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GOOD & LOUD

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Entering the Japanese-French fusion restaurant Dish, in Bay Ridge, I was struck by two things: the beauty of the place and the intensity of the music.

Visually, the wide corridor of the space, lined with a row of tables and illuminated with serene, recessed lighting, invites diners to relax. It’s a setting in which to be left alone with one’s quiet thoughts while sipping sake and consume sushi, or gather with friends and chat companionably.

However all of that is rendered impossible when music is piped into the room at a deafening volume. I’ve complained about the level of sound in eateries in this column before, and I’m aware that my opinion may sound like a rant. But, I have to ask Michael Izzo and Henry Arena, the owners of these high-decibel digs: can’t a restaurant just be a restaurant? Do you think diners will run screaming from your place, complaining that the atmosphere isn’t hip enough, if the music serves as background ambience and the food takes center stage?

Behind Dish is a garden that, had I been wearing earplugs, could be described as tranquil. Its two rows of candlelit tables face a cascading wall of water that ends in an elegant, rectangular pool. But again, a throbbing instrumental piped from speakers over the waterfall repeated itself in a nightmarish loop. (The waiter was accommodating when I asked that the sound be turned down.)

If you want to avoid an aneurysm, don’t pair the music with the lava lamp-green apple martini - a toxic mix of apple vodka, apple schnapps and melon liqueur that smells like gasoline and tastes like runoff from Chernobyl. A delicately flavored, golden-colored mango martini is a better choice. Before diving into the Bible-weight menu, we traded the apple concoction for an equally lurid but easier to swallow "Saketini." Made with sake and gin, it was another drink that glowed - this time with an unearthly sapphire haze.

Our waiter Calvin, who has been with the restaurant since its opening in December, is a fan of chef Jack Woo and his Japanese fusion cooking. (Before Dish, Woo worked for the Sushi Den in Colorado and Migita Sushi in Brooklyn Heights.) He steered us away from standard sushi, sashimi and tempura - "Tempura is tempura where ever you have it," said Calvin - to more esoteric dishes that showcased the chef’s experimental nature.

Of the four appetizers he suggested, three were enjoyable (if excessively rich, a flaw that cropped up several times during dinner); one didn’t work at all.

A pile of crunchy, tiny fried shrimp were mixed with spicy, peppery mayonnaise. They made great eating if you kept your intake down to five or six; more than that would be like spooning up an entire souffle.

Another dish I appreciated for its salty sweetness was the retro throwback of huge sea scallops wrapped in bacon and served on skewers - a luau favorite circa 1965. It’s a clever idea: the bacon crisps while it’s on the grill and helps protect the fish from drying out over the heat. Like the shrimp, it’s not a dish you’d want if you craved something light and clean-tasting.

And Japanese? No.

I wouldn’t use the word "crazy" to describe my reaction to the "Crazy Avocado," but I liked it well enough. Tiny beads of salty red caviar saved little rolls of raw, velvety salmon, covered in creamy slices of ripe avocado, from being cloying.

The one blooper: Buttery slices of yellowtail in a delicate soy marinade scattered with rings of hot jalapeno peppers; the heat obscured the delicate sweetness of the fish. Without the fiery distraction, the dish was perfection.

We didn’t leave behind a single drop of our miso soup. Miso is as ubiquitous in Japanese restaurants as the iceberg lettuce salad is to their American counterparts, so you’d imagine it would be a no-brainer for a kitchen to master. Not so. I’ve tasted countless over-salted, too thick versions and sipped just as many that were as thin and tasteless as gruel. Woo’s, with its pronounced, nutty barley flavor and silken cubes of tofu, was as soothing as a bowl of mother’s chicken noodle soup.

Too bad that winner was followed by a flop. Dish’s rectangles of rib-eye steak, which is a forgiving cut due to its high fat content, should have sauteed up nice and tender, but instead this version arrived stringy and inedibly tough. The red wine sauce (there’s the French touch) was reduced to a mineral rich meatiness - certainly worthy of carefully cooked beef.

We fared better with "chicken yaki udon" an oily, yet appealing, platter of pan-fried noodles mixed with slices of moist chicken breast and a garden-full of crisply sauteed peppers and greens.

Woo doesn’t skimp on the dessert round-up: a choice of five ice creams in flavors such as green tea and red bean; chocolate mousse; pineapple cheesecake; the lychee and passion fruit mousse; and tiramisu.

Someone at another table tried the fried ice cream ball jazzed up with a side of shooting flames. Blazing fried ice cream? There’s something Mel Brooks would appreciate.

Dish reminds me of "The Nanny" actor Fran Drescher. She’s gorgeous to look at and, and even enjoyable to watch for short periods - but that voice!

 

Dish (9208 Third Ave. between 92nd and 93rd streets in Bay Ridge) accepts American Express, MasterCard and Visa. Entrees: $10-$25. The restaurant serves dinner daily. For reservations call (718) 238-2323.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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