How much good service matters to you when you've got great food might determine how you feel about the new Alizee. It's a restaurant that has successfully reinvented itself after a recent change of owners, a change of chefs and a change of basic concept. But I'm not sure the management realizes yet that with a change for the better come more customers, and with more customers comes a need for more servers.
Certainly the staff was overwhelmed the night we ate there. On a weeknight, the dining room was almost full because of a hotel package tour. I got the feeling everyone was waiting tables, even a spare bartender. On the plus side, there was no attitude or crankiness. The servers remained good-natured even though they were working their backsides off. The manager pitched in and bused tables. Waiters helped other waiters. But at a restaurant where you're likely to spend $50 a person, you might want things to be running more smoothly. I know I do.
Maybe this was a one-time occurrence. But my advice is to give management more time to get things into proper working order before you go. If you have such long waits that you start to get irritated, it's hard to enjoy your meal, no matter how good it is.
On to happier things, namely the food. The new chef, Christian deLutis, best known for his work at the Wine Market, has created an American menu for fall that has both traditional French accents and trendy ingredients and techniques.
Sous vide, anyone?
His dishes show how a good chef can pick and choose, discarding the trends that are simply too silly - or worse, don't taste very good - and integrating the best of them with classic cuisine.
The oysters on the half-shell are a good example. Just before the six fat bluepoints are served, they are covered and the kitchen introduces smoke under them. They are uncovered at the table. The oysters are completely raw, but have a delicate smoky flavor, a smokiness you might not even notice if you weren't looking for it. I ate the one my husband grudgingly shared without the sauce, but they come with a mignonette sauce that leaves others in its dust.
The "roasted crustacean bisque," a dish that could use another name, is the consistency of utterly smooth liquid satin. A deep, rosy blush color, the bisque has a depth of shellfish flavor and richness than belies its delicacy. A few tiny, and I do mean tiny, cubes of pumpkin decorate it.
Like several other local chefs, deLutis is enthusiastically making his own charcuterie. The offerings vary, but this night the plate held slices of white sausage, pork terrine wrapped in pear slices, and rillettes made with shredded preserved pork. Each was better than the last. We did wonder why one of the three wasn't the chicken liver pate the waiter had promised, so he brought out a wedge of it. It was just as fine as the others. The charcuterie plate comes with crackers, crunchy-sweet house-made pickles (I would have preferred cornichons), whole-grain mustard and a fig marmalade.
Here's the only bad news: The bread wasn't up to the standards of the charcuterie.
One of our entrees included a fat house-made sausage, spiced like a breakfast treat. It was so addictively good, it more than stood up to the smoky-flavored quail it was paired with. The bird was stuffed with miniature spaetzle, and a swoop of butternut squash puree on the plate added color and a touch of sweetness.
What pretty plates these are, even though with the fall menu the kitchen is working with ingredients that are often monochromatic shades of brown. Some of the best wild mushroom risotto you'll find in town, for instance, is enlivened with little multihued chiogga beets and a bright sprig of mache.
A couple of dishes we wanted to order weren't available: the venison pot roast and the filet of beef. But for meat, you can't go wrong with the sous vide shank of Kurobuta pork, slow cooked, meaty and moist. It met its match in the house-cured sauerkraut and homemade applesauce that came with it. Both offered delicious variations on the traditional, so their choice as side dishes for pork in no way seemed like a cliche.
If you want seafood, the wild salmon fillet is cooked the way I like it, all the way through, although the menu says seared. Tell the server if you want it less done. It's sparked with a coriander vinaigrette. Cabbage braised with creme fraiche and potatoes rosti -- the Swedish "pancake" of grated potatoes - add a balance of textures.
Alizee's dessert menu isn't large, but all the desserts are made in house, including the vanilla ice cream with enough bourbon in it to get you drunk, a pretty tiramisu with a demitasse cup of bittersweet homemade hot chocolate sauce (wow!) and a decorative square of carrot cake with a bit of caramel milkshake, also served in a demitasse cup.