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Monday, December 9, 2013


Have you ever been disappointed in something when the outcome wasn't even that bad?  That's how I felt about Alder.  The restaurant had been #1 on my list for about seven months and for good reason: it earned a 2-star review from The New York Times, is currently on at least three "Best of 2013" lists, and it is an attainable avenue to try the food designed by molecular gastronomy master Wylie Dufresne.  With so many important people pulling for it, it seemed highly unlikely it would be bad.  And it wasn't bad - let me be clear - I just didn't have the culinary epiphany I thought I would have.

There were a couple of hits, the drink menu being one of them.  The Dr. Dave's Scrip Pad had the strength and earthiness I love from whisky with the tartness of yuzu.  It was a beautifully made drink.  I also like that they offer "shorts," half the portion for half the price.  It allows you to get a little taste of something which I like for two reasons: I didn't worry about committing to a $12 drink that I may not like and also because it gave me the opportunity to try several things on their well rounded cocktail menu.

I also really enjoyed the french onion soup rings.  From what I have heard about Wylie Dufresne, it seems his specialty is confusing the taste buds.  These are onion rings, thick, beer battered, and fried, just like at the best of sports bars.  But they taste like french onion soup.  If food could be a pun, this is the ultimate corny Mom joke.  My favorite dish of the night, however, had to be the dessert.  That's a very rare statement for me as I don't have much of a sweet tooth, but the peanut butter cake was perfection.  The cake formed a thin shell around peanut butter and chocolate ganache lava.  I don't want to say lava because that makes it sound like just another molten lava cake from a chain restaurant which it sooo is not.  So let's call it magma.  Peanut butter magma.  When eaten with the sliced grapes, it was like a peanut butter and jelly that wasn't too sweet.

Now I feel required to warn you of the misses.  The fois gras was served on a graham cracker and was advertised as being served with pumpkin pie, pomegranate, and maple flakes.  The problem was that the fois was mixed with those ingredients to form a mousse.  It kind of ruined a beautiful ingredient.  Fois gras is very rich and therefore usually served alongside sweet ingredients, but if it's all just mixed together, you lose the richness and can no longer taste the liver.  When it comes to fois gras, I think you should get as creative and funky as you want with its sweet counterpart - just don't mix them together.  Another lackluster dish was the scotch quail eggs, which had a little too much marmalade,overpowering the sausage.

The other items fell in the middle - certainly not bad but not mind-blowing, either.  The pigs in a blanket were definitely better than anything you find at a tailgating party.  We tried the rye pasta with pastrami that bared a remarkable resemblance to a sandwich from a Jewish deli, just lighter.  We also tried the beef tongue, beets with coconut ricotta, and octopus with chorizo, sweet potato, and banana.  The octopus was probably my favorite, followed by the pasta.  Again, all was very good and worthy of multiple bites...maybe I just let all the good reviews put the restaurant on a pedestal.  Maybe I just need to stop doing that.  Pedestals are for sculptures, not restaurants.

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