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.
The venue's whimsical nature is exemplified in the green eggs and ham, in which a casserole of savory, parsley-flecked scrambled eggs accompanies slivers of pungent serrano ham, thick slices of soft brioche, and (why not?) melon balls. Though this is not a selection I'd tend to order for supper, our waiter promised us an annotated reading of the Dr. Seuss classic at serving time, an inducement we couldn't resist. (He told us later that he was just kidding, the fraud.) A better choice is the Dot burger, which is right up there with Burger Joint's in the hamburger pantheon. Rich as the tartare, thick, and juicy, it comes on a pillowy bun with sides of cornichons, red onions, chopped cucumbers, tiny olives, and miniature tomatoes, along with small bowls of ketchup and hot Chinese mustard. Perfectly spherical tater balls are the inevitable accompaniment, attractively served in a basket of paper-thin, deep-fried potato.
The fish and chips aren't your standard H. Salt vinegar-doused, breaded halibut sticks with french fries: Here, a whole catfish is fried and served -- head, tail, bones, and all, in the Southeast Asian manner -- leaving the skin crisp as a potato chip, the flesh moist and delicate in both taste and texture, with crunchy bits of fried cilantro scattered on top. The chips in this case are rounds of fried yellow and purple potato, and, like the fish, they could use some seasoning or marinating. Fortunately, the spiced vinegar dip sparkles on the tongue, and the bracing chili slaw is bright with daikon, cilantro, peanuts, and onion -- a fabulous supplement. The duck served two ways is also mostly delicious. While the leg meat is unexciting and fat-free, the breast meat is rare, tender, and creamy as a good porterhouse. A simple ginger glaze offers few distractions, while both grilled black figs and a minimally sweet (and surprisingly complementary) gingerbread bread pudding add ideal contrasts.
As you might expect, Dot's desserts are lush, sweet, and elaborate. Case in point: the chocolate praline propeller, in which the delicately fashioned blades are all butter and sugar and melt-in-the-mouth texture, and the base is a creamy, intense chocolate mousse encased in a shell of gossamer chocolate bark. Another phantasmagoria is the lemon teardrop, which features a layer of moist, tart spongecake topped with a layer of crushed nutmeats and another of light lemon mousse, the whole wrapped up in a tall, tear-shaped casing of creamy white chocolate -- a bit sweet and insubstantial, and what's wrong with that? The best meal-closer is the sorbet selection: three scoops each of three flavors arranged in neat, tic-tac-toe formation, plus almond cookies. Despite the presentation, there's nothing gimmicky about the flavors. The pomegranate and passion fruit varieties are crisp and refreshing, and the Granny Smith in particular is like a really good eau de vie -- it offers not only the taste but the texture and sensation of biting into a ripe, piquant apple.
The wine list, helpfully arranged by varietal "from light to heavy," features a wide and interesting selection of reasonably priced vintages from all over (Italy, France, Oregon, and California primarily). There's a selection of Carmenet Moon Mountain Estate's Bordeaux blends from 1982 to '97, and the 13 wines offered by the glass include a 1998 cab from Napa's Eschol Ranch that's full-bodied and immensely suitable with the glorious Dot burger.
After dinner you owe it to yourself to ascend the aforementioned circular staircase (the steps of which are etched with appropriately lighthearted terms, such as "frivolous") to the Lord of Balls Lounge, a perpetually packed hideaway that's not unlike a men's club designed by Norma Desmond after a few hits of nitrous oxide. The den of a fictional Restoration dandy with an elaborately conceived back-story, the lounge overflows with plush armchairs and love seats, gold draperies, holographic hearths, oil paintings of frolicking nymphs, Doggie Diner-esque taxidermy, a zebra-skin bar (for verisimilitude), and two egregious poodle fountains flanking the entrance. A DJ spins a hip little jazz/techno sound nearby. All in all, not a bad place to contemplate the next millennium.