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Restaurants & Bars 8

Dean St. in Prospect Heights

Bob Martinez | Feb 14, 201112:33 PM

It’s really quite a trick to open a brand new restaurant and make it feel like it’s been around for years. Dean St. is only 3 weeks old but they’re hitting on all cylinders.

We sailed in at 8:15 on a Friday night. Based on some comments from a friend who lives in the neighborhood we expected to have to wait a bit for a table. It wasn’t that bad. We ordered a couple of martinis and found space near the bar to perch. It was our first time there (we had never visited the Tavern On Dean incarnation.) It’s a nice room and the corner location lets you scope out the street. The people watching should be choice when the days get longer.

By the time our drinks were done our table was ready. Tables actually. We had a choice between a high table with stools in the front room or a regular table with chairs in the back dining room. Given a choice I always pick chairs.

The dining room is casual but also a bit quieter than the front bar. We were seated by the open kitchen which gave us the chance to watch Nate Smith at work. Nate was previously the chef at the Spotted Pig and I was looking forward to sampling his food. (I’ve never managed to eat at the Pig – I am crowd averse.)

The menu is short – just 5 entrees and 5 starters. My girlfriend, who actually did eat at the Pig by cheating and showing up at 3:30 on a Wednesday afternoon when honest folk are all at work, said they have the same short menu at the SP. (I checked – she’s right.) On Friday the choices were shellfish chowder, herbed chicken, skirt steak with sunchokes and turnips, fresh pasta with squash and walnuts, and a burger.

The positive part of a short menu is that it doesn’t take you a long time to decide what you want. My girlfriend ordered the burger, I chose the skirt steak, and we ordered a cabernet off the short but well priced wine list.

While we waited for our food we had a chance watch Nate and his 2 assistants in action. He seems to be having a good time. Lots of smiles and chatting back and forth. He tweaked every single dish as it left the kitchen. As New York kitchens go it’s reasonably large. (More about that later.)

We liked our food just fine. My girlfriend’s burger was reasonably sized in that pub burger kind of way. Brioche bun. Toasted too. A good amount of fries. She likes her fries crispier but I thought they were very good. (She’s pickier than I am about fries.) She cut off a piece of her burger for me to sample and we agreed that it can take it’s place on the "A" List.

My skirt steak was cooked to order and very flavorful. The sunchokes were terrific – I wished they gave me more. The turnips were tasty enough but were cooked unevenly. I chalk that up to a kitchen that’s only been open for 3 weeks.

(I took food pictures but I didn’t like the way they came out. It would be unfair to post them since they don’t do the food justice.)

We had to ask for salt and pepper. As it turned out the burger and steak didn’t need any salt at all (we do taste before shaking) but the side dishes needed a bit. The server used a pepper grinder. I like freshly ground pepper but the ritual of the server standing over my plate twisting away always makes me slightly uncomfortable. I have to fight the temptation to point to my food and tell them that they missed a spot. And they always seem to stop grinding 2 seconds before they should. (Yes, I am a pain in the ass.)

Anyway, we liked our food a lot.

OK, back to the good sized kitchen and the short menu. I’d like to see them add more things. Unlike the Spotted Pig, which caters to a rotating crowd from all over the city, Dean St. will mainly draw people from the immediate neighborhood. If people go with some frequency I think they’re going to want a bit more variety. (“I really like that chicken but I had it last week and I don’t feel like having the burger tonight.”) They’ve got a big enough kitchen with enough prep space to make that work. Still, it’s early days.

The neighborhood crowd has welcomed Dean St. with open arms. Both the bar and dining room were full and more people were coming in when we were leaving at 10:15.

The service was exceptionally smooth. It actually reminded me a little of a Danny Meyer place. All this is almost enough to give me a case of Prospect Heights envy.

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