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The Dutch

Most chefs would be delighted to receive just one tenth of the free publicity that has been accorded The Dutch, chef Andrew Carmellini’s new SoHo restaurant.

By my count, since the first reports that he was considering the former Cub Room space, in September 2009, The Dutch (or unnamed versions of it) has been mentioned in thirty-eight posts on Eater.com, some thirty-three of which came before it had served a single meal. Many of them were titled, simply, the Daily Dutch, both confirming and lampooning the need to provide infinitesimal updates on the protracted build-out, which took almost a year and a half.

Carmellini himself is a master at manipulating the media, beginning with a bizarre opening night, which commenced at 11:00 p.m. on a Monday in April (naturally blogged to death), with normal hours the next day and lunch a couple of weeks later. All blogged and tweeted in copious detail.

None of this is to deny that Carmellini is a pretty good chef, with a long track record of success, and at least somewhat deserving of all that attention. Yet, in an interview with The Times last September, he purposely deflated expectations: “We wanted this to be a neighborhood restaurant,” and “it kind of sounds like a joint, and that’s what we want there.”

When the likes of Martha Stewart,  Mario Batali, Daniel Boulud, and Thomas Keller, dine there on the first couple of nights, this isn’t a neighborhood restaurant, whatever the chef may say. But it’s not fine dining, and the restaurant is designed as much for snacking as a full meal. The late-night hours and casual vibe attract, among others, restaurant industry professionals on days off and at the end of their shifts. That part of the plan seems to be working (Todd English and Wylie Dufresne were among the chefs I spotted).

I’ve been to the Dutch twice, both times fairly late by my standards. Even after 11:00 p.m. on a Friday evening, the room was packed, although I was able to snag a bar stool immediately. It was the same story at 10:00 p.m. on a Monday. I suspect it will be packed for a good long while.

The menu, which Carmellini describes as American food, has Asian, Italian, and Mexican influences too. Prices are in a wide range, with entrées $18–46. You can have oysters from the raw bar at $3 each, or a serving of caviar for $95; smoked ricotta ravioli at $18, or a ribeye for two at $96. Cocktails are the standard NYC upscale price: $14. Other prices have already gone up since the introductory menus were published.

Every meal starts with the warm house-made corn bread (above left), which is a bit too crumbly, but very good nevertheless. Deep-fried little oyster sandwiches ($5 ea., above center) are a delight, but Asian ribs ($7; above right) are somewhat ordinary.

I didn’t much care for under-seasoned Bario Tripe ($14; above left), with beer (untastable), onion, and avocado, covered in dull tortilla chips.

The chicken has undergone perhaps the most significant change since the opening. Photos from early reviewers showed pieces of Southern fried chicken with a biscuit for $19. This has evolved to one piece of smoked chicken (above right) in a sort of foam, topped with stray pieces of popcorn for $22. Carmellini has the knack for poultry, but the version I had at Locanda Verdi a couple of years ago was better, and a larger portion, at a similar price.

The interior, designed by Roman and Williams (same folks as The Breslin and The John Dory) is a rambling space with ample bar seating. It gets awfully loud. Service, although unpretentious, can be slow. I haven’t sampled the wine list, but I’ve had several cocktails, all of which are quite good.

Anyone who knows Andrew Carmellini, knows he will never serve you a bad meal. But it’s hard to avoid the sense that his restaurants are evolving to the lowest common denominator. The Dutch wasn’t as good as Locanda Verde, which wasn’t as good as A Voce, which wasn’t as good as Café Boulud.

Of course, it’s nice to have a “drop in” place, which The Dutch is, but Café Boulud and A Voce were not. Yet, it’s hard to escape the sense that Carmellini could do better.

The Dutch (131 Sullivan Street at Prince Street, SoHo)

Food: *
Service: *
Ambiance: *
Overall: *

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