>> 7/27/15

103 West 77th Street
New York, NY 10024
(212) 362-3800

The Upper West Side, as a neighborhood, is far from struggling. Home to celebrities, museums, theaters, and more Audis than you can shake a stick at, there are precious few posh, Michelin starred restaurants. Perhaps this is because most people who care about that kind of thing are tourists so the vast bulk of them are in Midtown, nestled in or around hotels. Personally, I prefer eating out in real neighborhoods where real people live. So when Dandelion came to town and really wanted to check out tasting menus, it was hardly a tough decision to decide on Dovetail (though it was an expensive one).

The interior of Dovetail, which was completely redone earlier this year, was clean and crisp and modern. A mix of large tables and small ones occupy the dimly lit, but far from dark, dining room. Unlike many of the other restaurants that I've found myself at in the past few years, which tended to be homogeneously young or hip, the crowd at Dovetail was slightly more mixed. There were couples out on dates and tables with groups of friends. There were older people as well as people like myself and Dandelion in our 30s. There were white people and white people with tans (this is the Upper West Side). There was a healthy mix of the one-percenters, two-percenters, and even a smattering of three-percenters.

After ordering our cocktails, the meal began with an amuse bouche round. There was a Wasabi Tartlet, a Kiwi Fruit Shooter, and an herbal cheese ball that I didn't quite catch the name of. I'm not going to lie, none of these were particularly appetizing and although they might have all been interesting as palate cleansers, they didn't quite flow together. The warm, sweet kiwi drink versus the bitter-sweet tartlet versus the herbal bitter balls. Perhaps they were meant to be eaten in a specific order, but the instruction manual spelling that out was missing. Dandelion, it must be said, did enjoy them, so perhaps it's just me.

The first course was an extremely light, cool Cantaloupe with roasted pepper and pistachio and that's about all I can recall. It left absolutely no impression on me whatsoever. I get it. It's a summer starter. Hot days, light flavors, blah blah blah. Totally forgettable. This was followed by round two, the Scallop Crudo, thinly sliced scallops with seaweed under radish and caviar. Of all of the dishes on the tasting menu, this was the weakest by a wide margin. The flavors were universally mild - to the point of being bland - and the dish was served lukewarm, as opposed to chilled, which intentional or not left one feel like there was a lack of freshness. I enjoyed the cantaloupe more, but that's mostly because I actively didn't much enjoy this.

This was immediately contrasted by the Sweet Corn Polenta, served with cherries and truffles. Delicious. Creamy and smooth and sweet, I cannot recommend the polenta enough. The cool sugaryness of the corn and the savory, light tastes and texture of the truffles were the perfect blend for this not-very-light summer dish. You could wolf down an entree sized helping of it in fifteen seconds, but you'd be feeling it in the morning. The Halibut, served with beans in a tomato-ginger broth, was the fourth course. Again, delicious. I do wish that the fish was ever so slightly more flaky, but it was fantastic. Unlike the polenta, this was extremely light and the broth gave the dish a tangy savoriness that went phenomenally well with the pinot grigio Dandelion chose.

The next two courses were the stars. Our fifth course was the Seared Fois Gras with huckleberries. Nine times out of ten, when you order fois gras, it comes as a pate. A paste for your crackers. Not so here. This was served whole, like a miniature filet mignon that just so happens to be liver. So amazing. So smooth and almost buttery. Not even remotely bitter. If you've never had it this way, then you need to try it. The berries heightened the taste with a sharp tart sweetness and I felt slightly sad when the plate was taken away. Course number six was the Lamp Saddle, a filet of lamb with green olives and what they called a buckwheat crepe. I didn't see any olives and I can only guess that the crepe was that large wedge-shaped thing in the photo. Perhaps it was an olive crepe-wedge? It was quite good. The lamp, served rare with just a hint of being cooked on its outer layer was fantastic. Smoky, with a small bit of fat to keep your salivary glands flowing. If only the first two dishes were as good as these last two...

Before dessert came our pre-dessert. "Any place that gives me a dessert before my dessert is good in my book," Dandelion said. Our pre-dessert was a little Strawberry Shortcake with gelatin, fresh berries and whipped cream. It was gone in two bites, if that. One of our waiters arrived. "Would you like to enjoy a hot caffeinated beverage with your last dish of the evening?" Dandelion and I looked at each other, squinting but with eyebrows raised. "We aren't quite done with our drinks yet, but thank you anyway." I told him, assuming that he meant coffee, but now realizing that he probably also meant black tea. The final course was a Dark Chocolate Parfait with hazelnuts and cardamom. The hazelnuts came in both crushed form, as well as a Hershey-Kiss-shaped, peanut butter textured dollop. A piece of dark chocolate arched across the dessert with a bow of edible gold.

In conclusion, the beginning of the meal paled drastically in comparison with everything else, to a rather large degree. We would perhaps have been better off had we skipped getting the tasting menu and instead ordered from the prix-fix menu (a la cart having been nixed). In any event, two tasting menus, two cocktails, and four glasses of wine came to $362 before tax and tip.

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>> 7/19/15

432 Sixth Avenue
New York, NY 10011
(212) 677-8626

When Umami Burger first opened a while couple of years ago, it did so amidst a crazy load of hype. Lines of over an hour were common. Friends like Sparkles told me that they made the trip in the late afternoon to avoid the crush of humanity yearning, ever yearning, for these fantastic orgasm-inducing hamburgers. As you probably know, I'm not a fan of hype. Hype creates expectation and expectation breeds disappointment. So I waited a year for the hype to die so I could go (also, I kept forgetting).

The long story is that I plan to climb up a mountain and climbing mountains with no experience at all means one thing: a trip to REI. Umami Burger was kindasorta on the way between the subway and the ultimately not very helpful staff at the sporting goods store. Mr. Dogz agreed to accompany on this jaunt and I suggested a little stop over for lunch. He was curious to see if the Umami powerhouse could beat our previous Best Burger winner, Black Iron Burger. The short story is that, while very good, it did not beat Black Iron.

Okay, so the burgers did not blow us out of the water. But how could they? Remember the hype? Hype is like rust. It eats expectation from the inside out. But the burgers were still quite good. We ordered two and split both. First, of course, one must have the signature Umami Burger to get a sense of the baseline. The Umami burger comes with a thin Parmesan chip instead of melted cheese, which I liked. It added a little extra texture. It also came topped with shitake mushroom, roasted tomato, caramelized onion, and a house ketchup. The second burger was the Manly Burger, a patty topped with bacon, cheddar, onion strings, ketchup, and mustard. The menu sexies up the description somewhat, but you get the idea. We also ordered a side of Thin Cut French Fries, which came with a selection of dipping sauces, all of which I recommend. The burgers themselves with very thick, almost hard to put inside of one's mouth. They were good, but too busy, specifically the Umami burger itself. The shitake mushroom seemed to fight the beef rather than add the creaminess that it was probably supposed to. Somehow, while we liked both, we found ourselves feeling nonplussed.

So I posed this question to Dogz "Umami Burger, or Bareburger?" figuring that they're both small, but not too small chains that specialize in high end hamburgers. Both brag about serving craft beef and both are very popular. He chose Bareburger because of the option to order all of their burgers with different kinds of meat, from beef, to bison, to elk, to duck. I agreed, but I do prefer to dining experience of Umami Burger. Bareburger, at least the ones I've been to of late, have been a little to family friendly. They've become too chain-y if that makes sense. I liked Umami's trendiness, clean lines, and lack of kiddie chairs.

The Umami hamburgers are far from fast food and I was frankly shocked how long the food took to arrive. So bring some conversation. Burgers average about $12, though some cost less and some cost more. Fries are not included. There are also salads and appetizers, which we did not have.

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