Maybe no one told you, but there’s a theme bar in Brooklyn called Mission Dolores. There’s nothing too egregious — just a West Coast beer selection, one modest mural and access to decent tacos. It attracts both San Francisco ex-pats and local scenesters, clued in to the Mission’s allure.
Dobbs Ferry, the San Francisco eatery named for its owners’ hometown, is also a bicoastal homage. But unlike the too-cool Mission, Dobbs Ferry (population 11,000) is a remarkably unremarkable New York suburb. It’s not even square enough to be hip, and receives little recognition outside Westchester County. A curious muse indeed.
The restaurant’s walls are adorned with sports trophies and photos from yearbooks and newspapers, while the food seems a throwback to Italian-y small-town joints: veal and steak and rigatoni. But Dobbs Ferry opened last year in Hayes Valley’s sophisticated restaurant corridor; I keep waiting for the sly wink.
After all, helming the kitchen is prodigious Mike Yakura, formerly of Ozumo and Le Colonial. And Dobbs Ferry’s motto is “East Coast meets West Coast.” I anticipated artful twists on rib-sticking family fare. Endive-smoked sourdough crumbs on the pastured chicken parm? Sousvide Niman meatballs, flecked with Thai chilies and locally sourced tangerine zest?
Not so much. Many recipes come straight from owner Scott Broccoli’s family vaults, and the produce and meat sourcing is largely conventional. “We’re not the type of place that asks some farm to grow us a special radish,” Yakura quips drily.
I’m potentially endeared by this approach, a rejection of the Bay’s cutesy cuisine. Real food for real people! Or so the theory goes. Sadly, few of Dobbs Ferry’s classic dishes actually came off.
Take the pork meatballs, chubby and gray with watery marinara streaked down the sides. These titans of red-sauce cuisine crumbled like dried-out chuck onto a pasty bed of fusilli (gluten-free, for some reason). A friend archly noted that not all family recipes are worth preserving.
The eggplant rollatini was overcooked and salty, with a thick sheath of breadcrumbs armoring gobs of spongy cheese. (There was probably some eggplant in there, too.) The roasted medallions of pork sirloin were also overdone — I chewed and chewed and chewed.
A typical thin-crust pizza of shrimp, pesto and corn was quickly forgotten. Butter-bloated scallop cakes were also just ... OK. And the red-hued lobster bisque, devoid of lobster chunks, tasted like fishy cream of tomato.
The mediocre dishes kept coming, but you get the picture.
Let’s accentuate the positive, shall we? I can recommend a handful of stand-outs, enough to cobble together a decent meal.
Start with the refreshing citrus beet salad, then move on to the rich sweetbread appetizer, served with bacon and crispy Brussels sprout leaves.
For a main, share the best version of chicken scarpariello you may ever encounter (I tried and failed to recreate this one at home). And finish with the de rigueur flourless chocolate cake, stuffed with peanut butter truffle and served with Straus soft-serve and a house-made peanut brittle.
It’s also worth stopping by after 10:30 p.m., when Dobbs Ferry serves a $5 “family meal.” Each night is a snowflake; these one-off dishes will never be repeated.
This fun conceit allows a creativity and playfulness that’s missing from the regular menu.
I tried two family meals: the chicken street tacos were good enough for a second order, and the fatty pork za zang — a Korean black bean dish — was quite remarkable.
Despite these carefree departures, Dobbs Ferry has cast its lot. It’s a purveyor of unimaginative mid-range ($16-$28) American food with light California influences. And the neutral space itself says little more than “I am a restaurant.” Ho-hum.
Location: 409 Gough St., S.F.
Contact: (415) 551-7700
Hours: 4 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. Mondays-Fridays, 11 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. Saturdays; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays
Price range: $16 to $28
Recommended dishes: Beet salad ($9, $15), sweetbread fritto misto (($12, $19) chicken scarpariello ($25)
Credit cards: All major