Reviving an old school hunt for a decent fare

Flames, sculpt and season – right before your eyes!

Tableside service, a relic of old-school fine dining, is back in the Carlyle Hotel’s “new” dining room renamed Dowling. Hey, is New York back or what?

However, the best news is not the fire on Earth. It’s that Dowling came through a long, drawn-out redesign to emerge as a better embodiment of the lavish but challenging old Carlyle dining room. The location of the jewel box even left the tablecloths – shocking! But she sticks to her luxury and romance.

Robert Whittle Dowling owned the hotel in the 1940s when he “put it on the map as a trendy destination” for celebrities, Poles and royalty, the propagandists say. Those old days probably won’t come back.

But to comfort those who feared the remodeling would result in the louder hard shell of the original, I’ve left the square main dining room and cozy annex as before, brighter and more boisterous. The “recommended jackets” policy puts everyone on their best behavior, including a pair of poodles that were still under a table I didn’t know were there.

Tuna rice in Dowling.
Tuna rice in Dowling.
Stephen Yang

Chief Designer William Paley transformed the former drab brown d├ęcor into a vibrant palette of black, white, and brown. Vibrant, alternately beautiful and whimsical, the wall art includes five lost paintings by Ludwig Bemelmans, for whom the Bemelmans Bar is named.

Interior shot of Dowling
Dowling’s new black and white decor is a colorful wall art, including Lost Paintings by Ludwig Bemelmans.
Stephen Yang

Bali also wisely kept the much-loved centerpiece in the main room, a set of banquettes arranged like a pinwheel with new leather upholstery.

Dowling is busier than its predecessor. Chambers shrugs off a sexy whisper over soft jazz and lives up to its romantic “I’ll take Manhattan” paradigm that’s been missing for decades.

New Yorkers have a strong relationship with Carlisle. I’ve loved it since I first heard artist Bobby Short there in the ’70s. The woman eating lunch alone near me had a deep connection, too: After noticing that the arugula-crowned chicken dish looked “beautiful,” she revealed to the waiter, “I used to live here. I came back for this.”

I will be back too. Executive Chef Sylvain Delbeek last worked at the now-deceased “21” Club. The best dishes on his French and American menu include the rich and spicy lobster chowder; Pumpkin-ricotta ravioli plump. And Diane’s delicious steaks. The lunchtime plate of chicken, canteen near parchment paper and covered in fontina cheese, was just as delicious as it seemed to my neighbor.

Sylvain Delbeek in Dowling
Sylvain Delbeck heads up the kitchen at Dowling’s.
Stephen Yang

But the leg of the Colorado lamb was twice dry to my taste, a piece of salmon from the Faroe Islands stingy and medium, and chewy branzino seasoned with salt and drenched in lemon butter after the floor was flamed. Dinner entrees prices from $22 to $30 and entrees from $30 to $80 are worth the more consistency.

And the floor scene needs work. The outdated shtick only works when there is enough room to wheel the wagons without having to pluck the seated customers, alarming them with smoke and shooting inches out of their noses.

Octopus carpaccio in Dowling
Perfectly painted octopus carrion.
Stephen Yang

We watched, frustrated, the staff struggling to squeeze the fat wagon between the tables. It took so long to get to us that my wife had finished her salmon by the time they were ready to sear a couple of Diane’s delicious steaks and apply Cognac demi-glace. Again, they lit a dessert sundae fire on one table but not mine, although I’m not sure why a sundae was on fire at all.

Dowling has other annoyances, like balky Wi-Fi and checking separate information lines for servers and captains – an old, needless trick that will make you overspend.

But Rosewood Hotels were smart about reviving a classic that would not have survived the pandemic at all. Dowling’s, Flubs and all, will make you love New York all over again.

35 E. 76th Street; 212-570-7192, RosewoodHotels.com

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