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Dovetail: Where’s the Harmony?

Dovetail is a strange place – extraordinary food in a dull and poorly designed environment. It forced me to constantly ask myself, what is such beautiful modern cuisine doing holed up in a stuffy uptown environment? This upper west side bastion of gastronomy (just outside the Natural History Museum) has gotten rave reviews for its tender seasonal America cuisine; yet, for some reason, no one has bothered to mention the ugly and drab interior renovation.

Imagine sitting in a cruise ship or a walk-in closet. That is what Dovetail looks like. One big rectangular room with rectangular wooden wall panels, rectangular white sheer curtains, and rectangular lamps. There is not a single piece of artwork in the entire space, save for a big plume of fancy flowers. The unfortunately dull design left an imprint – someone should tell these guys that atmosphere and experience are often just as impactful as the food itself.

Dovetail’s saving grace is the truly marvelous cuisine and the perfect table service. Chef & Proprietor John Fraser marries classic European technique with fresh local ingredients and bold flavors. His dishes showcase a mastery of making something unique and complex seem and look so simple. My starter salad was basic on the outside: frisee and bitter lettuce with squash, hazelnuts, and manchego. In reality, it was challenging, bursting with the flavors of sweet squash, nutty hazelnuts, and sharp savory manchego. My venison entree course was astonishing. I can safely say that it was hands-down the best venison I have ever had. The meat was a luscious medium-rare and so tender that it just melted away in my mouth. It was flawless. Honestly, it doesn’t even matter what it was served with, it was just that good.

My dining companions Sarah and Nicole both opted for the $35 prix-fixe Restaurant Week menu, which was pretty good, though clearly made from less expensive ingredients than the normal menu. The cauliflower soup was rich, savory, and topped with bacon (always a +). Unfortunately, it was also a bit oily. The rabbit mille-feuille was very unusual – sort of like a flaky rabbit tart. The rabbit meat itself tasted bizarrely similar to roast turkey. The hanger steak was well-prepared, not too stringy or tough, with a delicious and savory beef tongue lasagna (try it, seriously.); while the cod was light and citrusy – perfect for a refreshing meal, if that’s what you’re looking for. Lastly, the desserts were a disappointment. The black forest cake was too dry (despite the rich and high quality dark chocolate flavor), and the pannacotta was a total failure. A runny vanilla yogurt-tasting concoction, it was simply not a pannacotta.

The service was consistently top-notch, with a knowledgeable and friendly head waiter that seemed to read mysteriously when we needed something yet didn’t hover when we didn’t.

The message here is: do not try Dovetail for restaurant week, for while it was good, it was clear that the real magic of Fraser’s cuisine shines through on the regular menu. Unfortunately, it’s bland environment makes it a no-go for hip youngsters, those in search of a lively scene, or celebratory occasions; however, the refined (read: eerily subdued) vibe is ideal for business dinners, those who enjoy quiet dining experiences, and your grandparents.

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