It’s been a while since that last New York weekend, but there’s one more experience I would like to share.
Alex, of Chez Sasha, and I had been discussing possible places to visit when we met up in Boston. After she mentioned the opening of Alder, we decided it would be fun to visit a new establishment, especially a place by Wylie Dufresne. Dufresne’s one of Manhattan’s molecular gastronomic types, he owns wd~50, and Alder is a young (since late March) “gastropub” venture of his.
I liked the atmosphere, the quirky rubberbands around the water carafe, the wooden accents and white painted brick, but we left the restaurant disappointed, and got pizza.
We started with the pub cheese, this mixture of cream cheese and wine abstractly plated with pistachio/dried fruit crackers with pita chip type things. It’s a clever dish, Alex pointed out how it incorporated all the elements of a typical cheese plate, the fruit, nuts, cheese, and crackers, but imagine the tastes of red wine and cream cheese together, not offensive, but not that delicious either.
We were informed that the entrees were small plates, and to order a few for the table to sample and share. With pricing averaging $20 per plate, that’s hardly a realistic concept for your typical diner, and yet they highlight their affordability. While we were willing to invest in an exceptional meal, these dishes just did not perform to our expectations. There was no animal protein-less option and when I asked if anything could be arranged, I was given a dish composed of fried cauliflower over banana curry, 2 elements of other dishes on the menu. It was tasty, but I paid $15 for a small plate of bananas and cauliflower.
This makes perfect sense from an economic view, but it showed a lack of interest in engaging the guest and creating a unique experience for them, and isn’t that why passionate chefs get in the restaurant business to begin with? The only reason I make these assumptions is because at the end of our meal, I took it upon myself to address Dufresne. He had been making an event of checking on the dining room every 20 minutes or so, and as we were lingering over our drinks, waiting for the check to arrive, I felt compelled to show my appreciation for our meal. I have never experienced such disinterest before. I introduced myself, thanked him for the meal, and he literally just smiled and nodded, except the smile seemed to be missing. It was not easy to put myself out there, without the wine at dinner I probably wouldn’t have done it. But I figured it would be a nice gesture to show thanks in person rather than in some online review. Seeing as how this was my first encounter with a regarded professional chef, I had no idea what to expect, but an aloof and smug response was hardly it.
At the end of all this contemplation, I can’t help but think that I may have set my expectations too high. There were no claims that Alder could appease a vegetarian, and that they intended to create a revolutionary experience. Perhaps the issue is that their “casual” is overpriced and yet they feel as though they can pass it off because Dufresne’s name is attached. Researching what other people of the online food community had to say about Alder, I learned that we were not the only ones to experience dissatisfaction. There are definitely polarizing views.
And in all irony, Dufresne was awarded Best Chef in New York City. Well, it’s an incredibly subjective world we live in.