Wednesday, June 15, 2011


He wouldn't admit to the derivation of the name, but given New York's Dutch antecedents, I'm guessing it's a bit the influence of respecting its roots.  And The Dutch does this well, rooting itself in an iconic New York neighborhood and a sound base of locavoric, responsible, and ultimately, phenomenally delicious, food.

Even Midas can't touch Andrew Carmellini's success rate.  He left A Voce at the peak of its popularity, and opened Locanda Verde with even greater aplomb and accolades, appealing not only to the foodiest of foodies, but the trendiest of hipsters. The Dutch will trump the deuce, charming farmings and socialites, critics and tourists. Right now, A.C. can do no wrong. And on the night I was in, he didn't. There was one service mishap, but more on that later.

We've got that same room that Roman & Williams has perfected. A mish-mash of lamps,
not less than five different styles, touches of red, antique moldings and brassy fixtures. It suits the ambiance, the name and the food, but I'm starting to yearn for some whitewash or blonde wood. SOMEthing different. And I don't know which is more atrractive, anyways, the decor ... or the diners. It's a comely crowd that's appreciating The Dutch right now.

For starters, there is a luscious potted eggplant served with addictive savory crisps, a somewhat elevated chips-and-dips indulgence. "Don't forget your bivalves" encourages the diner to partake in a succinct curation of oysters, as well as other chilled finery from the sea. A beet salad is the platonic ideal. Roasted
(as they are always best), are partnered with a dice of smoked, hard-cooked egg to achieve a unique smoky sweetness, sprinkled with toasted sunflower seeds for a nutty crunch. Humble ingredients all, but which form a very elegant trio. We also had the ruby red shrimp on fried green tomatoes, both components vying for the honor of tenderest and juiciest- and I'm not sure who won. A mild vegetal pepper sauce and rings of pickled onion tempered the crispy fried crust of the tomato slices: quite a perfect, balanced small plate.

We stayed on the piscine side of things in terms of entrees, although the smoked and roasted chicken looked impeccable at the next table. Grilled black cod with chili peas and scallions
wasn't my pick, but when the dish came out I would've ordered had I known what was coming. I guess I inferred a more Asian flavor from those ingredients, but it instead sang of the Basque region, a fresh filet of fish in a savory Spanish red bean stew of sorts. Not spicy, but sumptuously and richly flavored, in that bread-required-for-soaking-up-the sauce kind of way. Which was one flaw, because a tender-crumbed scallion-flecked cornbread that was offered at the onset was whisked away upon the arrival of entrees, so there was nothing but a spoon with which to salvage each last drop of sauce.
That wasn't such a problem with my humongous scallops, four of them, whose flavor, enhanced with meatiest bacon ever, was concentrated within and about the fresh spring peas and ramps
that accompanied them. An exceptional side of asparagus rounded things out, delicately swathed with crispy citrus breadcrumbs and slices of roasted lemon that is not meant just as garnish: mete out a bit of the fruit with each bite of asparagus for a flavor so robust you won't even notice there could've been a couple more spears (and I still wish I had that cornbread back).

And then our waitress came with the dessert menus... until she looked as if she had made some hugely offensive error, turned on her heel, and disappeared. We looked befuddled at one another, and then deduced the obvious: chef must be sending out dessert. Moments later she reappeared, beaming, with two plates, announcing, "Compliments of Andrew." Now, mind you, I'm not going to besmear anyone for giving me free anything, but at the same time, there is ONE good thing about being an adult: you get to choose for yourself. Except when you don't, and that's how we missed out on the spring sundae, a refreshingly decadent sounding concoction of buttermilk-lemon sherbet and rhubarb on a brown sugar blondie... some of my favorite dessert elements packed in one. The other, a classic strawberry shortcake, but this one made the CORRECT way: a crusty biscuit with a tender crumb, bulging with ripe strawberries and thick, malty vanilla ice cream. My mom would approve. There are even
homey daily pie specials that have garnered somewhat of a cult following. Instead, we got a lemon tart and a piece of cake. All right, the tart was lovely, a plush, tangy curd on a buttery (if somewhat firm) crust. Sprinkled with sea salt, it achieved the sweet-salty-sour trifecta, with an added dose of cool and creamy
from coconut cream sorbet on the side. Chocolate cake (a dessert I've never ordered) boasted my favorite icing: a glossy, marshmallowy swiss meringue subtly spiked with black pepper, over layers of fudgy cake filled with an even fudgier mousse. White Russian ice cream bumped it up to PG-13, and all the better for it. Perhaps withholding the other, more seasonal desserts in favor of these was a ploy to entice a return visit, which, given the brilliance of the repast, wasn't remotely necessary. Even the desserts we "didn't want" were pretty damned fantastic. But it did, if anything, accomplish nudging me towards a more expedited revisit, since the exuberantly seasonal menu doesn't guarantee how long that shortcake nor the rhubarb will endure.

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