Tonight, Dame officially opens for dinner, unveiling its crisp blue-and-white dining room on Macdougal Street off Bleecker to the public. But we — and doubtless hundreds of other folks — are already big fans. That’s because the English seafood restaurant had been operating in pop-up mode in the space right next door long enough for chef Ed Szymanski to gain a devoted following for his fish and chips—deceptively simple but meticulously done with a soupçon of Heston Blumenthal technique (a bit of rice flour and vodka for crispness) and a finishing mist of malt vinegar. According to the chef, that unlikely signature dish was just the thing to power Dame through the pandemic’s first summer. “It tied together the Englishness with the to-go mentality that was, and to some degree still is, necessary to stay afloat,” he says. And to satisfy customers’ appetite for more, he added light seasonal specials like tuna-belly crudo, shrimp salad, and bottarga-showered deviled eggs. “I had such fun doing it.”
As good as the food was at temporary Dame, the service and drinks and setting (all the province of partner Patricia Howard) equaled it. Any preview of their new brick-and-mortar runs the risk of sounding like a review of their pandemic projects, which ranged from a lawn-garden pen for lingering over Pimm’s Cups and drippy peak-summer-tomato sandwiches to a wintertime grocery stocked with sparkling produce and housemade seafood provisions like mussels in curry oil and saffron potted shrimp. It was all superb, displaying not only an uncanny grasp of exactly what people want to eat but how they want to eat it. At a time when fostering community is paramount, the Sunday guest-chef series—a pandemic-pop-up all-stars coterie, from Brutus Bakeshop and Ursula to Ha’s Dac Biet and Yellow Rose—became a destination in its own right. And Szymanski and Howard’s commitment to donate profits to social-justice causes garnered the sort of goodwill that’s almost a requirement for doing business these days.
If there’s a new way to open a restaurant, pandemic or no, these first-timers have figured it out — with no PR, no celebrity chef, no restaurant group backing them, and just their own initial 2K to kick off the pop-up last summer. (Dame Summer Club, as it was called, helped fund the permanent space in more ways than one; some particularly devoted customers became investors.) At the new address, the partners have installed wooden booths and a marble chef’s counter facing the open kitchen, but for now, all service will be confined to the 32 outdoor seats. A two-pronged wine list juxtaposes the hip “natural” brigade (categorized as “What Austin Powers is Drinking,” encompassing pét-nats and orange vinifications) with old-world classics (“What James Bond is Drinking” when he’s not drinking martinis: Grand Cru Champagnes, apparently). And Szymanski expands on the piscatory theme with dishes like smoked-whitefish croquettes, Anglo-Indian kedgeree with sea urchin, whole grilled turbot with smoked seaweed butter — and of course, the fish and chips that started at all.
87 Macdougal St., nr. Bleecker St.; 929-367-7370