If, by some miracle, you’ve missed the endless comfort-food fads and outer-borough dining boomlets that have turned New York’s culinary world on its head in the past decade, I suggest you get yourself to Andrew Carmellini’s boisterous new Soho restaurant, the Dutch, for a refresher course. You’ll find whiskery barkeeps who mix drinks with artisanal bitters made from celery and peaches, and keep enough bourbons behind the bar (27) to satisfy the most righteous Brooklyn bourbon snob. You will find a much-hyped $17 house burger (lunch, brunch, and late nights only) and iterations of formerly trendy southern classics like fried chicken and fried green tomatoes. Ingredients are hailed as “local,” and the house “white boy” pork ribs come with a very un-Dutch mix of hoisin sauce and scallions (thank you, Mr. Chang). In case you can’t get into Minetta Tavern up the street, Carmellini even offers his own version of côte de boeuf ($98 for two), purveyed by that frenetic butcher to the stars, Pat LaFrieda.
“I feel like I’m in a hipster theme park,” Mrs. Platt declared as we surveyed the network of cramped, clamorous, speakeasy-style bars and dining rooms (formerly the Cub Room, on the corner of Sullivan and Prince Streets), which Carmellini and his partners, Josh Pickard (Lure Fishbar, Chinatown Brasserie) and Luke Ostrom (Locanda Verde), have remodeled in clubby tones of brown. There’s a low-ceilinged dining room in the back, and two bars in front, one designed for the consumption of Manhattan’s original locavore delicacy, oysters. They’re served on the half-shell and fried in doll-size sliders, and you can complement them, depending on the day and time, with platters of soft scrambled eggs and smoked sable, silky sweet corn soup, and pleasingly messy “sloppy duck” sandwiches garnished with peanuts and mint.
Carmellini’s sweet spot has always been Continental cooking (French at Café Boulud and Italian at Locanda Verde), and inevitably, some of his experiments in nouveau comfort cuisine go awry. The savvy Greenmarketeers at my table had nothing but kind things to say about the fried green tomatoes (served with fresh ruby-red shrimp), and the medley of boutique beets, which the kitchen plates as an appetizer with creamy dill sauce and a smoked hard-boiled egg. The empress crab claws I ordered one evening were on the mealy side, however, and the fancy helping of grilled squab (with smoked foie gras) that followed them was livery and undercooked. The dirigible-size version of rabbit potpie is large and tasty enough to satisfy a family of four, although it’s probably not the ideal dish to order in a tiny, cacophonic barroom on a sweltering summer night. Ditto the giant lamb neck, which was sunk, on the evening I ordered it, in a sludgy, tar-colored mole sauce.
The big-ticket, gut-busting dish to have at the Dutch is the beautifully charred eighteen-ounce New York strip steak (with a tangle of the excellent house fries), and if you’re in the mood for something marginally lighter, Mrs. Platt commends the duck (candied with pecans, over dirty rice) or the ravioli, which Carmellini stuffs with soft deposits of smoked ricotta. The best time, by far, to enjoy these delicacies is at lunch, when the noise level in the tiny rooms softens and the restaurant takes on a low-key, even neighborly feel. The desserts are mostly updated versions of old classics (try the strawberry shortcake with buttermilk biscuits), but the real treats are the house-baked pies. They’re made with peaches or fresh cherries and served in generous, flaky wedges, with gently melting scoops of ice cream. It’s not farm cooking, exactly. But if you’re looking for a taste of summer amid the million-dollar boutiques of Soho, it will do.
The Leopard at des Artistes, the new uptown Italian restaurant from the husband-and-wife team of Gianfranco and Paula Bolla Sorrentino, which opened late this spring in the legendary Café des Artistes space off Central Park West, is another kind of New York dining club, with a very particular membership in mind. On my first visit, one of my guests spotted Lloyd Blankfein at the next table, gnawing fiercely on a very large steak bone. Next to the diminutive Goldman Sachs kingpin was Woody Allen, dressed in his rumpled khaki suit and holding court at a table with some friends and a stoic-looking Soon-Yi. Later in the evening, as we admired the sprays of flowers around the softly lit room and the famous Des Artistes murals of nude goddesses and capering wood nymphs, Steve Martin came strolling by our table, spotted a friend in the crowd, and doffed his porkpie hat.
This kind of old-fashioned A-list celebrity spotting (the Sorrentinos cultivate a similar clientele at their midtown restaurant, Il Gattopardo—the Leopard in Italian) makes a trip to the Leopard worthwhile, provided you’re willing to put up with the prices (only two entrées are under $30) and the steady procession of uneven, fairly rudimentary Southern Italian grub. I enjoyed my grilled-octopus (with green olives) appetizer well enough, but the broth covering a tepid version of Sardinian “fregula” seafood stew tasted like it had been poured from a tomato can. The risotto of the day (with summer vegetables) was beautifully cooked, but the simple spaghetti alla chitarra (with tomatoes and basil) was so gummy and listless that one of my scandalized tasters compared it to “Sicilian hospital food.” The branzino drew similar comments, so order the simple roasted dorado instead, followed, for dessert, by the smooth, dissolving flan, which is touched, in classic uptown style, with caramel sauce and the lightest hint of passion fruit
Slideshow: The Dutch’s Menu
Address: 131 Sullivan St., at Prince St.; 212-677-6200
Hours: Dinner Sunday through Thursday 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday to 11:30 (late night until 2 a.m. daily). Lunch Monday through Friday 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Brunch Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Prices: Appetizers, $13 to $18; entrées, $19 to $38.
Ideal Meal: Beets with smoked egg, or smoked-ricotta ravioli; pecan duck or New York strip steak, pie with ice cream.
Note: The wine list at this hipster joint features many big-ticket bottles, including an ’82 Latour for $2,800.
Scratchpad: One star for the impressive range of nouveau comfort food and one for the pies.
The Leopard at des Artistes
Address: 1 W. 67th St., nr. Central Park W.; 212-787-8767
Hours: Dinner: Monday through Saturday 5 to 11:30 p.m., Sunday to 10 p.m. Lunch: Monday through Friday noon to 3 p.m. Brunch: Saturday and Sunday 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Prices: Appetizers, $9 to $15; entrées, $24 to $40.
Ideal Meal: Risotto of the day; dorado with olive oil and lemons; mascarpone flan.
Note: The new weekend brunch features a tasty organic buffalo burger served on a brioche bun.
Scratchpad: One star for the lovely old murals and another for people-watching. Minus a star for the prices and the cooking.