Jeff Allison has always ridden the crest of the wave, his career choices placing him in all the right places at all the right times: the Brillo Pad in the mid-'90s, Spy Bar and Mercury Lounge in the late '90s, Touch Supper Club in the early aughts. When Allison predicted the demise of the velvet-roped lounge, he countered with Ohio City's Garage Bar, a rock-fueled riot of fun.
Over the seven years since he opened the Garage, Allison watched the neighborhood mature into a solid entertainment district, catering as much to foodies as to roof-raisers. The vision for Dragonfly, Allison's latest venture, was one that seamlessly merged the two: a swanky Vegas-style lounge serving upscale food.
"It all started with a great classic cocktail menu," says Allison. From there, he set upon the idea for a retro steakhouse. A sushi bar completed the formula.
Taking over the former City Buddha digs, Dragonfly debuted in stages, first as a lounge and ultimately as a restaurant. Inside the high-ceilinged space, vividly hued LED pinlights skim across the exposed brick walls. A trio of massive framed mirrors anchors the barroom, while the adjoining dining room is flanked by the open kitchen. Late on weekend nights, DJs take to an elevated booth high above the room.
In other nearby lounges, classic cocktails like the Sazerac, French 75, and Manhattan can fetch upwards of $15. Here, they cost half that. While those cocktails pair nicely with much of the food menu, sushi eaters might prefer a cold beer or one of the large-format cold sakes.
Bringing sushi to West 25th was a no-brainer, especially when it's rolled by veteran sushi chef Kimo Javier. Formerly of Kimo's, Brothers Lounge, and Century at the Ritz, Kimo crafts modern-style rolls with finesse. While the nigiri selection is modest, there is a deep roster of large rolls. We loved all that we tried, but especially the shrimp tempura roll ($6) and the Dragonfly ($9), a large-diameter missile filled with shredded crabmeat, rolled in panko, deep fried, and sliced into warm discs.
No retro steakhouse is complete without a shrimp cocktail ($10). Dragonfly's version features five fat crustaceans, served with an orange-boosted cocktail sauce. Straightforward and delicious, too, is the wedge salad ($8), with crisp iceberg lettuce, crunchy bacon, and blue cheese dressing.
After a quick drop in a deep fryer, goat cheese-stuffed peppadew peppers ($7) arrive warm, crisp, and gooey. Other apps include seared tuna with wasabi aioli ($8), seaweed salad ($4), and miso soup ($4).
Which is not to say that everything went swimmingly. On our first visit, the server announced that the chef was out sick — and boy, did it show. Sizable delays between courses, last-minute cancellations of menu items, and an overcooked steak were among the casualties. If a kitchen can't perform properly without its chef, then the chef is a lousy teacher. Thankfully, our second visit could not have been more different, with smooth sailing from start to finish.
To be honest, in light of the lounge-like surroundings, we did not expect to enjoy our Delmonico steak ($19) as much as we did. This time around, the 10-ounce chop was perfectly cooked and remarkably flavorful. The plate included a loaded baked spud and hollandaise-topped asparagus. Large pan-seared prawns ($18), smoky andouille, and a handful of edamame make for a creative East-meets-West seafood dish. Vegetarians should have few complaints about the wonderful grilled haloumi cheese ($12), which is presented with warm winter greens atop grilled polenta.
Diners can expect a new menu soon, says Allison, with additional small plates and more variety among entrées. Correction of the current menu's myriad misspellings and typos would be a plus, too: Such tasty food deserves to look as good on paper as it does on the plate.