The all-day chameleon restaurant is a familiar idea, with pastries and omelettes at breakfast, salads and sandwiches at lunch, and fine dining at night. This is the formula that Balthazar nailed, and many others have copied.
This is also the plan at Duet Brasserie, which opened under the radar in late fall 2014, in the old Centro Vinoteca space, a spacious corner lot where Barrow Street meets Seventh Avenue South. The address is on Barrow, but most of the footprint faces onto Seventh.
Most of the downstairs dining room is dominated by floor-to-ceiling French doors, which will open in good weather, presumably with a sidewalk café, but the charmless view onto lower Seventh Avenue is not much of a selling point. Neither is the room itself, which is bisected by display cases showing off the ample selection of baked goods, protected under glass in harsh lighting more suited for a retail bakery.
The publicity photos show an elegant upstairs room, with white tablecloths and a custom-made Swarovski crystal chandelier. That room wasn’t in use the night we visited—a very slow Christmas eve, which attracted only a few customers. Instead, we were seated downstairs, where Duet Brasserie feels like a diner.
If only they charged diner prices. On the French-inflected menu, starters are mostly $12–28, entrées $32–48, side dishes $9–14. There’s also a $75 four-course prix fixe. The website shows a $200 ten-course tasting menu, but the staff did not offer that to us (nor would we have taken them up on it).
The chef here is Dmitry Rodov (his wife, Diana, is the pastry chef). His stated aim is to serve “home cooking, beautifully presented,” and this is generally the case, but many less expensive restaurants do the same, as well or better. The chef needs to prove he can operate a restaurant where no entrée is below $32, and at this he fails.
He is also undermined by the front-of-house, which tries hard but is laughably bad. The management seem to have found not a single person that knows how to run a fine dining room.
Perhaps the most shocking error is an impressive wine list of almost sixty bottles, ranging in price from $34 to $475, with the vintages (years) not stated. I’m going to put that in bold: vintages not stated. On what planet would any fine dining restaurant manager in 2014 think that is acceptable? I was flying blind with my wine order, so I just chose something near the bottom of the range—a Spanish blend, Chapillon Siendra ($42), which turned out to be a 2010.
There were many other service flubs: water glasses not refilled, sauces spilled, menus (laden with typographical errors) not promptly provided or cleared. The room looks like a diner, and most of the servers seem to have come from one. It’s not that they don’t want to be helpful; they just don’t know how, and have not been taught.
The food arrives, and you’re willing to forgive them, to an extent. The amuse bouche was a delightful salmon roe ceviche on a little spoon (above right).
A hefty serving of French Onion Soup ($13; above left) comes with a rich, thick, cheese lid, but was so hot that my wife couldn’t dig into it for about twenty minutes. The chef shows his mastery of French technique with a Brie en Croute ($14; above right), which comes with a rich wild mushroom sauce on the side, which you spoon onto the puff pastry at tableside. (I think the staff is supposed to do that for you, but remember, they are clueless.)
The kitchen sends out a respectable Chilean Sea Bass ($34; above left). Roast Duck ($35; above right) is said to be an 85-year-old family recipe. It didn’t strike me as anything special, but certainly a very good choice if you’re in the mood for a duck fix.
At a place where the pastry display is so prominently featured, we had to try a dessert. “Le Saint Lauren” ($6.50; left) both looked and tasted as if it had been prepared many hours earlier, and was sitting under glass all afternoon.
A successful restaurant starts with a chef, and Duet Brasserie has that. The price point seems a bit steep for a guy most people haven’t heard of, but perhaps he could pull it off in the right room, with a strong team surrounding him.
In this unattractive space, with the Keystone Cops running the show, I don’t think there is much hope.
Duet Brasserie (37 Barrow Street at Seventh Avenue South, West Village)
Food: French-inflected upscale cuisine, over-priced but pretty good
Service: The Amateur Hour
Ambiance: A prominent corner lot that feels like a diner
Rating: Not Recommended