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Mar 7, 2007 05:46 PM

The Dressing Room, Westport

Has anyone been here? We went a last month, and were very underwhelmed. The food was mostly so underseasoned that I wished I had some kosher salt in my pocket! It seemed as though everyone sitting around us was looking for Paul Newman or some other famous person. The service was a bit off, and we were sitting in a really bad spot, kind of a hallway to get to the main dining area, on a banquette.
After we ordered and were awaiting our appetizers, and waiting and waiting, the waiter came over and told us that they dropped my daughters ribs on the floor, so they had to refire them. In the meantime they brought us each a generous bowl of pureed parsnip soup, which was very good, and nice of them, although we couldn't understand why it would take so long to refire the ribs that they had to bring an extra course.
My app was very good, a roasted beet salad with frisee and a raspberry vinaigrette and homemade mini marshmallows (which were strangely delicious), and the salad was definitely the tastiest thing all night. We also had a crabmeat salad, nice presentation but bland, and the dry rubbed ribs with a cabbage apple slaw, also very bland, although falling off the bone tender.
For mains, I had a roasted trout with rosemary apple compote and potatoes. We also had the pot roast, served in a little cast iron pot, filled with meat, potatoes, root veggies etc. They recommended getting the mashed potatoes on the side, which was not necessary in retrospect since there were potatoes in the pot roast. My husband had the berkshire pig, very tender and succulent, with horseradish potato puree. I do have to say that the quality of the ingredients across the board was excellent.
There has been so much buzz about this place in the food magazines, but less about the food and more about the philosophy of the place. And of course Patricia Brooks gave it a Very Good in the NY Times, although I thought her review was about as bland as the food!
So, would love to hear anyone else's experience there...maybe it was a bad night for us?

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  1. KB, your experience was a lot like our recent one there. While we are Westporters, avid locavores, and huge fans of everything the Newmans undertake, we would agree this restaurant does not live up to its billing. We have eaten there five times so we know our experience is not from the kitchen having an off night: at times the food is sublime, other times subpar. For example, anything they make with farro is usually fabulous; however twice their chicken offerings have been so bland and ordinary that a $15 price tag would have been too high, let alone $25. The other night we went with a party of 5 for my daughter's birthday. The service was unpardonably rushed: they raced out the appetizers and then the entrees came before my daughter was even halfway through her salad, which they tried to remove without even asking. At the end of the meal they whisked away wine glasses that were not empty. We had an 8pm reservation and it was clear no one was waiting for our table, so why the rush? We had to ask for bread, and when it came some of the slices were quite stale. The meatloaf was divine, as was the hamburger, but the fries that came with it were so soggy they might have been made an hour before, and taken out of the fryer too soon. the erratic underseasoning was apparent in the soups: fresh pea soup tasted as if it had been made in a blender with nothing but peas; but the cold cucumber soup was ambrosia. So if you feel like gambling, with an average tab of $75 a head, go there. But I hope they get their act together - it's too good a concept, and a cause, to be spoiled by inconsistencies.

    1. We had a similar experience. We looked forward to visiting the Dressing Room since it opened last fall, and finally did so on a recent Saturday. Sadly, the evening became a series of disappointments, combining to form a really unsatisfactory experience.

      We were offered a choice of a 5:30 or 9:00 p.m. dinner seating for a Saturday night. The restaurant is obviously a hit, though we associate that scenario more with New York than Westport. Unfortunately, the city comparison doesn't end there, as we were kept waiting until 9:25 before being seated (we were directed to the bar but decided to pass on that elbow-to-elbow space). A nearly half-hour wait for an already-late 9:00 p.m. reservation seems excessive.

      Tim, the sommelier, was quite personable, but the wine service routine was bizarre. We ordered a bottle and waited for nearly 15 minutes for it to reach our table...only to be whisked away somewhere else for opening. Five more minutes ensued before the opened bottle arrived. In the meantime, our appetizers had already arrived. Tim asked if we'd like our bottle of white to be kept cold and our reaction was yes, of course. We later regretted this decision. Rather than putting it in a conventional, tableside ice bucket he whisked the bottle away to that secret wine cave again. During the rest of the evening, our wine glasses were never replenished unless we specifically asked; the server seemed to feel this wasn’t his responsibility.

      Our server was cool and humorless: not a smile or bit of personality, and no attempt to make us feel welcome. The juxtaposition of warm setting and cold server was bizarre. By the end, we were so eager to leave that we passed on the tempting-sounding desserts. When we mentioned that the greens in our monkfish entree were filled with coarse sand he responded that no one else had complained but he'd tell the kitchen. No offer or attempt to make it right...and again, no acknowledgement of those empty wine glasses.

      Our appetizers of pea soup and bean salad and the monkfish entree were generally quite good, though the grit issue mentioned above meant that we had to leave a third of our entrees behind. The menu was interesting, and using humanely-raised and organic local food is admirable. But the menu admonition of "no substitutions" meant that we had to reject many otherwise-appealing options due to dietary issues.

      As we left the restaurant and walked past the manager, we raised our concerns. We got a maddening, "I'm sorry you feel that way" (“mistakes were made”), followed by "It was a very busy night." So apparently the problem was ours. As long as guests keep streaming in, why be troubled? For $75 or more a head, we expected better. We wanted to love this restaurant and the experience, but left disappointed and unlikely to return. Unfortunately, The Dressing Room seems to embody the current practice of running upscale restaurants for the enjoyment and egos of the chefs and owners than for the pleasure of the diners. What happened to the old-fashioned notion of hospitality? This trend will continue until diners start pushing back.

      1. These reviews are right on par with my experience. Beautiful room, well appointed from the glasses, flatware- on the tablecloths (although an insider has told me that they actually have gorgeous tables underneath that cost a fortune but Mr. Newman wanted tablecloths). Had a reservation and we were put at a lousy table next to the waitress station although it was not crowded, asked to be moved an we were. Air- conditioning way too high. Service- obnoxious. A very full of herself young lady with a condescending tone was our server. My pork 3 ways was a total disappointment, I could only count 2 ways and both were bland. One dining companion loved her cold pea soup but I would have to agree, it was like blanched peas in a blender. Nice color. Another dining companion had the pot roast that came with a plop of horseradish cream on it which she really did not like. When the full-of-herself server came and asked how we liked everything this person was honest about her food and ms. server replied- "oh just try it, it's really good!", which as far as I am concerned is not her job to convince diners to like what they don't. Either don't ask or suggest a remedy such as having it removed. My salad was a ridiculous little circle of precious greens that looked like a garnish waiting for something to go in the middle. I think my biggest criticism was the cookie plate. Three big doughy cookies came out on a plate. To me, a cookie plate should be delicate with small cookies for the table to taste. Delicate would be the word I would use. Not only were these big but they were lousy. And I am a cookie freak and a baker, it's hard to wreck chocolate. Humidity or underbaking had gotten to these perhaps. The three of us did not even finish them. Overall, I had been curious about this place with all the press. So now I have been there, done that. Once was enough.

        2 Replies
        1. re: chefmo

          Interesting to see all of your responses. We went again about a week ago...hadn't been since my original post back in March...and sad to say it was as disappointing as the first time. It was a tuesday, the place was half empty...and they sat us in the back room with one other filled table while the outdoor patio and inside front section was hopping with people. It was a bit strange, especially since they had one waitress covering both spots and she clearly couldn't handle both sections. The apps were pretty good. We had the gazpacho which was very tasty, the fried clams which were okay and I had a special codcake with a fruit salsa...good, but my first bite came with a large piece of fish bone which is an immediate turnoff. For entrees we had the pig 3 way which was not great, the chicken which was bland and I had the farro which was pretty much a was supposed to be with chanterelles, radishes and a stuffed zucchini blossom. It came with corn, squash, zucchini, radishes and the blossom. Not a chanterelle in sight which is the reason I ordered it, Beyond that, the farro itself was overseasoned and the vegetables were mushy. It seemed as though they just took whatever was left over from the day before and threw it in. The service was strange with one waitress calling us "family" every time she came in "how is everything family?" Okay the first time but by the 5th or 6th it was becoming embarassing. Maybe it was the same one with the condescending tone that Chefmo had?! Then there was the busgirl who just planted herself against the wall watching us eat the entire time!
          Very disappointing and we will definitely not be going back, especially when places like the Schoolhouse at Cannondale are so close and delicious!

          1. re: kbfood

            Annoying as she was, I'm impressed that your server checked back with you 6 times; we practically had to tackle ours to get his attention. As the novelty wears off and they alienate first-time visitors with bizarre service and dull food, I think this place will fade away. This is a sophisticated area; people are willing to pay, but expect good value and an enjoyable evening. And I agree regarding the Schoolhouse at Cannondale: this tiny place is a real find and is everything the Dressing Room isn't.

        2. First time visiting the Dressing Room last night. I was prepared to be underwhelmed, but was proven wrong enough to go again for another data point.

          After drinks (happily surprised to see Chris, a true veteran, behind the bar) went to be seated at 7 pm and host, bless him, was nice enough to reseat our four top in the front dining room when our first table, in the completely empty back dining room, seemed a little lonely.

          Ipswich clams were exceptional: all that fried clams should be. My chopped salad tartly over-dressed and no hint of dill. The heirloom tomato and cheese special looked very good. Lavender chicken at our table smelled great and got good reviews. My burger (silly me, but it’s what I wanted) was nicely cooked. Desserts very good to excellent.

          One suggestion: please, please, please train your bussers not to scrape and stack plates at the table. Please.

          Verdict: I'll try it again in a bit.

          1. I went for the first time recently. Great physical setting but an odd vibe, almost tense- we sat in the front where the tables are crammed next to each other and spent half the night (unwillingly) listening to a business meeting/p*$$ing contest. I had the cod. The sauce was wonderfully intense and yummy and the beans were delicious, but the fish itself was a little rubbery and bland. I wanted the fries to be better than they were and had high hopes for them as I saw others being served, but ours were a little tired and heavy. Dessert was the pan fried angel food cake, delectable, but the lavender ice cream accompanying it was far, far too overwhelming ("Tastes like a bar of soap," according to my companion). I happily pay for great food (especially local and organic), but can't quite justify an eight dollar corn on the cob -- I don't care if you drove to the farm, lovingly picked it after an hour of contemplation, and gave it its own seat belt on the ride back. Overall, frequent nice hits but too many misses for the cost.

            2 Replies
            1. re: frostingmmm

              Dined at the Dressing Room last Saturday having made the reservation with some trepidation after reading the posts. The posts are right on target. The room is lovely although the front is crowded and noisy but some people want that. The back room was warm, comfortable and fairly quiet. Service was friendly but professional. The sommelier had a good knowlege of the list and knew the rather obscure zin from Wallwalla we ordered. The food alas was very underwhelming - particularly disappointing give the high prices. The wood fired oyster appetizer was perfect but the pork 3 ways and chicken pot pie entrees were mediocre. One piece of pork was cold, one warm, one fairly hot and the sides all cool. The pot pie was bland lacking the freshness we expected from a market driven dish - couldn't even taste the carrots and the chicken could not have been free range as it had no chickeny flavor at all. We can recommend the all Connecticut cheese board though - the excellent choices were very good and all served at room temp so they were gooey and flavorful. At over $200 we got some good oysters, interesting wine and a cheese plate. If you're stuck in Westport for a meal sit at the bar and have snacks but a full meal? No.

              1. re: jeffreylydon

                The thing that continues to amaze me is all the buzz this place is getting, even from national food magazines. Of course all they talk about is the fact that Newman owns it and the food "concept", but nothing about the food itself. There are many other restaurants opening up with a similar philosophy but with fabulous food to back it up. Maybe it's the captive audience with the playhouse next door that keeps The Dressing Room filled up. After giving it a few tries, we won't be going back.