Thanks to the wonder that is my neighborhood babysitting co-op, Mr Apparently and I were able to spend a lovely Valentine's Day dinner on our own in this new-ish local establishment. If I recall correctly, The Dog and Duck, which took over the space vacated by Bliss, opened just before the holidays in December. And the reports I heard from friends in the neighborhood were uniformly bad. But the space looks terrific and I wanted to see for myself, so we gave them a while to get the kinks worked out and chose last night for our visit.
I will offer this caveat: Valentine's Day may not be the best day to judge a restaurant.
Our experience did not begin well. We arrived at the relatively early hour of 6:30. Only two tables were seated. Our lack of reservations confused the hostess somewhat, but she amiably offered us the table to either side of the door or an incredibly romantic banquette awkwardly tucked behind the only two patrons at the bar. She also offered to "set a table" for us if we'd like to wait at the bar, and so we did. All the tables were already set for service, but clearly this was some sort of restaurant-speak for "you didn't make a reservation, and so you will have to wait."
At the bar, we were asked, "Whadda yiz guys want?" By now I was ready to abandon ship and head over to Claret, but we asked for a menu and, after being asked again what the bartender could get for "yiz guys," we each selected a beer from the eight or ten offered on tap. The tap to the Newcastle, however, wasn't working. The hostess invited us to our table by pointing to it and noting that we could go there whenever we pleased. I ordered a bottle of Blue Point. The whole experience was confusing. We paid for the beer and moved to the table.
Once seated in the most secluded and rather lovely corner of the restaurant, we were able to breathe and look around. The venue has been built out beautifully. When the staff is moving at an appropriate pace, it feels like a fine dining experience. Each fixture and fabric has clearly been chose with utmost care. I loved just sitting there.
Our server, while charming, had to check with the kitchen to answer each of our questions about the menu. He was amiable, with the slightly mocking smile of a young Christian Slater. Once we'd ordered, our appetizers came out quickly. The restaurant began to fill up.
From the special menu, a salad of lobster poached in butter with citrus was a disappointment. The lobster meat tasted dry and bland; the citrus and balsamic overpowered it. In the dimly lit room, the cubes of lobster and citrus appeared identical, resulting in a strange, unwelcome game of roulette with each bite. But a generous serving of duck liver pate, served in a mason jar with thick bread and cranberry jam, was absolutely delicious (and available on the regular menu). The experience was improving, although our empty plates sat on the table for quite a long time, until another waiter noticed and whisked them away. This attention, however, wreaked some sort of havoc with the flow of service, as we sat unattended for quite some time following.
Stick with me here. This is the good part.
Our entrees were excellent. Fabulous. Incredibly sound and wonderful food. My filet mignon was cooked exactly as I'd requested, was generous without being overwhelming, and was covered with just enough melted blue cheese to add to its flavor without becoming a cheeseburger. A large portion of Gruyère gratineed potatoes and a small serving of sauteed spinach rounded out the plate. Mr Apparently's lamb shank, I'm told, was equally pleasing. (Dear Reader, of course he offered me a bite, but lamb is just not my thing.)
By this time, the staff could have used roller skates. Each server and manager moved so quickly as to be a danger to those in their paths. More than once I witnessed a hasty runner dash to the center of the dining room, only to realize he had no idea where to deliver those plates he carried. The flow of traffic was odd, as if the more trips around the dining room a server made, the more he might be able to accomplish, rather than simply handling what was required within arm's reach and then moving on.
I had ordered the prix fixe, and so an attractive dessert of strawberry mousse in a freestanding chocolate quasi-heart shape was set before us. I had not been enthusiastic about the dessert options, but the mousse turned out to be delicious, right down to the garnish. The menu also pronounced chocolate-dipped strawberries to be part of the meal; they were not forthcoming. A cup of decaf tasted as if it had been made earlier in the day.
By the time we were ready to leave, we could not. The place was packed, and only by closely following a server could we finagle our way from the back of the house to the door. Everyone was boisterous and happy, and there was not a seat or perch to be had.
In summary: a mixed experience. The restaurant looks more formal than the menu and staff prove it to be, and so one's expectations should not be set too high. The kitchen seems to have their act together to a greater degree than the front-of-house staff. The well-appointed tables in the back corner offer privacy and even charm, except during frequent moments when a porter opens a door to the brightly-lit basement stairs to deliver provisions to the kitchen.
I would suggest timing your visit on a weeknight, when you can sit for a while and enjoy the atmosphere. I expect The Dog and Duck will become a much-loved local establishment, certainly offering a more comfortable experience than Bar 43 and even a more refined atmosphere than Quaint. The food shows great promise. Just be prepared for a disconnect between the look of the venue, the quality of the food, and the overall visit that you will have: the room promises a type of experience that, at least at present, it cannot deliver.