So I ate at Dahlia Lounge night, never one to miss three courses for 30 bucks, and found it every bit as self-assured as ever. What is it about the mighty Dahlia? Every single thing about the place—the red walls; the knowing service; the brazenness of dishes like pan-fried caraway bread dumplings with cider-braised savoy cabbage and gala apples and melty gruyere; the way they call it “melty gruyere”—screams the kind of bold confidence that tells the diner she’s in trusty hands. The Tuesday night crowd (yeah, crowd) didn’t hurt either. It felt energetic and alive in that room.
Then I got my food.
What had looked brilliant on the menu turned out to be pretty darned lackluster, from the tough seared scallops in walloping curry to the way overdressed bibb lettuce salad with tarragon and Beecher’s cheddar to the miso-glazed Berkshire pork loin (love that idea!) with kimchi fried rice.
Some of the problems were ones of execution, and would be fixed with a subtler hand on the the salad oil tiller, for instance. But more interesting to me were the conceptual problems that seemed to be caused by…Dahlia’s signature boldness.
Kimchi fried rice? Comfortingly porky, yes…but also a minefield of painfully powerful kimchi blasts. The pan-seared scallops? How I’d have loved them had they been served in a sauce less show-offy than the madras curry.
Big flavors have always been a calling card of Tom Douglas’ kitchens. But they’ve traditionally been deployed with much more nuance than I was tasting last night.