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Update: Al Biernat’s, Abacus.
I visited the incomparable Al Biernat’s last night with my wife and family. I’ll give you the short and long versions.
The Short Version: Al, remembering from Restaurant Week last year that my wife and I don’t drink alcohol, ordered a couple bottles of non-alcoholic wine just on the chance that we would be back. THAT is Al Biernat’s.
The Long Version: Somewhere along the way, Restaurant Week turned to spite. Or rather, the perception of it did. Malcontented restaurateurs shuffling warmed over pig tails to a thankless, discount-mooching audience. If you frequent these blogs, you’ve heard all about the bogeymen: small portions, cafeteria food, disaffected servers, the list goes on.
And then, there’s Al Biernat’s. Put simply, Al Biernat’s delivers the Restaurant Week you want. A singular experience, with fabulous food, sublime service and serious value for money, all with the cause at heart. Al will tell you himself, probably as he leads you to the table personally, that he loves Restaurant Week. His enthusiasm sets the tone. The hostesses share it, the servers share it, and by the time you dig into a delicious first course, you can’t help but share it, too.
Let’s talk food. My wife and I loved everything we had last year, but it was no contest to this year. Last year’s favorites return in fine form, and the new items we tried are universally exciting and wonderful. We started with the Central Market 4th Course, not listed but well worth asking about. Mini tuna tartare tacos with wasabi cream and a fiery pepper sauce placed the high quality of the fish front and center. These little two-bite jewels didn’t last one minute.
Our appetizers didn’t make it much longer. My salad with romaine, rocket and fruit in a roasted garlic vinaigrette delighted with summery freshness. The tempura shrimp was perfectly fried, and they didn’t play it safe with the spicy mustard. But the standout star was the artichoke agnolotti, house-made raviolis stuffed with thick bites of artichoke and salty cheese, set afloat in a butter sauce. Brightened up by the fresh organic herbs that Al recently started growing himself, this dish was lick-your-plate good, and at three big pockets, an ample portion as well.
Entrees were no less impressive. The signature prime rib was cooked beautifully (medium at my mom’s request), as was the special off-menu roasted filet. After Loft 610 and Lonesome Dove, I was feeling a bit filleted out, but my father praised the quality of the meat. Not that I didn’t order a hunk of beef. The pot roast was humongous, tender and astoundingly flavorful. Prime rib and filet might be fancy, but for sheer carnivorous indulgence, the pot roast is an underdog worth rooting for. However, once again, it was a ravioli that stole the show. The oxtail and porcini mushroom ravioli is the kind of thing you dream about days after the fact. Tender pasta encased a meaty, earthy filling. If they have this next year, I will order it.
The dessert menu reads a little plain. These are, after all, staples of a 24-hour diner. The proof is in the pudding, however. Every last items was even better than it looked. My key lime pie was bright and not too sweet, and my wife’s tiramisu was light as can be, accented by a nice punch of coffee liquor. Coconut cream pie dazzled as well.
Our server, Joe, and his team struck the kind of balance that makes an evening sing. Personable and cordial, but also efficient and professional. No doubt inspired by the restaurant’s namesake, his service style was one of genuine enthusiasm. Restaurant Week patrons who may have felt chided by their servers in the past have a welcome home at Al Biernat’s. (I’ll be voting Joe server of the week for sure. Hope he wins!)
I loved it. We all loved it. It’s the kind of experience you want to tell people about, even if it takes you seven hundred words to do it. Al Biernat’s is a reminder that you get what you give, that Restaurant Week is about something, and we will most definitely be back.
The Second Floor tonight. Can’t wait!
Went to Abacus – very nice meal. Sympathizes with our server, Robert, who seemed appreciative and was great throughout the entire meal, even if he had to deal with a sloppy drunk sixty-year-old woman at the next table. I thought it was interesting that he tried to steer us to a bottle of wine instead of the $30 wine pairing add-on, which is what we decided to do. The “Central Market 4th course” was, as in previous years, the lobster shooters, which are great if you like curry (and I do).
I should add that the deserts were particularly good, if perhaps a bit overly rich for some. All in all, the staff did a great job with crowded conditions, and turned out delicious food with a positive attitude. Hats off to them.
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