Is Dover Sole Worth $82? Rising prices are testing New York diners
Big Apple restaurant-goers are used to the sticker shock of soaring menu prices, but Dover Sole gives them the most turmoil. The prized pool has jumped at many top restaurants from around $50 to $82 over the past eighteen months.
Owners and chefs blame supply chain issues, but a brave handful are bucking the trend. At Cellini on East 54th Street, Dover sole fresh from Dutch waters—as tasty as I’ve had at any price—is just $37. The high-quality, low-priced field also includes Indian favorite Tamarind’s clay pot-based number at $44 and Trattoria dell Arte’s “small” version at $38.
Meanwhile, menu prices are $55 at Smith & Wollensky, $62 at Pastis, $64 at Quality Bistro, $76 at Osteria La Baia and $80 at Il Mulino and Dowling’s at Carlyle Hotel and $82 at Marea . All is well, but the prices?
The question is as murky as the seabed. Do places really have to charge a lot more, or do owners know that well-heeled customers will pay more for a creature considered a luxury?
Cellini owner Dino Arpaia, who said he was ‘shocked’ over his seafood bills, only modestly increased Dover sole to $36 from $32 when its purchase cost rose from $11.95 to $13.95 per pound. He said he doesn’t make money on the dish, but the low price encourages customers to spend more on his other dishes and wines, which themselves are priced below market.
He’s glad not everyone is ordering Dover sole – “I’d lose money if I did,” he said.
Of course, cost comparisons between restaurants are tricky. Portion sizes vary. Preparation and “extras” matter too. A seared tenderloin costs less to serve than a labor-intensive table-top flambé at Dowling’s. Marea’s $82 Dover Sole comes with a side dish that would cost $16 if ordered separately.
Careful sourcing is the main challenge for some elite restaurants. Bernardin chef and owner Eric Ripert is now paying 25% more for Dover sole, compared to increases of 16% for halibut and 12% for striped bass.
“Our Dover sole is top quality from a certain fisherman,” he said – an attention to detail that customers have come to expect from his three-Michelin-starred restaurant.
Andy Kitko, the chef of Oceans on Park Avenue South, said he pays 10-15% more for Dover sole from Portuguese waters. It’s $75 on his menu for a succulent one-pound fillet.
Coucou chef Daniel Rose said his current Dover buying cost of $25-$26 a pound was “not a dramatic increase” from the past. A whole specimen went from $41.50 in January 2020 to $44.40 this month, but there were occasional drops as low as $39.
Her dish of Dover sole is now $76, down from $68 in March 2020. But that was just to cover her costs. “I’m happy to report that we don’t pass all price increases on to the customer,” Rose said.