Entries in Dovetail (5)


Dovetail (remodeled)

News that Dovetail had remodeled yet again brought me back last week, where I hadn’t been since a disastrous “Sunday Suppa” in 2008.

I’ve been a fan of chef John Fraser since he was at Compass. His short-lived pop-up, “What Happens When,” served one of the best meals I had in 2011. But neither of my Dovetail visits quite lived up to the three New York Times stars or the Michelin star it currently holds.

The space was remodeled in 2009 (photos here, here), gaining a new 16-seat bar area, twenty new seats in the dining room, and an expanded wine cellar. But it still resembled the original décor (left), with exposed brick and no tablecloths.

Last month, Dovetail closed again for a week. This time, they’ve gone all-in for elegance: there are crisp white tablecloths, and no more brick. It finally looks like a three-star restaurant.

That makes Dovetail more endearing, though it would no doubt have been a demerit when Frank Bruni and Adam Platt reviewed it four years ago. Its reputation assured, Dovetail no longer hedges its bets.

The current menu is in four sections: appetizers ($20–34), vegetables ($17–34), entrées ($37–48), and desserts ($10–16), with about half-a-dozen choices per category. Yes, that’s expensive if ordered à la carte. There’s a four-course $85 prix fixe, but you can order just two courses (as we do in most restaurants, and did here), and contain the damage.

I can certainly do without such pompous moralizing, as: “The chef recommends that you order four courses.” Yeah, duh. Of course he does. If you offer a carte, don’t act disappointed when diners use it.


Dovetail has always served a trio of amuses bouches (above), and although I failed to take note of them, they were excellent—as they’ve always been.


From the vegetable section came a compelling starter: cured carrots, chicken feed (sic), and a soft-boiled egg ($18; above left). I wouldn’t serve it to a hungry football team, but it is larger than it appears in the photo.

Braised lamb ravioli with saffron, olives, and peppers ($24; above right) were also quite good, if a shade less novel.


Swordfish ($37; above left) with clam chowder, chorizo, and thyme, was the evening’s most impressive production, as beautifully cooked as it was to look at. (Fraser does have a high quotient of ingredients to the square inch.)

But it seems there is always one dud at Dovetail, and this time it was Sweetbreads ($46; above right) with heirloom potatoes, bacon, and truffles. It takes chutzpah to charge $46 for sweetbreads. They really have to be good. These were just average, and and the truffles didn’t add much flavor.

The dining room was not very busy, but we dined relatively early on a Saturday evening, and then left for a show. Our upselling server did a fine job, once he was past trying to sell us into four courses. 

The 24-page wine list has magnums of 1959 Château Latour at $11,000; yet, they’ll happily sell you a recent Beaujolais Nouveau at $30. The sommelier showed not a hint of dismay that I ordered it. The server could learn from her. That Beaujolais isn’t an anomaly, either. Whatever your price range, you can do business here.

In 2008, appetizers at Dovetail were $11–18, entrées $24–34. You could order at the bottom or the middle of that range, and walk out with an excellent mid-priced dinner. At its current, much higher prices, Dovetail can no longer claim to be an over-achieving neighborhood place. Fraser wants a second Michelin star.

At its best, Dovetail lives up to its billing. Fraser is a talented chef: the effort and craftsmanship in his best work elevate this restaurant over most of its peers. But at these prices, the duds (even if rare) are harder to excuse.

Dovetail (103 W. 77th Street at Columbus Avenue, Upper West Side)

Food: **½
Service: **½
Ambiance: ***
Overall: **½


Sunday Suppa at Dovetail

Dovetail opened last year to rapturous reviews. When we visited in March, I couldn’t quite decide if it deserved all those laurels. I gave it 2½ stars, half-a-star lower than the major critics did. We were back this evening for Dovetail’s “Sunday Suppa,” a three-course meal for just $38. If the food were as good as the critics say, this would be one of the best deals in town.

Unfortunately, I had the same reaction as last time: excellent appetizers let down by disappointing entrées. Pastry chef Vera Tong’s wonderful desserts offered partial redemption. I also have the same reaction to the atmosphere. At times, Dovetail acts like it wants to be a three-star restaurant, but it doesn’t carry out the act thoroughly or consistently enough to deserve it.

I was also dismayed to find almost no red wines below $50—and those I did find were both young and obscure. I settled on a 2005 bottle of the seldom-seen Irouléguy appellation from the south of France, at $49, which they then proceeded to charge at $51 (they corrected the bill when I pointed this out). This is definitely a wine list that has not caught up to the recession.

Dovetail is still doing brisk business, but it’s not as busy as it was six months ago. I was able to reserve a 6:30 p.m. table just a few days in advance. Still, you can’t just walk in at prime time. When we left, at around 8:30 p.m., they had just turned a party away.

The meal started well. The amuse-bouche (above) was a sliver of smoked salmon wrapped around a horseradish filling. The bread service was the same terrific cornbread that Dovetail has been serving since the beginning.


All three appetizers were first-rate: an Asparagus Velouté with cream and bacon (above left), Mushroom Risotto (above center), and Sweetbreads (above right).


Among the entrées, Lamb Meatloaf (above left) was the least objectionable, but it was a bit dry. Loin of Pork (above center), served off the bone, was too tough. Prime Rib (above right) had to be sent back, as it was too rare. It came back rubbery; adding insult to injury, it carried a $12 supplement.


We had no complaint about the desseerts—a French Toast-like confection (above left) with enough butter and cream to be a meal in itself, Carrot Cake (above right) and sorbet (not pictured).

The level of accomplishment in the appetizers and desserts makes us wonder how the entrées could be as off-key as they were, but we’ve been underwhelmed by them twice, so we’re bound to conclude it’s a chronic problem. The kitchen probably turns out some great main courses (the talent is obviously there), but it hasn’t happened on either of our visits.

Dovetail (103 W. 77th Street at Columbus Avenue, Upper West Side)

Food: *½
Service: **
Ambiance: **
Overall: *½



[Kalina via Eater]

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.

dovetail_logo.jpgLocation 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.

Menu (click to expand)

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.

dovetail01a.jpg dovetail01b.jpg

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.

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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.

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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)

Food: **½
Service: **
Ambiance: **
Overall: **½


The Payoff: Dovetail

Yesterday, Frank Bruni awarded a glowing three stars to Dovetail, confirming that the Upper West Side sleeper hit is the Real Deal:

The inconspicuousness of the restaurant’s entrance may be bonkers or in fact brilliant, a subtle signal of Dovetail’s confidence in its inner strength. The carpeting and padded walls in the back definitely make sense. They keep noise in check.

Depending on where you sit, the restaurant can feel too plain for entrees that average above $30. The wines by the glass could be more exciting, and a few dishes don’t succeed, like an appetizer marriage of skate and chicken wings that’s inspired by semantics more than anything else.

All of that gives me concern about the possibility of a slightly disappointing dinner here. But most of my experiences were hugely positive.

The Eater oddsmakers offered an astonishing 15–1 odds on three stars, an opportunity for someone to make a killing. The oddsmakers are seldom that far off the mark. Like Eater, we took the more conservative two-star bet, so we both lose $1.

          Eater        NYJ
Bankroll $66.50   $82.67
Gain/Loss –1.00   –1.00
Total $65.50   $81.67
 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Won–Lost 30–14   31–13

Rolling the Dice: Dovetail

Every week, we take our turn with Lady Luck on the BruniBetting odds as posted by Eater. Just for kicks, we track Eater’s bet too, and see who is better at guessing what the unpredictable Bruni will do. We track our sins with an imaginary $1 bet every week.

The Line: Tomorrow, Frank Bruni reviews John Fraser’s Upper West Side hit, Dovetail. The Eater oddsmakers have set the action as follows (√√ denotes the Eater bet):

Zero Stars: 9-1
One Star: 3-1
Two Stars: 2-1 √√
Three Stars: 15-1
Four Stars: 25,000-1

The Skinny: It’s rare that a restaurant enters this world with the favorable winds that Dovetail enjoys. Both Adam Platt and the Restaurant Girl awarded three stars. The Platt review was especially striking, as he has awarded more than a deuce just three times in the 26 months since he started giving stars. That’s even less than Frank Bruni.

Could Dovetail be en route to a triple triple? Eater doesn’t think so, and neither do we. Bruni tends to spread out his three-star ratings (he has given just 21 of them in 45 months on the job), and he awarded three stars to Le Cirque just two weeks ago. On top of that, our sense is that Dovetail is more casual than most of the places that have earned three stars from Bruni.

On the other hand, Bruni’s judgment is seldom more than a star away from Platt’s, which would seem equally to preclude a one-star outcome.

The Bet: We therefore agree with Eater that Frank Bruni will award two stars to Dovetail.