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Treat Yourself to The Dutch

Food & Drink

SoHo’s new corner bistro and raw bar seems already, well, established. Get in line.

Cub Room–huh, come again? New York’s SoHo district–particularly its western borders–has been for some time a no-man’s land when it comes to cool places to eat and drink (thank it’s Draconian zoning boards mostly for that), with recessionary-empty storefronts and “Bermuda Triangle” zones (as we call locales that always inexplicably fail) dotting its quieter streets east of Sixth Avenue and south of Houston.

Most glaringly so, there was that empty block-chomping corner of Sullivan and Prince streets, where The Cub Room bar and bistro and its sidebar cafe once had a moment, then closed shop nearly two years ago. The neighborhood foodies waited…and waited, for the construction paper to be lifted from its panoramic windows.

That happened last month, when The Dutch opened for business, welcoming the ‘hood-ites in for free drinks and advance tastings–a ploy that obviously worked. The handsome and boisterous dining hall–completely redone and somehow avoiding the Pastis pastiche–is now jam-packed nightly, from its sit-down raw bar, to its high-ceiling (read: airy but LOUD) saloon and main dining room…and over to the north side, passing the kitchen, to the back, where a gorgeous banquette-wrapped room–like some venerable old steak house–is tucked away, bringing the tone down for more serious taste buddies.

But the proof is in how the ambiance, the food, and the staff, all add up. And The Dutch is winning.

We were waiting for the buzz to cool, but since it hasn’t happened, we followed our many friends who’d already sung its praises–but for the long table waits–and stopped in to sample around the menu last week. For a casual-feeling restaurant, the prices seem a tad steep, and the majority of the crowd suggests that far more than a few Upper West Siders read their “openings” and “new hot-spots” reviews. But who cares? Let them have their one-night stands–they earned it. We in fact ran into a few power players and pals from the nabe, with the side-room drawing the so-called beautiful people.

We jumped all around on the selection.

From the raw bar: just-shucked fresh Blue Points; taut, perfect-sized, heads-on peel-n-eat shrimp, served with a “Hawaiian” spicy-sweet red dipping sauce.

Snacks: We’re po’boy connoisseurs, but loved the preparation of four “little oyster sandwiches,” dressed to the nines; and were surprised for some reason at how meaty and off-the-bone yummy the “Asian White Boy Ribs” were–two were more substantial than expected.

Greens: The smoked egg, dills and local beet salad was a hit to our gals. We’ll be back to try the “dressed crab, Bloody Mary, green goddess number (as well as the smoked lamb link).

Dessert: I sampled from the nine selections of cheeses (two a pop),  going for a bit of bite and some softness, all cow’s milk: the Moses Sleeper, the Boucher Blue, and the Dorset. Since I’m not a sweets man, we really dug having the cheese option. The Dutch takes said-sweets seriously, from the moist homemade Devil’s Food Cake with a black-pepper-boiled icing and fudge sauce, to the Forbidden Rice Pudding (served with any of their sorbets, from macadamia to mango), and nightly specials. My sis had a grandma-friendly rhubarb pie slice.

We’d eaten late in the day, so we decided to try out the “supper” menu–like, real entrees–on the next go-round. What sounds good to us: lamb neck mole’, rabbit pot pie, pecan duck. The dry-aged prime meats are steep– steakhouse figures ($47 and up)–but are served with a healthy-sized salad. And there’s that portion thing: 18-ounce (bone-in New York Strip), 20-ounce (lamb loin chop), and um, 40-ounce slabs (the rib-eye for two)–so it may just add up. I’m hitting up the chop on my next reason to celebrate.

Some of the staff sound like they’ve come from across the pond, and we mean that in a good way: they seemed proud and enthusiastic about what they were suggesting and putting on the plates. There’s zero snottiness at the front door. If a staff remains calm and pleasant, the dining herd picks up that tone. Drinks were all made with no fuss, fresh, and served in simple classic cocktail glasses, not ice-cube fillers. Wine list, just fine. What do we know? We just like a Sancerre.

Now here’s the problem, and it’s not one for The Dutch. Bare with us, we’ll get there in a sec.

Across Prince Street from The Dutch, stalwart Raoul’s, the French bistro to beat, ain’t going nowhere; it will always be a SoHo institution and boasts a devoted A-list following of movie directors, musicians, gallery gods and the cougars who stalk them. We split the fabled steak au poivre with crispy frites weekly at at the amber-aglow bar, while yukking it up with Franco, the damnedest most handsome and funniest bartender in the city. And Joe, around-the-corner on Macdougall at the brunch-crazed Hundred Acres, is also one of the city’s greats, and another lady-killer to boot.

Over on Houston, of all places, Burger & Barrel and Miss Lily’s have turned that dreadful stretch by the Angelika into something of a scene–and both are pretty super for what they’re doing (love the alpine-chic bar at B&B, watching it all from the back corner over a chili-rimmed jalapeno margarita and iceberg wedge, with heaped-on bacon-and-blue salad).

Just across Sixth Avenue at the corner of King Street, the Vietnamese-cuisine Mekong has become the nightly nabe party scene of WoHo (West SoHo), ground zero for the nabe’s coolest cats, young and old, with its L-shaped corner patio, now concealing its famous- and boho-faces with privatizing wooden crates overgrowing with broccoli bushes and spice plants that amiable owner Brian utilizes in his kitchen. (Must get: the lightest-touch battered calamari in town, with sublime fish sauce-dipper; that chicken in iron-pot dish, and those barbecued ribs!)

But pity those marginally-fine (but hardly destination) places such as Oscar’s and Shorty’s .32–even Hundred Acres!–all within a red potato’s throw of The Dutch, serving somewhat like-minded gastro-pub and green-market cuisines. That’s a LOT of brasseries for one two-block area. Someone’s…going…down, soon, leaving another Bermuda Triangle in the culinary topography’s wake. We hope not, but stay tuned. And bistro boys, get your acts together.

If you want a detailed look at The Dutch’s menus, visit TheDutchNYC.com.

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