On paper, Dame might look like a Super Serious Restaurant. Reservations for this Greenwich Village spot get booked three weeks in advance as soon as they’re released at noon every day. Two chefs stand behind a sleek white bar and cook the highest-quality seafood for miles. Grilled oysters are blanketed by green Chartreuse hollandaise, a bottle of $425 Champagne readily stands by, and, as soon as you finish one dish, several more will appear to take their position.
Despite being a seriously high-caliber restaurant, Dame avoids self-seriousness. For instance, the long wine menu is divided into “James Bond” and “Austin Powers” categories to distinguish between classic and funkier varieties. Disco blasts inside and out at a confident-party-host volume. Fish and chips take the metaphorical center stage on a menu that also includes a warm lobster tart or grilled turbot.
All of the quirks - along with masterfully conceptualized seafood dishes - make Dame exactly the kind of restaurant where we want to have a big night out in 2021. Because who needs another serious evening in their life right now?
This MacDougal Street spot brands itself as an English seafood restaurant. You’ll see that in the form of bronze Pimm’s cups, a luxurious Eton mess crowned with berries and meringue, and fish and chips fried so delicately that the cloud-like crust and hot potato cubes collapse in your mouth.
As charming as it may be to contemplate queries like “what’s up with British food?” or “pubs seem chill, don’t they?” - we’d suggest not getting bogged down in which of the restaurant’s dishes are categorically English. Eating at Dame is not synonymous with taking a class in UK culinary geography. What it is, instead, is a lusty hot display of fresh seafood and vegetables in tandem.
When you leave, you’ll be thinking about how cucumber hunks, dill flowers, and plump mussels come together on a plate. You’ll be dreaming of beefy summer tomatoes from Union Square Greenmarket on top of a light anchovy cream that tastes like Caesar dressing without any of the bullsh*t. Dame’s menu changes based on what’s in season, but you’ll typically see a skewer of shishito peppers and squid drizzled with herb pistou, a grilled whole fish accented by fruity olive oil, and hot fried croquettes full of smoked whitefish that would make any Jewish grandmother weep. Of course, there’s also the aforementioned fish and chips. This plate should be served at all sporting events, otherwise unpleasant family reunions, and any other occasion where a bottle of ketchup or malt vinegar may be present.
Part of the reason Dame runs so smoothly is because the owners (a couple named Patricia and Ed) have had some practice: the restaurant opened as a temporary pop-up on the very same street in the summer of 2020. Now, just a few doors down from the initial location, they can seat about 20 people in their dining room, and roughly the same amount on the sidewalk. The space is small and intimate, and you can be sure that everyone (the finance bros, the members of a Vera Bradley-adjacent neo-West Village crowd, and all of the restaurant industry people in between) will be humming “Funkytown” in their heads while they chomp into tuna tartare on sourdough toast.
One more important thing - you must go to the bathroom while you’re there. Its Mets-colored ’70s floral wallpaper pattern might inspire mirror selfies even from the least likely candidates. By the sink, there’s a little framed collection of quotes on the wall from Dali, the Department of Health, and the chef of St. John in London, Fergus Henderson. Why? Why the hell not.
Take solace in knowing that everyone around you worked just as hard as you did to get a reservation. (Dame only saves a couple seats for walk-ins every night, and we wouldn’t count on snagging them). Set an alarm for their daily 12pm reservation release and say yes to a table at 9:15pm. You can save your serious 7pm dinners for 2024. Or never again.
A note on ordering: Dame divides their menu into three sections - snacks that two people would each get two-ish bites of, small plates, and larger entrees. Like good denim, these are true to size. Our advice is to share everything (unlike denim, unless you’re a part of a certain traveling-based sisterhood). Go heaviest on small plates, and supplement with a snack or an entree or two.
This is a total texture play, with equal parts char and squish from blistered shishito, and a semi squeaky chew from the squid. Reserve the pool of bright and herby pistou underneath for further squid and pepper dipping, bread sopping, or poetry recitation.
Four hot little globes filled with smoked whitefish cores. The breaded exterior holds up to the thick and creamy center. Plus, there’s an accompanying bright red chili dip that adds some fire into the mix (and, least importantly, makes the plating look like an adorable paw print).
The best thing about this dish is the garlic-heavy emulsified mussel sauce underneath. It almost tastes nutty like sesame, and rounds out the refreshing cucumber hunks and plump salty mussels. We could eat this dill-covered dish again and again without pause.
Dame’s version arrives atop a thick piece of toasted sourdough from Mel, with rough-chopped tuna so fresh you could stick your nose up to it and you wouldn’t smell a single stench. It’s served just slightly colder than room temperature - which we find is the most ideal way to taste fish - and comes dusted in a salty blizzard of grated bottarga.
We regret the fact that, by the time your sweet sweet eyes are scanning this review, this juicy tomato dish with skinny umami-punching anchovies from northern Spain and crunchy bread crumbs may not exist on the menu anymore. Sorry about that. Let this serve as an example of how Dame conceptualizes their dishes based on the most exciting seasonal produce they can score at Union Square Greenmarket. And also an example of the fact that high-quality olive oil and anchovies make great dishes even better. Should we all move to Spain?
We can’t think of any time we’ve met fish and chips in NYC that made us want to exchange phone numbers. By contrast, Dame’s flaky white fish had us imagining a future together after two bites. The fried exterior looks puffy like a cirrocumulus cloud, and crunches with ASMR-level satisfaction as soon as you cut into it. Tip the bottle of ketchup upside down onto the pile of hot crispy potatoes and start planning your life together with a piece of fried fish.
Remember when we said don’t get too bogged down in questions like “what’s up with British food?” This mountainous sundae saucer of berries, crunchy meringue, and whipped cream might be an exception to that guidance. Google away (or phone a Brit), and experience the glory of a late 1800’s hallucination-inducing sugar rush.