John Fraser must be floating on air. Dovetail, his new restaurant, scored a rare “triple triple”: three-star reviews from Adam Platt, Restaurant Girl, and most importantly, Frank Bruni. Just before the Bruni review came out, I snagged a Friday night reservation for a few weeks away, figuring that it was about to become nearly impossible to get into this place.
I was a big fan of Fraser’s work at Compass (so was Bruni). If ever a chef deserved his own place, it was Fraser. And he was gutsy enough to put it on the Upper West Side, a neighborhood where upscale restaurants haven’t traditionally thrived. Compass, at least, is close enough to Lincoln Center to attract a pre-show crowd; Dovetail most likely will not.
Location doesn’t matter now: with nine stars to its credit, and counting, Dovetail is a certified destination. Even on the Upper West Side.
The Richard Bloch design suggests some nervousness about the restaurant’s mission. In the entrance lobby, a floor-to-ceiling glass-enclosed “wine wall” and a large host stand make Dovetail look upscale and stylish.
The main dining room looks much humbler, with bare wood tables and exposed brick that would be more suitable for a neighborhood place. (An overflow dining room downstairs looks even more spartan.) Wisely, he added carpeting and padded walls to absorb the sound, but it isn’t quite good enough. With tables that are awfully close together, you don’t get much privacy.
Servers in conservative ties and crisply pressed white coats look and act like they parachuted in from a much fancier place. I was pleased that they seated me before my girlfriend arrived, and that they let us linger over cocktails without pressing us to get on with it. But after we ordered, the amuse-bouche, appetizer, and entrée all came out at speed.
By contemporary standards, Dovetail is a mid-priced restaurant, with appetizers $11–18, entrées $24–34. A five-course tasting menu is only $65, and on Sundays there’s a three-course prix fixe at just $38. And it is virtually all excellent. As my girlfriend put it, “This is what Adour should have been.”
A sommelier noticed that I was puzzling over the wine list. When I asked her for a red under $60, she came back with three options well below that price, including two in the $40s. It was a refreshing change of pace from wine directors who invariably suggest wines right at your maximum, or indeed even above it.
A duo of amuses-bouches offered sashimi-quality tuna on a skewer coupled with salmon roe on a white spoon. The bread service was a warm slice of cheddar corn bread.
Idaho Potato Gnocchi; Pork Belly
Both appetizers were hits: potato gnocchi with veal short ribs and foie gras butter, and pork belly with porcini mushrooms, spinach, and a fried hen egg.
Halibut; Rack and Leg of Lamb
The entrées offered a bit less excitement, but halibut was expertly done. My girlfriend thought that rack of lamb was a bit tougher than it should be, though I didn’t find any problem with the piece of it that I tasted.
The ambitious food is somewhat let down by both the ambiance and service, but they certainly won’t stand in the way of Dovetail being a tremendous success.
Dovetail (103 W. 77th Street at Columbus Avenue, Upper West Side)