John Fraser is a man not lacking in creative vision. His pop-up restaurant What Happens When in SoHo is evidence of that. Dining at Dovetail after having experienced Movement 3 of What Happens When was therefore a rather puzzling experience. The menu, albeit on the muted side of the flavor spectrum, certainly did not disappoint. Fraser’s leaning towards cooking that pleases the Western palate is expected and given that Dovetail is located in the UWS the need for such culinary caution is even more crucial. That said, where as What Happens When engaged all five senses and not just one’s palate, Dovetail falls short in providing an all around memorable dining experience.
The decor of Dovetail’s dining room along with the service is largely to blame for this shortcoming. The dining room, designed by architect Richard Bloch, has a contemporary elegance but is rather understated to a fault. It feels muted and cold and lends to a prosaic, rather than an extraordinary, dining experience. Even the choice of lighting and carpet color feels stark and uninviting. Combine this with the service that is impeccably professional yet lacking in welcoming warmth and Dovetail seems much more suited for a business lunch instead of a lovely dinner date.
The menu itself showcases Fraser’s classical training as he utilizes local ingredients. For the recent summer restaurant week Dovetail opened its doors during the week and diners were able to enjoy a 3 course prix fixe lunch. The turnip ceviche with quinoa and snap peas, despite being inappropriately named, sounded promising but lacked in character if you will. The play in texture is evident but a little more habanero could have livened up the dish a bit more. The poached egg with pork belly and mushrooms, despite being a cliché of a dish in Manhattan’s trendy restaurants, was much more exciting to the palate. For the entrée, several of his classic dishes are available and just like at What Happens When Fraser includes a dish or two with a bolder flavor and the lamb in puff pastry is one such dish. The hanger steak is also recommended. For dessert the Bavarian raspberry trifle was the crowd pleaser. The soft layered cake is beautifully plated and perfectly balanced in taste.
On a regular week Dovetail is open for dinner 7 days a week as well as for weekend brunch and Friday lunch. They offer a vegetable focused menu on Monday nights and the Sunday Suppa, priced at $46, is one of the more reasonably priced prix fixe meals in town. Dovetail is also one of the few restaurants in the city with an extensive sherry menu which can be paired with dinner or enjoyed by the glass.
All in all, restaurant week at Dovetail was a worthwhile visit. It is after all a Michelin-starred establishment. But for a more unique and memorable dining experience under Fraser’s direction What Happens When has a leg up on Dovetail.
103 W 77th St.at Columbus Ave.
Report Card (out of 5 stars):
Ambience: 3.5 stars
Service: 4 stars
Food: 4.5 stars
Price: $14-$32 appetizers; $30-$40 entrees; $77 5 course tasting menu