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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Down at the Dutch

I’d been looking forward to dining at The Dutch for almost exactly a year. It was almost impossible to read Sam Sifton’s glowing NYT review and not want to immediately get on the subway, or a plane for that matter, and head to SoHo’s newest hotspot. The amazing Blaine Wetzel told me his dinner at The Dutch the best meal he had when he was in the city for a 48-hour chef-fest last fall, beating out his experience at a not-to-be-named Michelin three-star.

When my wife, two friends and I visited The Dutch a few weeks ago, however, I wondered if too much of chef Carmellini’s energy had been siphoned off into The Dutch in Miami, which opened last fall. So many great chefs are tempted to replicate a good thing with other restaurants or even a product line – Wolfgang Puck Vanilla Fusion Coffee, anyone? – but it’s an art form that needs to be backed with a lot of good business sense and an unflappable team.

Stacked atop The Dutch in Miami (Dutch Deux?!?!), Tribeca’s acclaimed Locanda Verde and a sausage joint in Madison Square Garden, The Dutch in New York seems to be teetering.

To set things straight from the get-go, ours was a solid dinner. “Little oyster sandwiches” lifted the whole fried oyster genre, allowing their full briny goodness to shine through in two perfect bites. Korean-style hanger steak had a sensual, sushi-like quality to it. The waiter referred to the dish I’d get – black fettuccine, octopus, rock shrimp and Calabrian chili – as “seafood everything” and, sure enough, the tentacles of perfectly-cooked squid mingled in with the dark noodles as if they’d tangled together on the tide.

But there was a lot about our meal that went pear-shaped.

When my wife asked the not-too-busy bartender if she’d let the hostess know that the other two members of our party arrived, the response was full of New York snarkiness:

“I can do that as soon as I’m finished making drinks,” she said, implying that they’d be the drinks at the end of her shift, so I did it myself.

A steamed halibut, crispy rice and mushroom-yuzu broth dish – a variation one of the signature dishes here –  was solid, but gave no indication why it had become a favorite.

Dario, our Italian friend, went big and ordered $52 bone-in New York Strip, aged for 28 days, but he waved his arms about in trademark Italian style, trying to come up with a way to describe his disappointment.

His steak, which had come all the way from Nebraska, could have done with a few more days in the cooler. There was an odd, cake-like texture – not unpleasant, but not what I want from a steak – and that ambrosial combination of concentrated flavors, tender texture and lovely nuttiness that aging a steak imparts were absent. It was solid, but not the steak-house quality that its price tag implied.

The Dutch is a beautiful spot, we had a great waiter, a fantastic sommelier and a couple of lovely desserts to boot. The space is an assembly of great moods depending on where you sit, and it’s the spot rumored to be heir to Balthazar’s throne – a place to see and be seen while soaking up all of the components of a great meal. That’s the kind of restaurant I wanted to eat in and the one I’m still sincerely hoping to visit.

The Dutch
131 Sullivan Street, Manhattan
+1 (212) 677-6200

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Friday, January 07, 2011


I’ve seen the future on a little island in the Pacific Northwest. A few weeks ago, I got a taste of Blaine Wetzel’s cuisine in his new role as executive chef at the Willows Inn.

Who’s Wetzel? You’ll likely be hearing quite a bit about him, particularly if you’re from that neck of the woods. Wetzel, 24, is fresh off a stint at Copenhagen’s noma restaurant, working as the chef de partie for Rene Redzepi. He was there when noma officially went through the roof, knocking El Bulli out of the top slot in San Pellegrino’s Best Restaurant in The World hooplah.

Did they win because he was there? No. Was he taking good notes? You bet.

I was at the Willows to interview Wetzel for a set of upcoming articles and a sneak preview of what to expect when the Willows reopens next month.

A seven-course tasting menu was about six courses more than I needed to know that it was worth the trip. He might be a two-hour drive and five minute ferry ride from both Seattle and Vancouver, but you might want to reserve now.

What’d he serve? Barely poached end gently pickled Hammersley Inlet oysters were one of many surprise ‘snacks,’ but my favorite dish might have been the wild mushrooms, fresh cheese and woodruff. For the latter, he forages some of the mushrooms and woodruff and makes the cheese - rennet’s in a little bottle on a shelf in the fridge. He devotes a whole course to the potatoes inn owner Riley Starks grows at the adjacent Nettles Farm that supplies much of the kitchen’s produce.

Need any more reason to go? A four-course tasting menu will start at $40 and a seven course for $65.

The inn and restaurant are closed for a January remodel. Taste of the future begins in February. Go early.

The Willows Inn - MAP
2579 West Shore Drive

Lummi Island, WA 98262


For a bit of background on Wetzel’s arrival, click here.
...and for my Boston Globe story on Willows Inn owner Riley Starks, click here.

Follow me on Twitter: @joe_diner and on Facebook.

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Thursday, August 12, 2010


I visited the Willows Inn on Washington state’s little-known Lummi Island for an upcoming Boston Globe story a few weeks back - the restaurant is locavore heaven. Proprietor Riley Starks and his partner Joan Olsen catch the salmon in reef nets, grow much of their own produce and raise amazing mangalitsa pigs at their Nettles Farm just up the road, buy incredible spot prawns caught in the water in front of the inn and wonderful lamb raised a few miles down the road. On some nights, even neighboring Bellingham’s Boundary Bay Brewery’s beautiful Reefnetter Pale Ale is on tap. The whole thing is done so well, they pull off the local thing without the twee thing that often goes with it.

It’s about to get even more interesting. Starting August 23, Blaine Wetzel, a Washington native fresh from a stint in the kitchen at Copenhagen’s noma - the number one restaurant in the world (if you buy that sort of thing) - will be taking over as executive chef at the inn’s restaurant. Very curious to see what happens. noma’s chef Rene Redzepi is a big proponent of the New Nordic movement - a group of chefs working to go local even at those higher latitudes, a philosophy that should dovetail very nicely with what Starks and Olsen have done.

The inn is a two-hour drive and five minute ferry ride from Seattle and I’d bet it’s worth a trip to see what’s cooking ... I’m planning on a visit.

The Willows Inn - MAP
2579 West shore Dr
Lummi Island, WA 98262

Follow me on Twitter: @joe_diner and on Facebook.

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