Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Where Was Your Prix Fixe Meal on Valentine's Day?

Alison Two's gushing review in this month's Philadelphia magazine inflated my expectations to a point where I was convinced that Ms. Barshak's (and Bill Lewis') dishes would be nothing short of fireworks on the palate (that's a good thing). I was also happy that I could substitute the lengthy train ride to Center City with a short drive from Chestnut Hill, and that there was an opening for an early table. Besides, a Valentine's night out was in order after Mrs. Gastro and myself had taken turns wearing the chef hat for the past few years. Put in all in the blender and you get a mighty good Valentine's Day smoothie, but make sure you put the lid on. Otherwise, the whole thing will splatter in your face. Did I put the lid on? Oops.

Well, not really (I just like the blender imagery). In fact, the experience was dangerously close to being perfect. Easy drive, incredible ambience, top notch service, excellent cocktails (best old fashioned I've had, probably ever), everything else but the food. More specifically, my food. Like I said, I expected fireworks. Even the descriptions on the menu had me thinking that this would be a transcendent experience. Three courses fit for a last meal. Instead, the fried oyster appetizer was too large. Personally, having to chew an oyster more than a few times really ruins the idea of it being a delicacy (from the word "delicate," yes? As in, please don't use enormous oysters in this dish). Moreover, the horseradish cream lacked bite. I could have gotten more of a kick from an Arby's Horsey Sauce packet. Moving on to the main, my usual MO is to order based on sides, and the porcini risotto accompanying the filet tugged me in that direction until the waitress recommended the harissa rubbed lamb because of its "nice spice," following up with, "If you're feeling adventurous, definitely go for it." Again I'm expecting heat, but this time around, I didn't even get salt. Not on the lamb, not on the white beans, and the yogurt sauce was a drizzle that got lost in the greens. Even though the lamb was cooked well, the lack of seasoning made for a bland and, dare I say, straightforward, dish. Shame on me for not going with my gut. With dessert being their final chance, I was very pleased with the bread pudding, the love of which I attribute to the bread pudding they sporadically serve at the Lucky Dog Saloon. Alison Two's was beautifully presented, exceedingly moist, and perfectly portioned.

I was definitely not turned off by the experience. Given the option, I'd eat there again in a heartbeat, and it might be entirely different on a night without the high expectations, the need for the waitstaff to rush you along, and the automatic 20% gratuity (I hate being presumed a shitty tipper). And who knows, maybe I'll even get some salt on my dish? Buen Provecho.

Alison Two is located at 422 S. Bethlehem Pike, Fort Washington, PA 19034. We got ourselves full and drunk for $197 plus tip.

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