Dover’s Oysters with Apple & Horseradish
In a city like New York, it’s easy to get lazy about dining out. That’s why neighborhood joints exist; so you can roll out of your apartment and have something you love to eat on a regular basis. To me, that’s the definition of a neighborhood restaurant – a place with food you want to eat often. I can think of plenty of restaurants I loved where I ate something unforgettable, but that doesn’t mean I want to eat it all the time. Those are more like destination restaurants, the kind of spots you’d go out of your way for. Dover is both.
Before you get excited, I should warn you that the restaurant itself is not much to look at. It’s not ugly. It’s just very ordinary looking. There are picture windows onto Court Street, generic wood floors, nondescript wood tables & chairs, and a few, exposed brick walls. Really, the most interesting part about the space is the seven-seat bar where all the locals seem to gravitate for a cocktail, conversation, or a bite. I would’ve grabbed a bar stool myself, but they were all taken, so I settled for a small table in the back corner and started to worry. After all, I had dragged my husband from midtown Manhattan to Carroll Gardens on a night he wanted to eat “in the neighborhood.” From the looks of it, Dover is a far cry from Alain Ducasse at the Essex House, where co-owners and co-chefs, Joseph Ogrodnek and Walker Stern, first met before they decided to team up at surprise breakout spot, Battersby, back in 2012.
I ordered a funky, all too drinkable glass of unfiltered Chardonnay, Clos de Baccarat Tonnerre 2011, and hoped for the best as I studied the menu, which happens to be a very good read. Caviar Pie? Lamb Tartare with Yogurt? Foie Gras Ravioli? I didn’t see this kind of menu coming, considering the humdrum decor and all. There’s even a seven-course tasting menu for $95. And before I knew it, I was gifted with an itty bitty Gougere, oozing with warm fondue, and a teeny, tiny cup of rich vegetable root puree. Then came the bread course, homemade Stecca bread sided by a honey & pepper-laced ricotta and a duo of white bean puree & black olive tapenade. Who doesn’t love lots of little gifts from the kitchen? Needless to say, all of my worries disappeared as did the bread and its accompaniments.
Squid Ink TagliatelleEveryone’s been swooning over the Broiled Oysters at Dover (see Pete Wells & Adam Platt’s reviews), but personally, I’m obsessed with the Raw Oysters. On the night we were there, they were Hurricane Island Oysters, crowned with diced apple & plenty of grated horseradish – a yin yang combination that I’d like to see more of. You’ll want to order dozens, but then you’d miss out on so many other worthwhile dishes – the Chicken for Two lush with truffles, the Lobster lavished with lobster roe, butter, tarragon and mustard, ooh, and the Squid Ink Tagliatelle. The Tagliatelle is a beautifully briny tangle of ink-stained strands, brightened by sweet shreds of Crab, Meyer Lemon, Breadcrumbs, and a sneaky hint of preserved Chili.
While rooted in French, the menu spans the map, globetrotting from Spain with an Octopus & Chorizo appetizer all the way to Vietnam with Grilled Lamb Ribs and Eggplant, which gets sauced with peanuts, lime, mint and chilies. Lest I forget the Southeast Asian-bent Triggerfish (one of my favorites), sweetened with an exotic Coconut Broth along with deliciously plump Mussels and Bok Choy. My least favorite dish was the Japanese-inspired Hamachi Sashimi paved in radish slivers, black & white sesame seeds and Shiso flowers, which wasn’t so much bad as it just lacked the originality and boldness of flavor that so many other plates possess.
Roasted Duck Breast with Cardoons & Artichokes
Duck seems to be having its moment, nearly as ubiquitous and fashionable a bird as chicken these days. I’m not sure what was more fabulous, the spoon tender slices of Roast Duck Breast, or the decadent sauce married to it – a delicate balance of Duck Jus, Duck Livers, and Cognac. Right next to the duck, lapping up some of that sauce, was a melange of Pearl Onions, Carrots, Artichokes, and Cardoons (an artichoke-like thistle plant).
Dover’s Baked Alaska
You won’t have room for dessert, but you should get it anyway. At least try the Baked Alaska, a meringue cloud with a bracing apple sorbet hidden inside and a burnt apple caramel sauce. The “Creamsicle” – an arrangement of vanilla & orange meringue chips, milk jam, vanilla ice cream and a Blood Orange & Campari sorbet, which would’ve been better off on its own – was a tad too intellectual for my sweet tooth, which is ironic because nothing about Dover is pretentious or complicated.
The decor is unapologetically simple, the flavors combinations creative and clean, and the servers as informed and passionate as any you’ll find at a fine dining destination on the island of Manhattan. I have a feeling this won’t be the last we see of Joseph Ogrodnek and Walker Stern. I just hope they’ll cross the bridge for their next venture. Until then, I’ll be crossing back for another stab at Dover’s imaginative menu.