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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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