A New Beginning
Alizée's make over pleases from the tables to what's served on them
Although the name remains the same, at Alizée Boutique Bistro and Wine Bar, a restaurant last reviewed here in May 2009, there have been changes. Gone are the original owners, the chef, and the fushi. In the deep-red dining room, abstract oil paintings have taken up residence above the banquettes, tables have shed their cloths, and the floor has exchanged its fussy leopard-print carpet for a more subtle oriental pattern. Like the equivalent of a good haircut, the whole effect feels more modern and slightly liberating. But best of all, Alizée's menu, under the direction of Chef Christian deLutis (formerly of the Dogwood and the Wine Market), has been revised to offer high-concept comfort food rather than fusion challenges. Where asiatique tuna au poivre once reigned, fleur de sel baked monkfish has taken up the scepter.
Alizée is still expensive, but in its current incarnation it seems more positioned to be a community restaurant rather than simply the dining room for the Colonnade and visiting Hopkins guests. Midweek found the restaurant hosting bar patrons and solo diners, young couples having a night out, and a wine salesman entertaining clients. Getting a table on a weekend takes some forethought.
This may be because the new menu begs careful consideration and, like the tweaked space, invites settling in for the evening, preferably with a glass from the refreshingly balanced wine list (they also do a fine classic champagne cocktail) or a pint of something local (including the Eastern Shore's Evolution Brewery) because it will take time to decide which of the three soups--the roasted crustacean bisque, the savory white yam soup (with pork trotter confit, gingerbread, and dried apple), or the incredibly rich Kennett Square mixed mushroom potage with house-made ricotta ($8)--merit trying. It's also hard to say no to frisée aux lardons ($14), a salad that offers up fingerling potatoes and fried oysters as well as juicy nuggets of bacon and a 90-minute egg (yes, you read that correctly), cooked sous vide to be softer and more quivery than simple poaching. But even a green salad ($12) tempts with house-smoked ham and salty cashews, even though the small brown round of barbecued flan on the side of the plate was more novelty than necessary. It's a cool concept though--an aspic for the modern age--and it's a good example of the playful inventiveness that threads its way through deLutis' menu.
There's an emphasis on unexpected flavor combinations here, like foie gras served with caramel salt and vanilla brioche, and house-smoked trout paired with smoked-almond purée (this is a restaurant that uses its smoker liberally and to good effect). But deLutis' dishes can also highlight complementary flavors, so rather than the usual melted-butter accompaniment, curls of escargot nestled in their shells share a frothy fennel consommé bath with light nibs of gnocchi made with white beans rather than the standard potatoes ($13).
But the real fun comes with the entrées, where a confit of lamb shank ($27) rested atop a lacy crepe made just a bit darker and heavier with the use of pumpernickel flour and stuffed with meltingly sautéed cabbage. The foil for the sous vide leg of rabbit ($29) was even more unusual: a springy puddle of parsnip oatmeal, mild and just a touch sweet, but a little too hearty and heavy for the nicely cooked rabbit meat. Still, I liked the thought of it, the exchange of one grain--say polenta--for another, and I'm not ready to dismiss the attempt out of hand.
In contrast, the duck breast ($28) was much more straightforward, though its accompaniments--a "cassoulet" sausage, slightly pink in the middle, and some better than canned "house canned cranberry sauce"--stole the show.
It's unlikely that you'll have room for dessert if you splurge on dinner, but if you can save room for piping-hot buttermilk beignets ($8) or an ample slice of apple tart piled high with paper-thin wafers of apple and candied walnuts ($8), please do so. And if fate shines upon you, you'll relish the same conscientious server who made thoughtful suggestions, brought samples from the bar, and let us enjoy dinner at our own pace.
If there is a perverse downside to Alizée, it is that the menu is seasonal and that the food described above might not be available on your next visit. And as we left the restaurant that evening, we overheard deLutis chatting in the bar about a spring menu with fava beans, peas, and morel mushrooms from Pennsylvania. So it's not oatmeal. It still sounds pretty good.
Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner Monday-Saturday and brunch Sunday.