I’ve had my eye on John Fraser and his Upper West Side restaurant, Dovetail, for some time. In the past few years I’ve had a few brunches and a good number of libations there, but never a proper meal. The Bro was visiting me in NYC for a week and we found ourselves without plans on a Tuesday night. We had just returned from a run through Central Park and decided finding food was the next step. The Bro said he wanted to take me to a nice dinner somewhere we had never been. I started coming up with options. Though we had both been to Dovetail, neither of us had been for dinner, so we decided it made the prospect list, and ended up being the first and only restaurant I called. The lady I spoke to one the phone said if we could hurry and get there in 15-30 minutes, she could seat us. Since I live just a mile and a half straight uptown, we accepted the challenge. Within 20 minutes, The Bro and I cleaned up, dressed up, and arrived at Dovetail’s front door.
We sat and browsed the menu. The Bro shares my preference for vegetables over proteins, so we opted for the vegetable tasting. I indulged my usual habit of supplementing extra courses. To drink, we got a modest bottle of The Bro’s favorite grape: 2009 Riesling Kabinett from Wehlener Sonnenuhr in Mosel by S. A. Prum. A little bit of floral and citrus, with racy stone fruit and mineral body, and slight spice on the finish. A fresh, high-acid compliment to our dinner.
Bread service included truffled arancini, white cheddar cheese cornbread, and whole grain crackers. The arancini had a good crispness outside and a generous truffle essence. I typically don’t like cornbread unless it’s accompanied by chili due to the usual dryness. This though, was great. Moderate sweetness, not dry, mild cheese flavor, and good snap of cornmeal. The crackers, whole wheat and flax-seed, had light herbaceousness from rosemary.
Amuse 1: Sugar Snap Peas, Breakfast Radish, Grapefruit Gelee. I like the strong bitter and tart flavor, but a few bites were too sweet.
Amuse 2: Tofu, Green Grape, Cured Green Almond, Green Tomato Gazpacho. This was perfect. Light, fresh acid. Delicate, subtle, pure. I would love to have a full-size dish of this.
Amuse 3: Rye Bread Pudding, Sunny Side Up Quail Egg, Gruyère Bechamel. The bitter chicories and the acid of their dressing made a distracting imbalance, but broke up the richness of the other elements.
1st Course(supplement): Avocado Salad, Wild Watercress, Fava Beans, Ramps. Ideally ripe avocado, rich and smooth. Crisp crunch of fresh radish. Small bites of ramps. This dish was perfectly calibrated and a great opener.
2nd Course: Turnip Ceviche, Quinoa, Habañero, Snap Peas. The turnips were wonderful, poached in butter, salt, and sugar. The habanero, pureed with apricot, was a little too spicy for me, but in small amounts really livened the dish. The honey-cumin-lime dressing added a playful dimension to the creative dish.
3rd Course: Chilled Vegetable Consommé, summer bouquet, vanilla, mint. This consommé had a flavor that felt like it wanted to punch me in the mouth, but showed just enough restraint to stop short of it; very well done. I feel like if I could have a bowl of this every day as a ‘pre-workout power juice’, I would be much more productive in the gym. Of course, the peas had me at hello. One element(I think celery root) was beautifully cooked to meaty texture that almost could have passed for a dense fish or crab leg. Big winner.
4th Course(an extra from the kitchen): Compressed Tomato, Yellow Tomato Coulis, Romaine Punch, Crouton, Olive, Caper. My first great tomato experience of the season. The small pieces of olives and capers gave just a little character and influence for minor variations on tomato-focused bites.
5th Course(supplement): Asparagus, Morel Mushrooms, Leek Frittata. Listed on the Chef’s Tasting was a chicken dish served with asparagus and morels. I told our captain that if the kitchen would be willing to make a dish featuring the classic pair, we would love to work it into our veggie tasting. So out it came. The asparagus, not at all fibrous, still had a clean, crisp snap. The morels, deliciously earthy and seasoned spot-on. Rounded out with a fluffy leek frittata and a bright, rich puree. This was everything I had hoped it would be.
As we were moving into heavier flavors, I wanted a light-body, high-acid, earthy red to pair. I was offered 2009 David Moreau Clos Rousseau Santenay, which sounded better than the other options I saw by the glass. I was very happy with this. Red berries, with good earth and iron, and much more full and powerful than I typically find Santenay to be.
6th Course: Barley Risotto, English Peas, Summer Truffle. The grains were cooked well. The summer truffles were a welcome site, though I never get too crazy over them. Of course I adored the peas tossed in. I love leaves, but for me, they didn’t have a place here; dry and vegetal, they were distracting and didn’t add to the dish. There was preserved lemon which did well to brighten the rich butter and mascarpone binding, but left some bites very tangy.
7th Course(an extra from the kitchen): Cured Heirloom Carrots, Haricot Vert, Gigante Beans, Celery, Oloroso Sherry Sauce. This was fantastic. The sweetness of the carrot, the tang of the celery, the starch of the beans. The different pieces, all individually exquisite, were coherently tied together by the semi-sweet, nutty, deep complexity of the Oloroso sauce. A true delight to eat.
8th Course: Charred Cauliflower, Peonies, Chai Curry Spice. The cauliflower itself was executed superbly. Tender, and amazingly seasoned. The leaves and slices of raw cauliflower were great companions. The two sauces: a sort of rhubarb aioli, and a peonies gel, were far too sweet. So I enjoyed the vegetables and left the sauce on the plate.
9th Course: Roasted Eggplant, Porcini Mushrooms, Balsamic. There was a lot going on here. Eggplant, pine nuts, onion, eggplant puree, porcini, stracciatella cheese, creme fraiche, balsamic, and some type of (herb?) oil. The cheese was good. The puree was great. The porcini was
fairly bland. The eggplant, the feature, was watery. I tried different approaches to building bites, but every try came down to the (lack of) flavor of the eggplant. This was sad, because the other components on the plate scraped together were delicious, but overall the dish fell short.
10th Course: Artichokes in Barigoule, peppers, spinach, sesame. A very refined take on the traditional Provencal Barigoule. I’m always back-and-forth with artichokes and my liking for them. Here, I appreciated the
balance contrast of the light caramelization with the remaining natural astringency. The spinach was great, balled tightly with sesame seeds and oil. The alliums and legumes were tasty. If I hadn’t been told what the punches of pickled red pepper were, I likely wouldn’t have figured it out. Full-flavored and overall balanced, this was a beautiful dish.
Pre-Pre-Dessert: Cucumber Sorbet, Berry. A small, fresh, tart bite to transition.
Pre-Dessert: Bay Leaf Panna Cotta, Apricot Puree, Candied Almonds. Nutty, Herbaceous, Fruity. A small, complete dessert in itself, this got me excited for what Pastry Chef Michal Shelkowitz had coming next.
11th Course: Frozen Raspberry Parfait, Creme Fraiche, Mint, Sweet Pea Sorbet. This was a winner from the start due to the sweet peas involved. Aside from that, the paradox of the richness and lightness of the parfait, countered by the tart berry was sublime. Had we not been the last table in the restaurant already, I would have followed up with a dessert flight to see what else Shelkowitz was working with.
By the time we were on to the sweeter part of the meal, The Bro had finished the rest of the Riesling and was itching for another glass. Something sweet. After looking through the dessert wine list, we were down to two choices. Though based on the success on the Santenay selection earlier, I thought it best to ask the team what they would pair with our dessert. Since their choice matched up with one of ours, so it was. We were poured two glasses of 2003 Kiralyudvar Tokaji. Rich depth, tropical fruit, ripe citrus, honey, and good acid for a sophisticated balance. A great pair for the fruit-based sweet dishes.
Petit Fours: Salted Brownie, Peanut Butter and Jelly Macaron, Milk Chocolate Bacon. The bacon chocolates tasted remarkably more like pork than chocolate. The macaron meringues had a great texture. As for the brownies, I’m betting I could down a pan of them without regrets.
As our meal closed, we were offered a tour of the kitchen, which we accepted. When the bill arrived, we found we hadn’t been charged for any menu supplements or BTG wines, an unexpected generosity we hope we compensated for on the tip line.
Knowing that Fraser and his team at Dovetail have the vegetable spectrum down solidly makes me want to get back soon for the chef’s tasting to see if the animal protein side of things are delivered as diversely and elegantly. Being that the restaurant is so close to my home now(I signed my UWS lease two months ago), I anticipate my return will happen sooner than later.
Date of visit: July 3, 2012
Drinks while typing: 2005 Heredos del Marques de Riscal Rioja Reserva; 2007 Domaine Cauhapé Jurancon Ballet d’Octobre
Dovetail. 103 West 77th Street. NYC. 212.362.3800 http://dovetailnyc.com/