The last tragic days of Dressler in mid-2013 have been endlessly rehashed and need not be recounted here, suffice to say original chef Polo Dobkin has been reinstalled and the interior completely revamped. While the original build-out was dark and baroque, the new space, while eerily recalling the old in its L-shaped layout, is now bright and open, done in pale earthen shades with whitewashed rusticated stone walls. Statuesque dark brown banquettes line one wall, behind which a pure light streams upward. The bar focuses on its bottles, and a loft right over the front entrance bristles with herbs, taking advantage of the restaurant's sunny southern exposure. One might be sitting in the lobby of a ranch resort somewhere outside Santa Fe. On a first visit 10 days after the official opening, the food was mainly terrific.
The herbs readily find their way onto the menu, which is divided into four divisions, excluding desserts: cured and raw seafood, snacks, apps, and entrées. As with most modern places, smaller dishes are the focus. A meal that a friend and I shared started out with a bang, with baby artichokes ($16) lightly crumbed, sautéed, and surmounted by an arugula salad slicked with a sort of homemade ranch dressing. We'd asked to have our dinner broken up into three courses, with artichokes as a prelude, and along with it came warm bread in the shape of a bialy sided with a yogurt-herb spread. The bread looked dorky, but tasted good.
Next arrived a very long octopus tentacle shaped like a fishhook on a plate puddled with basil oil, and some nice creamer potatoes, coins of crisp chorizo, and strips of mild red pepper, an app having an altogether Spanish impact. Simultaneously appeared something called "hand-rolled ravioli": a single pasta sheet folded like a napkin over some very fresh ricotta in a buttery parmesan broth, with peas and pea greens scattered across the top. Though more fazzoletti than ravioli, it was one of the most satisfying things I've eaten this year. These dishes were $19 and $14, respectively.
In a menu that clearly focuses on small and medium-size plates, why would one bother with the entrées, or order more than one? That was what we were asking ourselves as we tucked into two of the eight offered, which mainly ran to seafood and what might be termed amplified meat duos — a pork chop served with pork belly, for example, or a lamb loin with lamb rib. We were unavoidably lured by plancha marina ($30). As with the octopus this offering was in an Iberian vein, and the seafood was similarly unimpeachable: a pair of head-on shrimp leering up at you, a thumb-size baby cuttlefish or two, a scallop, a swatch of monkfish. These all rested in a dark oceanic broth of surpassing richness also flavored with chorizo, further bolstered with a creamy garlic allioli, which is how the Catalans spell aioli. What could go wrong? Well seafood should be buoyant, and the total effect of all these fried elements in an oily broth with mayo was just too much grease. Still, a promising dish if the lipids were held in check.
Our other main course, chicken with dumplings ($24), featured gnocchi-like dumplings the size of stunted penne, with maitake mushrooms, roasted tomatoes, and escarole in a pancetta-scented broth. The skin was crisp, the serving generous, the flesh tender. I had no complaint with it, though I might have relished more dumplings. Damn our carb-hating age! The entrée I most regretted not ordering was a cod filet that came with the garlicky French salt-cod puree known as brandade, in a pairing of fresh and preserved fish similar to the duos of lamb and pork.
Despite mild disappointment with the plancha marina, our meal at Meadowsweet was memorably delicious, with the free-form ravioli a favorite. There were a few service issues, which will hopefully be resolved by the time you visit. There was a delay of over 20 minutes between the time our second course was whisked away and the entrées arrived, so the kitchen output rate is uneven at this point. And, distractingly, the senior front-of-the-house staff spent an inordinate amount of time trying to level wobbly tables, crouching awkwardly in a sort of recurring comedy skit. Fix that shit before the diners arrive! Otherwise, I had a memorable meal at Meadowsweet that left me and my guest eager to return.