Alto, May 19, 2005

Once I finally found Alto (can it be any more tucked away and secluded?), I was pleasantly greeted by two hosts and an astute bartender. The space was quite different than L'Impero in that it had very tall ceilings (large, empty wine bottles stored on tall racks behind glass acting as objets d'art) but was similar in its muted tones.

photo courtesy of the New York Times

I was brought to my table where my father was already sitting with a bottle of wine (a really nice, crisp wine that I have to ask him what it was) one glass of water and one menu.

We waited a good three minutes before anyone came by and when they did, they were offering us more/some water. Another 2 minutes went by before our waiter showed up and asked us for our order. Sharing one menu, we proceeded to order the prix fixe lunch. I had the smoked trout and tagliatelle, my father had the pea soup and pike.

The pea soup was bright green and was poured tableside. It looked wonderful and having had Scott Conant's soups before, it probably tasted great. Dad certainly finished it quickly enough.

The smoked trout was, unfortunately, unevenly cooked (the thicker part was not at all cooked through and the thin part still warm) and had very little smoke flavor (subtlety is one thing...). The good news is that the fish was remarkably fresh, simply but well presented and was cut nicely. If the ovens were working properly (or "seasoned") I think this would have been an exemplary dish. Instead, it was just good+.

Before our first course, the wait staff changed our place settings, not once, not twice, not even three but FOUR times. I have never seen such confusion. After the fourth time I was like "what seems to be the issue". It was really disappointing.

Dad, after removing the skin of the pike ("I'm not a fish skin kinda guy"), finished every last bite of the skinless fish...having enjoyed all of it ("there isn't any left is there?").

My tagiatelle with cockscomb was good. The pasta itself was really nice, the idea of cockscomb (texture too) was a bit troublesome, but in the end was fine. Nicely presented, colorful and aromatic, this was a solid lunch dish but nothing awe-inspiring.

For dessert, dad had the chocolate pudding with chocolate cake dome (?) and was gone before it hit the table. I had the pumpkin seed roulade and caramel something-or-other. It too was very good.

Chef Conant came around to say hello and was still at the host area when we left. Very pleasant fellow and his ideas are really solid. However, I think this place has a lot of improving to do.

The potential is clearly evident but the poor service of which there is no excuse, the unevenly cooked and hardly smoked trout that left much to be desired and the price for all of this is neither a value nor something I would encourage others to try just yet.

If you have an expense account (or otherwise not paying), enjoy Scott Conant's previous work and overall character, are looking for a fresh take on Italian cooking and/or like to be the first of your friends to have tried a restaurant...then by all means check it out. Otherwise, wait a few months so that they can get their acts together.

I do regret not asking about the hummingbird tongues. I wanted to know what the deal was about that during their grand/pre-opening dinner and simply forgot.


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