery tenderness of the meaty
scallop – were combined with another favorite, apple
wood smoked bacon.
Brussel sprouts, tomato and shellfish broth lent an autumnal
flavor to the dish, and was so delish we turned to the fluffy
rolls to sop up every drop of flavor from our plates.
Rare Seared Big Eye Tuna ($16) was a light and fruity treatment
of tuna tartar combining mango panna cotta, oriental lychee,
and plum sauce that sets a tingle to the tongue. Appetizer
portions were large enough to share, which we did.
Also from the first course menu, Mesclun Greens Salad ($12)
with goat cheese croquette and a passion fruit vinaigrette
offers a lighter start to a meal, and we were very tempted
by the Jumbo Crab Napolean ($15) promising an intriguing combination
of coconut orange aioli and Russian beet. For the truly serious,
Seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras ($22) promises a rare combination
of exotic fruits.
Meatier selections beckoned from the second course menu, which
included duck, steak and seafood selections. One of the chef’s
specials – slices of tender rare venison-was a symphony
of color as well as flavor. A pretty orange squash peeking
through a quince slice and a cool bed of cucumbery green was
as pretty to look at as it was flavorful.
The more traditional Blue Cheese Crusted Filet Mignon ($38)
is a satisfying choice for the meat and potatoes crowd that
still brings a level of sophistication with a red onion confit
and cabernet jus complementing a fork tender filet. As with
all of the dishes, the serving size was just right, particularly
for a heavier meat course.
Other menu temptations… the Long Island Duck Breast
($31) with fried rice, toasted cashews and baby spinach promise
depth of flavor, plus the treat of a crispy duck leg.
Grilled Prawns ($35), Veal Porterhouse ($37) and Pan Seared
Swordfish ($34) all sound like winners.
Rich coffee and a three dessert sampler topped off the meal.
On a single long plate were the warm apple tart ($10) served
with vanilla ice cream and raspberry sauce; a sophisticated
mocha cheesecake, with flavors of almond, and blueberry and
brandy whipped cream; and a moist Carrot Cake ($10) served
with chocolate sauce and topped by a spectacular triangle
of white chocolate.
From kitchen to table, the well-paced parade of flavors was
skillfully served by wait staff as professional as they come.
Our waiter Philip was attentive without being intrusive —
silverware was changed between every course, water glasses
kept filled, and questions were answered on the spot. Philip
was well informed about the dishes and in fact is studying
to be a chef.
Hisiger inherited a fabled history when he bought Panama Hatties.
The training ground of many of the Island’s top chefs,
the restaurant enjoys a well-deserved reputation. For his
part, Hisiger – who still tries to spend at least 10
hours a week in the kitchen – is trying to make the
Panama Hattie’s experience more accessible. A $21 three
course lunch (weekdays) joins a popular $65 prix fixe menu
offered Friday and Saturday nights. In addition to a la carte
service, the “full house” experience — a
five course tasting menu for $85 – can be upped with
wine pairings for $105 per person.
An impressive and extensive selection of wines by the bottle
includes some 20 wines available by the glass.
Memories of our meal linger, and completing the experience,
a follow up phone call from the restaurant asked if everything
We told her it was… extraordinary.