The Dutch: The W South Beach's hot new restaurant serves food as lively as the scene
A heady fizz practically kisses diners as they enter the Dutch. This self-described American restaurant, bar, and oyster room bubbles over with a fabulous clientele, and the boisterous decibel level is jazzed with the razzmatazz buzz that "it" places possess. The staff hustles and bustles effectively to the beat of the room's rattle and prattle while a battalion of managers dashes about trying to keep the chaos organized. It feels like a party, and in a way it is.
The sprightly décor can be enjoyed in a more sedate ambiance during lunchtime and early-dinner hours. The long rectangular space (formerly Soleá) is broken up into more intimate areas by thick white brick columns. Walls are white brick too, and tables are blond wood. It's a light, clean-lined, contemporary-rustic look: IKEA meets Martha Stewart. A bustling bar stands at one end of the room, a marble seafood bar at the other. Between is a continuous ebb-and-flow of waitstaff, diners coming and going, and some people just passing through to see and be seen. A patio seduces more subtly, with foliage and softly glowing lanterns.
If the Dutch really were a party, it would be a well-hosted one with very good food and drink. The latter includes a lengthy list of American bourbons, ryes, and craft beers (ranging from a potent $8 draft of Victory HopDevil Ale from Pennsylvania to a $7 can of Mama's Little Yella Pils from Colorado). Specialty cocktails include a margarita-like "Perfect Storm" of tequila, ginger liqueur, house-made jerk bitters, grapefruit soda, and a fresh sprig of thyme. A surprisingly extensive global wine list covers cutting-edge boutique labels, distinguished grand crus, and some unusual reds and whites (listed as "unusual reds" and "unusual whites").
This is a great place to hoist a drink and soak in the excitement of a vibrant venue. But the most wondrous part is just how delicious the food is. From the confident beginning induced by a miniloaf of complimentary cornbread flecked with bits of jalapeño to the final forkful of flaky homemade pie crust, flavors on the plates are consistently and deeply satisfying.
A large share of credit must go to executive chef Andrew Carmellini. Since opening Locanda Verde in New York City in 2009, Carmellini has reaped a seemingly overnight fame that came from decades of apprenticing and hard kitchen labor.
After starting at a French restaurant in his hometown of Seven Hills, Ohio, he headed overseas for training. Then came stints at San Domenico in New York (and in Emilio-Romagna, Italy); on the line in Manhattan with Gray Kunz at Lespinasse; as opening sous chef at the second Le Cirque; as opening chef de cuisine at Café Boulud; and, in tandem with partners Josh Pickard and Luke Ostrom, as chef/owner of Locanda Verde and of the Dutch's original locale in New York's SoHo neighborhood.
Carmellini picked up two James Beard Awards along the way and recently appeared on ABC's Nightline extolling the virtues of salt. Conor Hanlon is chef de cuisine at the W's Dutch.
Many diners start off with a selection of fresh oysters from the raw bar: Blue Points from Connecticut, Wianno from Massachussetts, Kumamoto-like Kusshi from British Columbia, and cucumber-clean Shigoku from Washington ($2.50 to $3.50 apiece). Peel 'n' eat shrimp, stone crabs, octopus, and American caviar are offered as well.
Other patrons choose to jump-start their meals via a trio of "snacks." A "little oyster sandwich" — a two-bite po'boy (a very po'boy?) — is mighty tasty with cornmeal-crusted Blue Points and spicy pickled okra dressing in a mini brioche bun baked on the premises. They're $5 each, or $2.50 per bite — a pricey mouthful. At $9 apiece, "Asian white boy ribs" aren't one of the better deals either. A dish of creamily luscious sheep's milk ricotta ($14) served with a stack of grilled country bread yields the most munch of the bunch.
You can hold off on the ricotta as a starter and instead opt to have it as a dollop dropped upon the pappardelle pasta course. The broad noodles, homemade and cooked perfectly, come with greaseless, luscious lamb ragu, the sheep's milk cheese, and a brilliant, invigorating touch of fresh mint ($19). This dish tastes just like pasta does in Italy, and it's reason enough to visit the Dutch. Two other "seconds" are trofie with pesto, peppers, and pine nuts, and ravioli with taleggio fonduta and black truffle.
Other appetizer choices beckon as well. Five less-than-silky slices of yellowtail crudo arrive, each draped over a chunky cube of watermelon and capped with a jalapeño ring and a drizzle of olive oil — nice, bright bites, but nothing special and a bit off this particular menu's map. Blue-crab pizza hits closer to home with a thin, crisp crust brushed with fresh tomato sauce and topped with a bright scattering of sweet crab, local zucchini, and snippets of Fresno chilies and scallions.
Seven nonsteak entrées ($24 to $39) run the gamut from a spice-glazed pork chop to Guinness-braised short ribs to the biggest, plumpest Maine sea scallops you've ever seen to roast chicken — the last, like Scott Conant's spaghetti pomodoro, being a simple, faultless rendition that captures the very essence of the dish. The bird comes in two pieces: a boneless "airline" cut of breast (with the first wing segment attached) and a boneless thigh alongside. Both are moist, as tender as can be, and plated with a medley of local vegetables such as green beans, yellow wax beans, and snap peas from Swank Farms; thin coins of fingerling potatoes; blanched and peeled yellow and red grape tomatoes; and additional splashes of flavor via red onion petals, fried rosemary, popcorn kernels, garlic butter, and chicken jus.
Serious carnivores might want to go with one of two prime dry-aged steaks: a 40-ounce slab of rib eye for two ($105), or an 18-ounce bone-in New York strip ($48). The latter, served on the rare side of medium-rare, was of steak-house quality — thick, juicy, and blackened from an assertive sear. Accompanying the meat are Swank Farms lettuces lightly misted with honey mustard dressing. Diners desiring a more substantial side can select from à la carte items such as spinach with shallots and red pepper flakes; roasted Brussels sprouts with bacon and breadcrumbs; and green chili grits with white cheddar cheese ($7 to $9).
Pastry chef Josh Gripper's pie choices du jour when we visited were salted key lime or apple-strawberry. The latter featured chunks of apple that were not too mushy, not too sweet, and nestled in a light, flaky crust — with strawberry slices and buttermilk sorbet on the side. Chocolate devil's food cake, a signature dessert from the New York Dutch, boasts layers of chocolate buttercream, a bronzed meringue topping, and a side scoop of tasty White Russian ice cream. The flavors were there, but the cake could have been moister.
Patrons can likewise polish off dinner with a plate of sheep, goat, and cow cheeses from independent New Hampshire, Vermont, and Virginia dairy farms (three for $12, five for $15, or seven for $19). The selection reflects a renewed pride in America's artisanal roots — which, at heart, is what the Dutch is all about.
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