Okay, folks, close your laptop and pick up the phone. You need to book a meal at Dubrovnik Restaurant in New Rochelle right now, this instant.
Here’s the deal: this month-old Croatian restaurant has an intimate stony outdoor terrace on which its owner has built a serious, bang-up, wood-burning oven. Oh, but it’s not just any old pizza oven (because any simp could buy one of those from any number of companies, like here and here.) Oh, no—this sucker was built by hand and does not contain a pre-formed oven interior. In fact, this oven is practically a freak among Westchester’s great wood-burning ovens (which is something I sort of collect). Dubrovnik’s oven has more in common with the unique outdoor grill/oven complex that Chef Jeremy McMillan and Russell Hernandez designed and built at Bedford Post. And just like in Bedford Post’s outdoor kitchen, Dubrovnik’s cooking—of fish, squid, octopus, goat, and lamb—is done on moveable grills positioned over wood embers.
People, you can’t believe how dreamy the confluence of summer night, burning wood, and roasting meat smells.
Imagine tiny, tender, smoke scented octopus and squid, the tips of their tentacles curled lightly charred. Or a generous whole branzino, its belly stuffed with herbs, sparkling with Croatian sea salt, and still cracking from the fire. Heaven.
One of the cooler dishes at Dubrovnik is the mixed grill “cooked under the bell” (you need to order it ahead: don’t forget). Here, sections of goat and lamb are placed on a pan, which is fitted with a giant dome (the “bell” of the dish’s name; it was brought to New Rochelle from Croatia despite some grief from US Customs officials). Once the bell is placed onto the pan, it is fitted with a hoop that rings the top 1/3 of the dome. This works to contain embers that are piled on top of the dome and that turn the whole contraption into a sort of Croatian Dutch oven. What emerges from under the dome are succulent, crisp-skinned chunks of bone-in meat that taste like some sort of primeval, celebratory feast. Sure, I could have done without the why-bother raw scallion garnish, but that golden, smoke-licked meat was truly delicious. By the way, you know the drill (I say it so often, I wish I’d trademarked it): First Tastes are not critical reviews. We only visited once and Dubrovnik has only been open a few weeks, and that’s way too soon judge.
The key is to sit outside. While Dubrovnik’s interior is fine in a modern, very stony way (its owner is in the building trades), the real scene is to sit outdoors and be bathed in the delicious smells emanating from the oven. The terrace—which is hidden like a secret behind a Main Street façade (on one of New Rochelle’s less glamorous, urban stretches, no less)—feels like it could be found in rural France, Italy, or (I suppose) Dubrovnik, a sunny city located just across the Adriatic Sea from Italy’s eastern coast.
The terrace overlooks Dubrovnik’s lavish vegetable garden, which is highlighted by a grand marble fountain that was salvaged by the restaurant’s owner from a Riverdale estate. Take a peek. There are tiny goldfish swimming in its mossy marble pool. The garden itself—densely planted and wonderfully anal-retentive—yields herbs, cabbages, peppers (and, soon, tomatoes and figs) that go right into Dubrovnik’s kitchen, also located downstairs. Sit on a bench and relax with a glass of delicious Croatian wine (and why not? Croatia is located just across from Italy and shares much of its winemaking history). You’ll be as seduced as I was by Dubrovnik’s secret, fertile, wood scented garden. Folks, I’m telling you: pounce.
MotherShuck U2 at the Cookery with Peekskill Brewery
August 26, 6:30-10:30 pm
$65 per Person
MotherShuck 1.0 sold out in about three seconds, so if you like the sound of unlimited Peekskill Brewery beer, freshly shucked oysters (Skookum, Kushi and Riptide), and loads of stunning dishes, buffets and “action stations” (that’s caterese, I swear), call The Cookery at (914) 305-2336 right now. Look for—and this is from the announcement—a “slop station” with Manhattan clam chowder and pork cheeks with clams. Folks, the fiendish minds at The Cookery plan to “Shuck You on the Bar” (I’m only quoting). If that sounds appealing, call today.
Wood-Roasted Whole Branzino at Dubrovnik
It’s really not complicated. In fact, it’s almost primal—which makes this dish nearly as attractive as sex or a painkiller drip when you’ve broken a bone (so, that’s very). We’re talking beautifully fresh ocean fish stuffed with some herbs pulled straight from the garden, roasted over an open wood fire until its skin begins to crackle. With a squirt of lemon and a lashing of oil, this branzino tastes like a dream of an Italian or Greek beach vacation—except you can get it in New Rochelle.