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"Maybe it's much too early in the game," muses Ella Fitzgerald from the depths of my stereo speakers, "oh but I thought I'd ask you just the same: What are you doing New Year's ... New Year's Eve?" Perhaps the most plaintive of musical mating calls, and right up there with "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" in the pantheon of bittersweet euphony, the conclusion of another solar cycle is by its nature rife with wistful expectation. The pressures surrounding this champagne-sodden holiday are formidable -- the pressure to forget the year just ending and to avoid immediately screwing up the year that's about to begin, the pressure to be with just the right person in just the right place when the clock strikes midnight, the pressure to, goddamn it, have a good time.
Steak tartare $8
Green eggs and ham $9
Dot burger $10
Duck two ways $18
Chocolate praline propeller $7.50
Sorbet selection $7.50
The gravitas is especially intense this year because of those perfectly respectable citizens who believe, with unshakable conviction and after several months of intensive research and arcane calculation, that Jan. 1, 2001, will be the true first day of the third millennium. (You know who I mean: those chronological zealots who spent Dec. 31, 1999, locked in their rooms, hands covering their ears, chanting over and over again, "I shall not celebrate, I shall not celebrate, I shall not celebrate," while everyone else was out belting Veuve Cliquot and making out with the nearest passing biped.) A new year, a new century, a new millennium? ¡Ay caramba! Just think of all the dread and regret you can chew on as the giant ball approaches the Times Square asphalt.
The best way to handle this death/ rebirth-in-microcosm scenario is to embrace the same time-honored cure-all that has given New Year's its particular thrust for a millennium or two: Wade into a festively ornamented setting packed with elegantly attired celebrants, and make as merry as you possibly can. Dot, which offers up its fair share of dazzling, space-age revelry six nights a week, is ideal to this purpose; although it might be too overburdened (or even closed) on the actual Eve, it's still an appropriately festive location to contemplate the next millennium. The place looks like the bachelor pad of a renegade hipster lounge lizard with a taste for tactile curves, 007 gadgetry, indirect lighting, and, well, dots. The bar/restaurant has two entrances: One is through the Miyako Hotel, home to many a fabled rock star across the years, and the other is via Post Street, where a virtual hostess designed by Industrial Light & Magic greets you in all her videographic splendor. From Post, you can stroll down and around the curved, gradually descending entranceway past the cushy banquettes and the Cosmo-sucking twentysomethings to the pastel-gray, dramatically vertical bar, where an electronic stock ticker set into the counter helpfully proffers pickup lines ("If you were a laser gun you'd be set on stun"). Off to the right (and thanks to an ingenious lighting scheme), you can study the silhouette of anyone climbing the circular staircase in the next room. Globes, balls, and spheres of several hues and sizes decorate the walls and the carpets and hang from the ceilings. The overall effect is as retro-futuristic as the polka dots on a Carnaby Street miniskirt.
One would think such a setting would be intimidating, potentially obnoxious, and fatally pretentious, but despite the high prevalence of black leather pants, little rectangular eyeglasses, and cobalt cocktails, the ambience is comfortable and inviting: You never feel as though the staff is doing you a favor by allowing you into its presence (a common enough attitude at nightspots of this sort). One reason for this affability might be the venue's experienced bartenders, who add a bit of old-time reality to the encircling dernier cri. Begin the New Year right with, say, a Bombay Sapphire martini, one of the best in the city. The version Dot serves not only provides the warmth and tingle and vaporous transcendence of the classic model, but also defies the laws of physics by remaining icy cold throughout its consumption.
The setting's kitschy elegance is carried over to the dining room, where designer Nick Graham (of Joe Boxer fame) meets Executive Chef Noel Pavia (of the space's previous occupant, Elka) on a symbiotic playing field. The huge serving platters come in the same striking aquamarine shade as the candleholders and bill-holders. Cube-shaped salt and pepper grinders look sleekly sci-fi. Ovals and rectangles serve as ivory-hued canvases for geometrically arranged foodstuffs. And our friend the dot is a continual presence in the form of croquettes, melon balls, sorbet scoops, and the like. But while the presentation is on the overwhelming side, the food is exemplary on a frequent enough basis to make a meal here celebratory. Begin, for instance, with a complimentary nosh -- a basket of warm, fragrant olive bread and tiny baguettes served with a caper-studded aioli and broccoli flowerets (a verdant change of pace), slender yellow beans, and sliced radishes.
The tenderloin steak tartare is a wonderful way to begin the meal proper. A mound of creamy minced raw sirloin is presented with white anchovies, a branch of caperberries, lots of chopped red onion, and, perched atop the meat, a raw quail egg in its shell. The server mixes up the ingredients before your eyes, resulting in a silky yet robust mishmash that's ideally consumed on the buttery toast rounds provided. Smoky, succulent Cortez scallops get their firm texture from their mode of presentation: They aren't submerged in their (rather watery) citrus-cilantro broth until you pour the broth over them from a teakettle at the table. The potato and leek soup is something of a disappointment -- there's no particular oomph or herbal underpinning beneath the prosaic potato flavor -- but the accompanying cheese toasts are tasty and rich.
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