You know a restaurant is in trouble when they blame their emptiness on “the holiday” when Labor Day was a week ago and the Jewish Holiday ended two days before. The Saturday after Labor Day is Christmas for NYC restaurants. Everyone is back from the Hamptons and hungry for a taste of the city.
Alison Eighteen has all of the makings of a great New York City restaurant, but seems to fall short in every respect. The front of the restaurant is filled by a long bar in addition to a few plush booths seats. The hostess led us to the back area, which is a bigger, open space full of tables, low hanging lights and dark seats. She told us that they would open it up especially for us, since it was closed off for the holiday.
We sat at our table staring out at the empty space. Loud noises permeated through the room from another back area, as individuals walked back and forth from a private party area to the restroom. As soon as the doors closed, it was eerily silent.
The uninformed hostess came over asking to take our drink orders, questioning our wine selection since she was unsure of the “by the glass” section of the menu. After waiting a while for our drinks, we finally determined what to order off the menu. We inquired about splitting the Corn Soup into two portions, and the hostess, who continued to act as our waitress throughout the meal, rudely informed us that the chef doesn’t like to do that. Fine. We decided to start with the Corn Soup and Heirloom Tomato Salad.
Before placing the soup in front of us, the hostess then informed us that the reason she couldn’t split the soup was because of the Duck egg on top of the dish. That makes sense, but it bothered the two of us that the hostess didn’t know this when we first asked about the split. The staff is clearly uninformed about the menu.
The hardly cooked Duck Egg sat on top of a really thick, rich corn chowder soup. When you break into the egg, all of the raw contents spill into the soup, including the whites of the egg. It creates this overly decadent mixture to the point where it’s almost inedible. We immediately questioned the decision of the chef not to have poached the egg or just include the raw yolk. The corn chowder was also really thick, lacking any real flavor. This muted the flavor and textures of the mushrooms, tomatoes and lobster. I have never been one to leave pieces of lobster behind, but after a few bites we quickly pushed the soup to the side.
Next, we moved onto the heirloom tomato salad.
Crumbled Pesto might just be one of the most interesting components of this dish. It reminds me of the frozen blocks of pesto stored in my freezer throughout the winter season. The fresh ricotta was sweet and tangy, and the shaped tomatoes were juicy, but lacked the bright red coloring that you find when heirlooms are in season. The numerous components, such as the basil oil and aged balsamic didn’t contribute much to the dish, but rather enhanced it in presentation alone. I’ve seen this dish often, and this was definitely not the best version of an heirloom tomato salad.
After a disappointing first two dishes, we were hoping that the meal would take a positive turn with a charred octopus salad.
Nicely charred pieces of octopus sitting on top of a white bean puree. Nothing too exciting here. Perhaps the most interesting element on the dish were the dollops of yogurt giving a cooling contrast of flavor to the slightly warmed protein.
Finally, our half portion of Black Garlic Pappardelle arrived.
Conceptually, this dish is perfect for me; vegetables, hazelnuts, parmesan cheese and thick, dark pieces of homemade pasta. However, the visual and the idea far exceeded the actual execution. The ribbons of vegetables bordered on mushy and the chunks of hazelnuts were far too big to make it onto the fork with the other elements. The pasta itself was underwhelming, brought even further down by the other elements .
Amber and I both looked at each other at the end of the meal, really upset that we were spending this much money on sub-par food. Everything was more or less edible, but nothing stood out as memorable. I think it’s the first meal where Amber and I weren’t fighting for the last bite of food. Unless the dining room fills up quickly, I have a feeling that this Flatiron restaurant won’t last very long. In concept, this is a good idea, in execution Alison Eighteen falls very, very short.
Alison Eighteen – 15 West 18th Street – New York, NY