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Apr 8, 2002 08:33 PM

Report on Alex - great food, service problems

  • m

I just went to the 3-month-old Alex, on Melrose in Hollywood, and thought I should share my experience.

The restaurant was pricier than I expected, but the food was definitely commensurate with the prices. The menu is arranged in an unusual fashion -- first, middle and main courses, and you are expected to order all three (or so it seemed to us - the waiter pushed it pretty hard). All the choices are the same price, though a few have an extra charge. First courses were $15, middle $12, and entrees $29, though the norm is to order via the "prix fixe" option, which is $58 for 4 courses. The prices listed are for a la carte purposes.

Among the entrees were three fish offerings, and a fantastic sounding vegetarian dish (but for $29?!), but I thought I'd order first, middle and then a first course, though my companion did the prix fixe. We shared everything, and it was plenty of food (though the portions for the 1st and middle courses are on the small side). I'd say the prix fixe would be a whole lot of food, so go hungry if you are choosing that option.

I started with the sea scallops, and my companion had the goat cheese souffle. I preferred the scallops, but both were outstanding. For the middle course, I had a delicious, crabmeat-intensive crab cake with a mango sauce, and he had the asparagus w/ an uncommon preparation (quail egg, I believe) -- a gamble worth taking.

I should mention that despite the fact that the dining room is absolutely gorgeous (used to be Citrus) and the food was magnificent, the service left quite a lot to be desired, especially at those prices. We had a trainee of some kind -- this trainee, Alec, was actually quite good -- but our main waiter, John, paid virtually no attention to us, except to be pompous and briefly come over to brag about his four-star restaurant experience (he called Alec "his minion"). NOT a good waiter. We actually went to get our wine out of the bucket at one point b/c our glasses were empty for so long and no one was around (our reservation was at 9 - surely this would not occur earlier).

On to the main course... I had ordered the poached lobster, which I'd read was a treat. My companion had a large cut of halibut, cooked just right and seasoned to perfection. I, however, received the wrong dish, which I did not realize until after the food runner had left (grilled langoustines, a middle course, instead). After a few minutes, we saw Alec and explained the error. The correct dish did not come out until we had completely finished the halibut, and I had already told Alec to forget about it. But John came over and pretty much told me that I'd said I wanted it, and it took a long time to make, so I should eat it. Not a smooth guy, to say the least. Not a word about it being on the house...

Luckily, Clover, their manager, was much, much better. Alec had the lobster taken off the check, and I spoke to Clover regarding John (the table behind us had an issue with him too - he quoted the wrong corkage fee and then told them to pay it anyway b/c "they would have had the wine either way"). Clover was very gracious, gave us a free dessert (lemongrass creme brulee - worth having, though there were many other tempting options), and promised to be sure we were taken care of next time.

All in all, I was extremely impressed by the food, though disappointed by our bad luck with the service. Because of Clover's response, we will return -- though maybe not as readily than if the service had been smooth. I should also mention that the wine list is both reasonable and varied, and is thus another asset for Alex.

I'd be interested to hear others' experiences.

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  1. Thanks for a very informative review.

    BTW, Meredith Brody was absolutely gaga about this place last week in New Times.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Bob Brooks

      how absurd that she compared this new restaurant to a three-star. it tells me that either she's never eaten at a three-star or that she probably rightly assumes that most of her audience knows nothing about three-stars.

      while michelin may be political that elusive third star usually comes - or goes - with the service.

      1. re: louisa

        I've been to Alex twice and didn't have any problems whatsoever with service. From the OP, it sounds like the problems she experienced were related to one bad apple (the waiter).

        Though I can't stand Brody's column, I have to agree with her that Alex is the most exciting restaurant to open in many months. I don't know about a Michelin 3-star, but it definitely garners a 3-star in the NY Times tradition. The food is sublime.

        1. re: ClaudineToo

          I'd agree that we may have very well been dealing with an aberrantly bad waiter. But if Alex wants to be at the level their food (and prices) are, they should weed out the lousy servers. Still, like I said, I plan to go back -the food was that good - provided I get a different waiter!

          1. re: Megan

            weed out? you are being far too generous. at those prices bad wait staff should never be there in the first place.

    2. LA magazine named Alex, new restaurant of the year. That and the New Times review probably overwhelmed them. It seems that the worst time to go to a restaurant is soon after a favorable review.

      1. j
        Jon Leventhal

        I got a discount lunch card from amex ($20.02 for three courses) and had a terrific meal. Space is nice, silverware etc. all top notch, food was excellent. However,

        1. Played obnoxious music at a relatively high level. Can't we eat in peace??

        2. Coffee was awful. Espresso served luke warm w/o crema. I'm sorta used to this in LA, though. Waiter comped it.

        3. Bread basket, which New Times raved about, was 4 types of individual, MUSHY bread. I don't know about the rest of you, but I like a crust on my bread. These reminded me of Pillsbury cresent rolls.

        4. Wine list is interesting, but pricey. Good stemware.

        BTW, with three glasses of wine, tap water, tax&tip it was $88 for two.


        1. Curious about the new look of the place since I used to work there as a prep cook when it was Citrus. Sorry to see they haven't remedied the bad service problem which is largely what brought down Citrus!