With the Green Bay Packers going deep into the NFL playoffs, I couldn’t help but draw a comparison between their home field, Lambeau Field, and the culinary landscape of the New York's Upper West Side. Both have been known as a "frozen tundra" for quite a while (though Packer fans, please note that by definition, tundra is frozen).
While it doesn’t look like Green Bay will be thawing out this weekend when the New York Football Giants come into town, the Upper West Side of Manhattan has steadily developed into a solid restaurant area over the last few years. From Ouest and Aix to Nice Matin, Telepan and the current incarnation of Compass, the area now boasts several top-notch, contemporary eateries, as well as a few wine bars, such as Barcibo Enoteca.
Dovetail is the latest addition to the neighborhood, with chef John Fraser, formerly of Compass, manning a kitchen that has now been open for just a few weeks.
Fraser’s food is modern in approach, with sometimes exotic combinations of flavor set against creative preparations: Brussels sprouts are sliced and layered with pears, serrano ham and cauliflower to create the restaurant’s most popular appetizer, for example.
While dining there last week, the small dining room, set well back from the street, was busy but not loud. Service was attentive and knowledgeable, and clearly in the early days of the eager-to-please stage.
Sommelier Jennifer Lourdan oversees the 100-plus selection list, which counts nearly a dozen Sherries among its highlights. The Sherries work well with Fraser’s cuisine, particularly since it shows more of a Spanish influence than any other discernable cuisine. A clam chowder was rich and creamy, poured over large clams and small cubes of delightfully smoky, spicy chorizo, while a salmon a la plancha with American caviar both melted and popped in the mouth at the same time. A chicken ballontine with spinach and truffles did a nice job of combining richness and elegance.
In addition to the Sherries, the wine list is an eclectic, modern mix of wines focusing on Germany, Rhône, Loire, Australia and more. I opted for a bottle of the Betts & Scholl Grenache Barossa Valley The O.G. 2005, whose bright, unencumbered fruit was a nice match with Nancy’s pistachio-crusted duck breast, sliced and layered over endive, celery root and truffles. It also worked well with my roasted sirloin and beef cheek lasagna, a two-piece presentation, the latter part of which was "noodle-less," using blanched root vegetables as layering for the tender beef cheek instead of pasta. The only hiccup there was a slight bit of over salting of the sirloin, which was otherwise cooked perfectly.
Along with other items like rabbit terrine with kumquats, lamb’s tongue, pork belly and more, Fraser has refined his approach without losing its sense of innovation. It's a solid evolution following his stint at Compass, which also showed ingenuity but sometimes stretched a bit too far, resulting in dishes that felt like they had one too many flavors forced onto the plate.
I like the place a lot already, likely because Lourdan mentioned that she was moving more white Châteauneuf-du-Pape these days than Cabernet Sauvignon. But so far, Dovetail seems to be another welcome addition to the increasingly wine- and food-friendly Upper West Side.
103 W. 77th St.
Peter A Siddiqui — Chicago — January 16, 2008 9:24pm ET
James Molesworth — January 17, 2008 9:22am ET
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