Note: Dressler closed suddenly in June 2013 after a rent increase.
Frank Bruni raised eyebrows in June, when he awarded two stars to Dressler, a Williamsburg newcomer that—from the description—seemed to be simply a solid neighborhood restaurant. Whether it deserved those stars I’ll get to in a moment. But Bruni put Dressler on my radar screen (and apparently lots of other people’s), and last night I finally got to see for myself what the fuss was about.
When you think of restaurants in Williamsburg, Peter Luger springs to mind. But just a block away is Dressler, and better yet, it doesn’t take three months to get a prime-time reservation. Williamsburg is gentrifying by the minute, and Dressler’s arrival could very well signal that the neighborhood is primed to become a dining destination (for something other than porterhouse steak, that is). It’s just one subway stop into Brooklyn on the J train, and a four-block walk from the Marcy Avenue stop.
Williamsburg still has a ways to go, however. Other than Dressler and Peter Luger, virtually every other storefront on this section of Broadway was locked tight on Friday evening. Many buildings are still covered in grafitti. Walk just another block west of Dressler, and suddenly the neighborhood starts looking a little scary. (I’m not saying it is scary—only that it looks that way.) We might have said the same about TriBeCa 25 years ago, or what is now Lincoln Center 50 years ago.
Dressler is certainly packing them in, and not with a neighborhood crowd. The generally young clientele have heard the buzz, and are coming from all over town. The host told us as much, when he said, “All our reservations are running late, because a subway train got stuck.” Indeed, we were not seated until about 20 minutes after our reservation time. But we were immediately impressed by the friendliness of the staff. At many hot restaurants, the hosts act like they’re doing you a favor to even notice your existence. At Dressler, they apologized profusely, several times, for the delay.
The restaurant is in a deep, narrow storefront. It seats about 60. Black cast iron filligree on the chandeliers and wall decorations put an unusual slant on standard bistro décor. Those chandeliers were enough to captivate us all evening long. Brown paper takes the place of table cloths, in a space that is rather tightly packed. With plenty of exposed hard surfaces, the noise level is on the slightly uncomfortable side of loud.
Smoked sturgeon ($10) comes in a vertically-stacked dish that also includes a potato galette, frisee, arugula, crème fraiche, and truffle vinaigrette. I can well understand why Frank Bruni refused to share it with anyone else. My friend was pleased with a black mission fig and baby arugula salad ($9)
Seared Ahi Tuna ($24), a new dish on the menu (so the server informed me) also came in a vertical stack, with several kinds of vegetables. Duck ($26) came with both sliced breast and the braised thigh on a bed of risotto. Many restaurants charge as much, or more, for the breast alone. My friend gave it a strong thumbs-up.
Frank Bruni complained that a Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp ($8) with buttermilk ice cream was so goopy that it needed a straw. That problem (if it ever was one) has been corrected. It was warm and comforting, and we had no trouble eating it with our forks.
The wine list is short, but there are plenty of reasonably-priced bottles under $50. The bread service is unimpressive, with consisting of hard rolls that were probably baked the night before. The service was extremely solid, especially considering that our server appeared to have quite a few tables to cover.
Well, what about those two stars? Quite simply, Frank Bruni is crazy. On the New York Times rating system, one star means “good,” and that’s precisely what Dressler is. We had a great time at a very reasonable price by New York standards, and would happily come back. But when Dressler is lumped into the same category as Alto, The Modern, Café Gray and Eleven Madison Park, it makes Bruni into a laughing stock.
Dressler (149 Broadway between Driggs and Bedford Aves, Williamsburg)