After reading Sam Sifton’s bubbling review of The Dutch in the NYT, I knew that this would be a great restaurant to spice up my rather uninteresting summer. Waiting tables and working retail in my hometown is all well and good, but after a couple months of the same old thing I craved some adventure in the city, and Andrew Carmellini’s popular new restaurant promised to satisfy that desire. Unfortunately, due to the low light in the restaurant, the photos I took did not come out very well and will therefore not be used.
A week before I planned to come down, I made a reservation for me and three friends in the only slot they had available on a Thursday night: 10:30. Seeing as my companions are all working their way into a more legitimate professional world than me (that is, they all work 9-5, M-F, or some variation on that theme), I was concerned that the time would be a problem; however, each one of them assured me that such was not the case.
I arrived in the city that night at about 7:00, well before our scheduled meeting time. Although my friend Michael was still at work, Liza and Lillian were more than willing to meet up a little earlier to catch up over some cocktails. We made it to the restaurant’s beautiful (and surprisingly spacious) location on Prince and Sullivan Streets with an hour to spare to find it bustling with the city’s young elite, a characteristic that Mr. Sifton went to great lengths to illustrate in his review. Packs of young lawyers, bankers, and possibly models crowded the bar, huddled over oysters, beers and cocktails. Somehow, we found three chairs next to each other and hurried to take them before someone else did.
The frenzied scene was interesting and fun, and was a nice change of pace from the peaceful experience I had with my father and brother at Joe Beef in Montreal the night before. Despite the busy atmosphere, the bartenders were able to serve us relatively quickly – Lillian ordered a German hefeweizen and Liza got a colorful variation on a Manhattan, while I stuck to my preference for rum with a citrus and mint number off their surprisingly limited cocktail menu. The drinks were good and the bartenders professional, so we decided to get a head start on dinner with some oysters.
We ordered Malpeques from Prince Edward Island, mostly so I could compare The Dutch’s sourcing to Dave McMillan’s. Although they were rich and refreshing, they did not compare to the Malpeques I had consumed the night before in either size or quality. I was slightly disappointed, but more so in the time it took for them to arrive than in the quality of the mollusks; after all, it is unreasonable for me to expect a restaurant as busy as The Dutch to serve the best of the best to all of its customers. Since we ordered so late it’s likely that they had already picked out the cream of that night’s crop.
In no time at all, our table was ready. Michael had arrived shortly before, in time to order the same Manhattan that Liza had before. I brought over my second drink, the Sullivan Street Slammer, a refreshing gin drink with the usual accoutrements. Although it wasn’t terribly unique, it was tasty and well made. I had requested a table in the back room to foil the noise and bustle we experienced in the front. Finally at our table, we perused the surprisingly sparse menus. Let me explain: Sifton’s review gave me the impression that Carmellini’s fare would be interesting new takes on old American classics, executed to perfection. At the end of the review he listed some dishes that he highly recommended, and some that might not have been so sublime. Seeing as the review was perhaps only a month old, I was expecting to enjoy some of Sifton’s favorites. Instead, I was shocked to discover that only two dishes featured in his review were still on the menu, and the rest of the menu was borderline boring!
Sure, it featured steak, lamb, and the usual fowl prepared in various ways, but I saw very little of the creative energy that I craved upon reading the review. Granted, the appetizers were different enough that I could catch a glimpse into Carmellini’s culinary inspiration – Michael and I each ordered one, although I was the only one in the party to order both an appetizer and a “second.” I started with the ruby red shrimp over fried green tomatoes in pepper sauce that Sifton raved about. Although I might not have ordered that in ordinary circumstances, I felt some sort of cross-referencing between the expectations generated by Sifton’s writing and my own experience would be necessary. While the course was good – the sweet shrimp and tart tomatoes complemented each other nicely – the pepper sauce lacked the kick that would have made it memorable. On the other hand, Michael’s crab in Bloody Mary sauce was phenomenal. The crab was succulent atop its bloody bed, and the whole dish was fun enough that it was impossible not to enjoy it. It was a shame that I only got to have a bite, but such is life.
Overall, the entrees were good, but they did not stand out against many others that could be had in New York for the same price. I chose a pecan-encrusted duck breast over wild rice and cherry sauce, a winning combination that seldom fails to please. On top of the duck was a bit of pickled celery which agreed with the rest of the dish, but there was not enough of it to last through the whole thing. This dish also had its faults, most notably that the duck was almost grey in the center. The fat on the side was seared, but almost nonexistent, leading me to believe that somebody in the kitchen forgot about it on the stovetop. While the rice, sauce and garnish did their best to save the plate, the duck breast was chewy enough that I can’t say I was thrilled when I finished it.
My friends also went with bird, Lillian with a plate of chicken breast and Liza with a quail. Both were tasty, but neither plate seemed to have a wow factor. The wine we ordered went well with everyone’s dishes, which suggests that they do have a strong program as Sifton reported. However, it was not terribly memorable and our waitress wasn’t a great help in selecting it.
Had I gone to The Dutch without these oversized expectations, I think that I would have enjoyed the meal far more than I did. Then again, I likely would not have been so keen on going there had I not expected the meal to be worth a three hour trip down and back. My friends and I had a great time that night, but it seems to me that The Dutch is not quite so impeccable as Sam Sifton would have you think. If you do go, be sure to scale back whatever you might think about it, lest you face the same disappointment that I did.