Note: The chef’s response to this review and my response to him are in the comments. My follow-up comments are here.
I’m going to go out on a limb, and guess that when Joe Dobias was trying to pick a catchy name for his East Village restaurant, he didn’t hire any publicity or marketing firms for advice. That might explain how he came up with JoeDoe, a name that conveys—nothing in particular.
Of course, “Momofuku” conveyed nothing in particular before David Chang turned it into a household word, but usually it’s better to choose a name that conveys at least something about the kind of food you’re trying to serve. We can’t all be David Chang.
Dobias describes his cuisine as “Aggressive American,” whatever that means. He certainly has a way with words when it comes to naming his dishes. During Passover season, he served liver and bacon on challah, calling it “The Conflicted Jew.” Other examples on a recent menu include “Some Really Nice Butt” and “Duck Egg is King.”
He works in a tiny slip of a space scarcely bigger than a bathroom (above right). There is a prep kitchen downstairs, and runners bring stuff in throughout the evening, but Dobias seems to do all the cooking and plating by himself.
The restaurant has just seven tables and six bar stools, which is probably as much as Dobias can handle when it is full—if it ever is. On a Friday evening, just one other table was occupied.
The menu is uncomplicated, with just half-a-dozen appetizers ($9–12) and as many entrées ($19–27). There are also several bar snacks at about $4 each, but during happy hour they’re free. We had the Mutton Meatballs (left), which were the best thing we had all evening. A comped order of fried chickpeas was excellent.
The beverage menu offers an array of house cocktails and “prepared beers,” the latter being mixed drinks made with beer instead of spirits. I lubricated my meal with a couple of these, as I don’t recall seeing them in any other restaurant, and the wine list was minimal.
I loved the Hipster BBQ (Dale’s Pale Ale, organic vodka, seasoned salt, fresh lime and zest), but I didn’t care for the somewhat bitter taste of Alice in JoeDoe Land (Smuttynose ale, absinthe, gingered kumquat, chamomile tea).
As we sat down for dinner, the staff pointed out a rule prohibiting photography, which purportedly annoys the other guests—notwithstanding that there weren’t any, aside from a loving couple at the opposite end of the room who, we are sure, did not notice our non-flash camera. So we are unable to show you the photos of what we ate, which looked a lot better than it tasted.
A Veev Cured Scallop ($12) made a dull impression. Veev (a brand of vodka) contributed little, other than its fancy name. A schmear of jalapeno mayo was more than the scallop needed, but not enough to spread on the accompanying crisp bread. A salad of cured pork on lukewarm cooked green vegetables also misfired.
Pork belly, a posted special, was over-cooked and dry. “Duck, duck, hock,” consisting of tiny gnocchi, a duck egg, and I believe duck ham, was at least correctly prepared, though I would be in no rush to order it again. (The website says that the third ingredient is rock shrimp, but I am pretty sure that is not what we had.)
On Eater.com, editor Amanda Kludt described JoeDoe as “a restaurant that means well,” but found it “disappointing and somewhat bafflingly presented.” That’s about right. It’s obvious that Dobias didn’t open this restaurant to get rich, and he certainly doesn’t take the easy way out. Its quirky offerings often sound interesting, but when the plates arrive the payoff isn’t there.
In a neighborhood that teems with compelling dining options, it’s hard to take JoeDoe seriously. I’d stop in for a cocktail and a snack; then head elsewhere.
JoeDoe (45 E. 1st Street between First & Second Avenues, East Village)