"I've been asked three times if I need anything," said my dinner companion, as I sat down shortly after her arrival. We were at Ditmas Kitchen & Cocktail, a cavernous Pico-Robertson restaurant from Top Chef alumn Alex Reznik that opened at the tail end of last year. Ditmas is a kosher restaurant, but there is little in the way of announcing that fact: we are not told that there is a resident rabbi on the premise to oversee food prep, but there is. What is most apparent is the waitstaff, who oscillate between looking bored and wanting desperately to please.
Reznik, too, aims to please, and attempts this by creating comfort food with a spin. The best appetizer is not one on the regular dinner menu, but on the bar menu instead (which you can order from despite where you are seated). The short rib flatbread is an aesthetically pleasing dish: evenly spread across light and airy dough, the sweet, shredded short rib serves as a bed from which a garden of wild arugula, fresno chilis and a drizzling of salsa verde sits upon. There is a quail egg on top as well, which adds an extra layer of heartiness. Why this is not on the dinner menu, I'm not clear—perhaps the kitchen thinks it is too informal—but it satisfied the table slightly more than the Jerusalem artichoke soup. Poured tableside from a tourine, the soup boasts a delightful earthy flavor, but its consistency is more akin to gravy than anything else and would have been better as a thinner, more clean version.
Could the waiters tell that we were beginning to lose interest? It might explain why we had someone new bring out each entrée and fill our water glasses every time. The ratio of staff to diners was almost as confusing as the Eye of Rib steak, which advertises that it comes with fries but, when asked for a side of spinach as well, appeared sans frites. The meat was overcooked and underseasoned. The spinach was phenomenal, but who's ordering steak just for a great side of spinach? We enjoyed a plate of flaky sable fish more, lying on a pile of buttery Russian banana potatoes. The one misstep: a curious pomelo puree, too sweet for the fish—though it did look beautiful in silver dollar-sized dollops around the plate.
It seems as though the most blatant example of misplaced ingenuity was a chocolate soufflé. "It takes 15 minutes or so to bake," warned (one of) our servers, though it arrived just five minutes later. The chocolate, rich and bold and delightfully oozy, was topped with a healthy scoop of marshmallow fluff and—wait for it—sesame seeds. It did not work. To be sure, graham cracker crumbs may have been too predictable, but the sesame seemed forced and out of place. Perhaps Ditmas would be a greater success if tradition is emphasized as much on the plate as it is when blessing the food.
What to Eat: The Jerusalem artichoke soup ($8). The short rib flat bread ($14). The sable fish ($29).
What to Drink: Ditmas' cocktails employ great use of of spices and herbs, one of which is the bold Trafficking ($12). A Chivas 12-year scotch whiskey is blended with pineapple and fresh mint, but what really comes through is the saffron. Order it if you're craving a drink that packs a punch.
Where to Sit: The restaurant is curiously loud, even with few tables filled. Avoid the communal high top that awkwardly sits in the middle of the room under low-hanging Edison bulbs. Instead, sit in the more formal booths furthest from the kitchen, where you may have more privacy (and can hear your dinner companion).
Conversation Piece: Ditmas is named after the avenue in Brooklyn where Reznik grew up.