Saturday, February 20, 2010
Jess and Anisha - two of my favorite people.
That's really the only way to describe our meal at Alizee.
For months now, Anisha and I have been eating our way around the region and while we've had some nice meals, tonight's dinner at Alizee was easily and by far the best we've had in a long time.
Admittedly, it helps to know the chef, and between the two of us, we seem to know just about everyone working at Alizee, which makes for a fun and unique experience.
The Charcuterie Plate.
Now, Friday night at about 8pm is one of the worst times to arrive at any restaurant without reservation. But we arrive with the hope that the graces of our friends will accommodate us, and with the knowledge that should they be so busy we're still happy to wait or sit at the bar. Afterall, the bar can be a dependable friend.
When we arrive, the place is hopping. It's jammed and the dining room is full. These guys are running at full-bore. Hmmm, perhaps we'll be sitting at the bar - at least the bar tables look comfortable.
A little while later, we're led to a corner table with easy access to the kitchen. It's busy. The kitchen is in the weeds and it's going to take a little while for them to get to us. No problem, our server Jennifer is nice, we have cocktails in hand and it's easy living.
Wagyu Carpaccio with lobster, truffles, frisee and blood oranges.
In time Christian comes out to inquire what we are thinking about having, perhaps it's best for the chef to decide? He agrees and returns to the kitchen and the procession begins.
Allowing the chef to decide what you will eat is a favored tactic of mine. The chef knows what's really kicking and it usually leads to sampling dishes that I might never choose on my own. It opens one for adventure. And Christian never disappoints.
Seared Diver Scallops with soft polenta and pork cheek.
Things start off with a quiet rumble on the charcuterie plate. There's some house made forcemeats and picked cucumbers and onions with grainy mustard and bread crisps. Nice.
The next course picks up speed with Wagyu beef carpaccio, lobster, black truffles and blood oranges. Man, hold your horses, because this stuff is good. After the charcuterie plate, we're rumbling off-road with an array of flavors that surprisingly come togther. What I really want is a spoon to readily scoop each piece together and chew at once to bring the earthiness of the black truffle with the buttery creaminess of lobster, the texture of the Wagyu and the acid of the blood orange. It's a symphony in harmony. Beautiful.
Sous Vide Leg of Rabbit in cocoa and orange with pistachio and rabbit crepinette, grilled prunes and sauce salmis.
From there we move on to two large sea scallops pan seared with soft polenta and a chunk of pork cheek. Pork and scallops? Never thought of that before but the textures are so complementary. I'm crazy for scallops and really can't have enough.
Next up is the leg of rabbit sous vide with cocoa and orange. At first, I thought the rabbit was a bit dry. But once you mixed the rabbit with some of the sauce and a slice of the prune - woah: amazing. Where once I was hesitant, suddenly I'm eating Bugs Bunny with greedy abandon.
Frisee aux Lardons - frisee, fried oyster, bacon, fingerling potato, 90 minute egg, sheep's milk cheese, violet mustard dressing.
Earlier this week, Anisha and I went out for dinner at Petit Louis where we ordered their typically well-executed frisee salad. Sadly, the night we went the kitchen was off their game and our frisee came out a soupy mess. Normally, I love frisee salads but after our experience this week at Petit Louis, I was a bit hesitant to try again when I saw the frisee on the Alizee menu.
But like I said before, allowing the chef to guide you takes you to places where you might not have gone otherwise. I probably would not have ordered the rabbit and I was more than reluctant to go with the frisee, but when it arrived next, I knew that we were in for something much better than the aforementioned soupy mess.
Topped with a fried oyster and fingerling potatoes, this frisee was a winner. Perfectly dressed, delicately balanced. Stellar.
Venison with foie gras and graham cracker spaetzle.
As you can see from the images, these are not "tasting menu" portions. These are not the petit sized servings you receive while eating 12 to 23 course tasting menus. And while they're not entree-sized portions, they're something in-between. After five courses, we're starting to feel the stress of being fed by the chef.
When the venison chops arrive on our table, I'm desperate for mercy.
It's a perfect medium-rare without the intense gaminess that I usually associate with deer meat. Seared on the outside, red on the inside and topped with a foie gras sheet. Delicious. Wait until the foie gras melts a bit and coats the meat? Brilliant. Served with a side of graham cracker spaetzle that I know Anisha is enjoying because she's been asking for it all week.
Sadly, I can't continue. I can't finish the venison. I'm beaten. The meal has been beautiful and I've eaten all I can consume. Let us have a few minutes respite. Please.
Beignets with lavender honey sorbet, pistachio gelato, cherry sorbet and cardamom gelato.
After an appropriate amount of time to digest (slightly) and recuperate (just barely), the dessert course arrives. Rows of beignets flanked with sorbets and gelatos, oh my! The beignets are just right. Coated in sugared cinnamon and not too sweet. They're a nice compliment to the selection of sorbets, my favorite being the cherry sorbet and Anisha's being the pistachio. Jess prefers the honey lavender.
With the night ending and the dining room empty save for our table and another couple making out occasionally in the opposite corner (ideas, ideas...), Christian has a bit of time to come out and hang. But it's not too long before I wrangle a tour of the kitchens.
Christian comes out to say hello.
Typically, restaurant kitchens (except for per se) are small affairs. I forgot that Alizee is in a hotel and also handles three meal services, room service and banquets as well. The kitchen is traditional American in design but is massive with multiple levels and multiple storage/work areas. How nice it would be to have a facility such as this.
Soon enough, we bid our friends adieu and we're back onto the cold streets of Baltimore. Jess is off to destinations unknown and it's time to go home.
Alizee Boutique Bistro and Wine Bar
at the Inn at the Colonnade
4 West University Parkway
Baltimore, MD 21218