Brooklyn, New York

September 2009

Two things to mention before I go into my evening at Dressler.  In the early 1980’s, a few years before we had gotten married and were living in Brooklyn, the only restaurant in that part of the borough was Peter Luger.  I like steak but not enough to sit in a very brightly lit dining room and have the waitstaff yell at me (part of the appeal supposedly for many people when dining there) and then have to pay the aforementioned employees copious amounts of money.  Besides, back then Peter Luger was out of our league especially with me on the starter salary of $12,000 PER YEAR and Lynn making (gulp) $500 less. 

Fast forward 23 years later when I woke up in the middle of the night thinking I had booked our anniversary dinner at Dressler, a few miles from where we had started out together because why? Because I was intrigued that they had won a Michelin star and that five days out of the week they were offering a $45.00 tasting menu with five courses. Come again? Five courses for $45.00!  I started to wonder how they could actually make a profit on that.  Would the portions be miniscule?  Would the choices be limited.  Would the food well, suck?

No, no, and no. 

To paraphrase one of my favorite lines in Kevin Costner’s “Field of Dreams” flick, if you build it they will come.  I thought if you win it (a star that is), I will make the journey. (Did I mention that somehow between the 1980’s and today, I had become a Michelin star-obsessed “foodie”?)

Sunday night.  Restaurant is about half empty.  Even with the low number of patrons, service while friendly wasn’t exactly worthy of a (French) star.  Our waitress was very good and knowledgeable about liquor, food and wine pairings but she was also extremely casual.  Maybe I’m a bit “old school” but in my mind the words “Michelin rating” and “casual” don’t exactly go together. Don’t take me wrong.  I love the space. At night, Dressler with its hand-crafted and very ornate iron chandeliers, pretty votive candles and general “happy feeling” aura around the bar made me think everything would be ok. It also begs the question whether they’re selling ambiance or food.  I think BOTH.

What was pretty amazing to me about the tasting menu is the fact there were choices.  Not only do you not get choices when eating at many other higher end restaurants, it’s going to cost you a whole hell of a lot more .  (For those who need a refresher course on tasting menu items: the tasting menu is what the chef wants you to eat, not want you want to eat) . That said, Lynn and I chose nearly all the same courses, save for the fish.  So here’s the food line-up:

First course: Crêpe stuffed with smoked trout then folded into a triangle and plated with apples and frisée. It was refreshing, light, served at the proper temperature and had a great taste.

Second course: Oxtail ragù with homemade pasta with a dollop of ricotta.  It was exactly as described on the menu.  My only complaint: over salted. Note to chef: Taste as you cook!

Third course: Lynn had the monkfish wrapped in bacon; I had the halibut plated with different types of beans and swiss chard.

Fourth course: Roast lamb with potatoes and a few greens (more swiss chard?) which too was a tad salty. 

Fifth course: A smidgen of crème caramel with berries.

Upshot: ok, so at $45 you get no amuse bouche.  In other words, no freebies. But who wants that much food anyway?  Five courses for that much dough?  Portions were more than a tasting, often bordering on generous.  

Bottom line: if you can get to Brooklyn, the best priced five course meal in town at under $50 a person can’t be beat.   But do NOT compare this to any other one star Michelin-rated establishment in New York.  It’s on its own.  And for those who have memorized the Michelin rating system, I believe it’s worthy of at least a couple of “forks and knives”…but a star?



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