Why Can't Frank Bruni Tell the Difference Between Dovetail and Eleven Madison Park (or Bouley For That Matter?)
I guess I will never learn my lesson. A few weeks back, Frank Bruni, gave Dovetail a 3-star review in the New York Times. Of course, though I am consistently disappointed when Bruni hands out a 3-star rating, especially when he is reviewing Italian restaurants, a rating of that magnitude left me no choice but to visit the restaurant. In fact I managed to miss eating at Compass, John Fraser's prior restaurant, as friends told me I wasn't missing anything . But this time there was a substantial buzz about the restaurant, and I succumbed, despite my better judgment. So after going to see the riveting film, The Counterfeiters, at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas on Saturday night, we strolled up Columbus Avenue and got a table for 2 as a walk-in at around 10:00.
Let me tell you, I have been to a lot of restaurants in my life (likely many more than Mr. Bruni) and I could sense that the restaurant didn't warrant the 3-star review as soon as I walked in. Of course sometimes looks are deceiving, but in my experience, 3 star reviews (or 4 star) are the product of a substantial amount of capital invested into a restaurant, both in the kitchen as well as the front of the house And while there was certainly nothing wrong with the look and feel of the restaurant, it certainly wasn't up to the standards that you usually see at other restaurants that attract that rating. Case in point, all one has to do is walk a few blocks up Columbus Avenue and take a look at the installation at Ed Brown's new restaurant, Eighty One, to see a place that has all of the indicia to go along with a 3-star rating (unfortunately the food there is another story but we will leave that for another day.)
I started my meal with Salmon cooked ala plancha served in a horseradish gribiche with American caviar. Perfectly fine, but the execution and ingredient quality wasn't much different from what you get at restaurants that the Times awards 1-2 stars to. Mrs. P had what they call "Wings" which is a combination of skate wing and chicken wing. The skate wing was fairly ordinary, and the chicken wing, which seemed to be deboned and chopped and formed into a patty, was deemed "inedible" by Mrs. P and she left 3/4 of it over. Then we split the pork belly which comes with a soft-poached egg and braised kale. I don't know where Fraser sources his pork belly but he should call David Chang (or Tom Collichio for that matter) and ask for tips because the quality just wasn't good enough, let alone a 3 star standard. And the only word I can use to describe the way the kale want with the dish is "blech." Fraser finally hit the right note with my entree, grilled Venison with chestnuts, cabbage and rosewater marshmallows. It was quite tasty, but it didn't ever reach beyond what I will describe as, 2-star, upper-middle level cooking.
As those of you who read my blog know, my view about these matters is somewhat jaundiced. But when Mrs. P is ragging on a restaurant you know the place is in trouble. And not only did she give it her fatal "there's no reason to come back here" rating, she went a step further and said, "if the first two courses were as good as my entree (gnocchi with shaved truffles) maybe I would say one star. I know it's hard to imagine that Mrs. P has a better take on these things than the restaurant reveiwer for the New York Times, but from all indications that seems to be the case!
But seriously, what is really making me ticked off is that Bruni gave Dovetail the same rating as restaurants like Eleven Mad and Bouley. If you want to see a bit of objective evidence that the rating isn't warranted, click on the photos of the pork belly and the venison and look at the sauce on the plate. First of all, it appears to be the same sauce. I could be wrong but, it appears that Fraser has a favorite recipe for a veal jus that he dumps on his meat dishes. Secondly, look at the lack of clarity in the sauce. I doubt that you would ever see a sauce that is so lacking in technique at either of the other two restaurants. And this is before we get to a substantive discussion on creativity and other variables that are relevent to raise in a restaurant review. I mean Daniel Humm can cook circles around Fraser. Let alone David Bouley. How on earth do you give their restaurants the same exact rating?
It's a shame too because it isn't that it's a bad restaurant, but when the person with the bully pulpit for the New York dining community makes a claim about a restaurant, that creates a context for the discussion about it and my comments are to be seen in that light. If I can praise anything about the restaurant without any hesitance it's the service which was terrific. But otherwise, if I were the New York Times, I would send Frank Bruni to France for a few months to stage in proper kitchens. That way maybe he will begin to learn the difference between people who are chefs, and who know how to run world class kitchens, and those who do not rise above running a very good, albeit neighborhhod restaurant. Acceptable
It's available for $6.95 at independant bookstores all over the U.S, at select locations in Canada, and it will be available at select locations in the United Kingdom the week of March 25. It's also available through our website or at Amazon.com (although if you do order it by mail I would prefer you bought it from the wesbite.) Or if you would like a free copy, just click on the link below and register to fill out the survey. I will send you a free copy as soon as you fill out the survey.