Last Monday night, a friend and I tried our luck at The Dutch without a reservation and with our expectations in check. Since it opened earlier this year, The Dutch has garnered more hype and slaps on the back than a quarterback for schtupping the head cheerleader after scoring the winning touchdown.
I am decidedly reticent about adding my back slap to a place that has so much buzz. In part, I’ll admit, it’s me being a contrarian, but there is something vulgar about the idol worship (and PR campaigns) associated with hot spots such as this. Even the words used to describe these epicenters of hipdom taste a bit artificial: buzz, hype, It—synthetic and slightly icky, like Cool Whip or maraschino cherries.
Icky, yes, but also apt. These are not terms used to reference sonnets or concertos; they characterize the Pop! in pop culture, and do their job quite effectively.
Walking into The Dutch, I was greeted by a poster for an Ed Ruscha show at the Robert Miller Gallery, (How New York can you get?!) one of many old-ish art posters that punctuate the glossy walls. The Dutch, which was kitted out by Roman and Williams, immediately made Balthazar—where I had just killed an hour and a martini at the bar—seem decrepit and tired. I usually hate formulaic iterations but The Dutch’s fresh paint and decidedly American luster were surprisingly seductive after the faux Français patina of McNally’s brasserie institution.
What fun to be in a restaurant where a meal is a party again…I had forgotten. Not since the end of the last century—when McNally’s reign was at full tilt —was there a new restaurant with such a distinctly New York-y hum in a room. Restaurants owned by Graydon Carter have that buzz, but unlike the Vanity Fair editor’s practically private establishments, there is a slightly more egalitarian ambiance to the rooms of The Dutch, as if you could just walk in off the street and eat dinner, which is what I did.
The attractive watchdog at the host stand told us the wait would be 30 to 35 minutes and we ensconced ourselves at the bar. Thirty-seven minutes later I marched over to “check in” with the watchdog (really more of a poodle) and she said ours’ was the next table. In two shakes of a lamb’s tail we were sitting at our table, where an adorably charming server took over: knowledgeable and humorous. “Pretend the shrimp don’t exist,” he told us at the beginning of his speech on specials, and thanks in part to our martinis, we were more than capable of doing just that as we perused the menu.
We started with oysters—St. Simon and Kumamotos—heavenly little bivalves that were small and succulent dressed with just a squeeze of a demi lemon adorned in a cheesecloth petticoat. Only God can be thanked for oysters such as these, but I’ll give credit to Andrew Carmellini for making them appear in front of my hungry face, fresh and beautifully shucked.
Did I mention, I was in a foul mood when I arrived?—a sure sign that I would find fault with every element of service and fare, but even though I looked for them, I couldn’t find many (if any) faults to fret over. Perhaps it took a few minutes too long for our (delicious homemade) cornbread to arrive at the table. And sure the manager elbowed me in the forehead (actually this was mostly my fault and obviously unintentional on behalf of both parties), but the seamlessly poured gratis glass of wine was balm enough for my hardly hurt noggin.
I loved the salad of beets, smoked egg, apple and horseradish. The cool beets had the murky pinkness of tuna sashimi, and the eggs’ smokiness was pleasantly pervasive, imbuing the beets and apples with the flavor of smoldering embers. The round patty of steak tartare with a quail’s egg atop was served on a board with several romaine leaves drenched in a fresh, pungent Caesar dressing with toast. It was a thoughtful combination that reeked of American 1950s glamour, and it was delicious.
Mrs. Mia Wallace’s words echoed in my ears as I returned from the powder room to find our table reset with our entrées. The rabbit potpie steamed conspicuously in its rather intimidatingly deep dish, but upon poking we were relieved to find the pastry deflated easily and left us a manageable amount of brothy pie beneath the hot fragrant air.
The halibut entrée was sublime: creamy thanks to the yuzu butter, each bite of smooth fish punctuated by the playful texture of tobiko (flying fish roe), and any sweetness cut with the watery freshness of simmered radishes. It would be hard for me to go back and not get this dish again, though I know there are other things I ought to try.
Like getting set up on blind date with a guy who is not my type, I was sure I wouldn’t fall for The Dutch, with its playlists of Kanye and Pharrell* and shiny everything, but despite our differences it’s clear we have a love of good food and fun in common, and when it comes to dating, who could ask for more than that?
131 Sullivan Street, at Prince
New York, NY 10012-3043
* If you call The Dutch to try to get a reservation, Pharrell’s Frontin‘ plays while you are on hold. Need I say more?
To leave a comment, please click here, and scroll down to where it says “Leave a Reply.”