new york in winter part one

scheduled on a regional aircraft out of hopkins, i knew before i left for the airport that the plane was less than half full. but i dutifully arrived the full two hours early, checking in and confirming that my flight was on time. once i got through security, i scoped out the gate, only to see that my flight had been delayed by an hour. when i asked, they told me the flight might be cancelled, but if i were willing to run i could catch an earlier flight…AT THE OTHER END OF THE AIRPORT! despite being dressed in my best suit, i dashed through the terminals and made it with seconds to spare.

drew and i stopped first for a glass of wine at cavatappo wine bar, around the corner from his house. then it was off to our first meal, at dovetail on the upper west side. a quick cab ride through central park brought us to the discreet doorway of this relatively new restaurant, created by chef/owner john fraser. after stints at the french laundry in napa valley and at taillevent in paris, he figured it was time to strike out on his own. it was on my radar because despite being open only since december, it had received 3 stars from the new york times last month.

our coats were whisked away and we were seated in a simple, spare room with wooden-topped tables and exposed brick walls. we decided on our food, chose a bottle of wine and we were off! our amuse-bouche that night was in two parts: a chinese soup spoon piled with vodka gelee, caviar and fried capers; alongside it lay a cube of raw tuna rolled in shredded parmigiano-reggiano. this was presented along with the house bread…an insanely delicious warm cheddar cornbread.

our first courses included a deconstructed muffaletta sandwich, (see it here) featuring a slice from a pressed roll of salami, ham and cheese; fried lamb’s tongues, caper mayonnaise and slivers of olives and peppers. our next choice was a salad of brussel sprout leaves, serrano ham, pears, manchego and a truffle-laced cauliflower cream, garnished with sunflower seeds. these were both new to us, so they proved to be interesting. we also enjoyed a salad of winter lettuces, starring frisee and raddicchio de treviso, sprinkled with sultanas, hazelnuts and cubes of roasted butternut squash. the hazelnut oil in the sharp vinaigrette brought a bit of warmth the the plate.

our entrees were more familiar, although both of them offered new twists on old favorites. drew chose a loin of venison (yes, i do mean BAMBI) served with sauteed cabbage, chestnuts and a sweet potato puree topped with rosemary marshmallows. my choice was beef two ways: a cut of sirloin, remarkable mostly for being unremarkable, garnished with king trumpet mushrooms and pearl onions and served alongside a small square of housemade pasta layered with meltingly tender shreds of beef cheeks. this “lasagne” was intensely rich and made me long for a larger serving of it as an entree…i could have skipped the steak.

we ordered dessert and coffee, the latter of which, sadly, came first. this was a disappointment and an error in the service, we felt. the desserts were a mixed bag. drew’s choice was a peanut butter and chocolate concoction (resembling a kitkat bar) served with frozen milk ( a lean ice cream) and raspberry coulis. it seemed rather pedestrian, especially opposite my choice of a brioche bread pudding topped with bruleed banana and served with buttermilk sorbet and bacon brittle. you read that right…BACON brittle. this really put this dish over the top!

with our check we were given a pair of rather forlorn looking pate de fruits in an odd flavor combination: sour cherry and beet. although we had a gracious server, he was not as familiar with the menu as we would have hoped. all in all, it was a pleasant experience, but we left wondering how they had earned three stars so quickly while other restaurants that had been open for years still struggled to get just two.

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