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Mar 1, 2013 11:38 AM

Alison Eighteen: the story behind the worst dinner I've had in ages

My wife and I are both good eaters but bad cooks, so we go out a lot. Last week, we had dinner at Alison Eighteen -- I'd never eaten at any of the well-known "Alison" restaurants before, but now that she was in our neighborhood, it was convenient to try.

Putting aside the room and the service, it was one of the worst meals I can remember eating. The language for bad food is much less rich than for good food, so I'm at a loss to explain why it was bad, without lapsing into tautologies. One example: I ordered a salad of spinach and beets, and was delivered a plate of cold-as-though-right-from-the-fridge, flavorless beets, and and a salad that tasted of nothing but the shallots.

My wife, who is a champion plate-cleaner, declared her steak to be fatty and tasteless (a weird combination) and quickly gave up on it, as I did my bland pork entree, which tasted like something even I could've cooked at home in a skillet in about 10 minutes.

There was nothing about the meal we enjoyed, not even their selection of wines by the glass. None of the servers took notice of the fact that we were leaving our courses largely uneaten, and at a certain point, I just wanted to pay the $200 tab, go home, and have a snack.

When we got our coats, the hostess asked, "How was your dinner?" "Awful," I said. She smiled -- I'm pretty sure she thought I was joking. "No, seriously, it was awful." She asked what was wrong, and after we began to tell her, she brought over the manager, who wanted to hear about it. Then the manager brought over Alison.

Everyone else in the restaurant seemed to be enjoying themselves, Alison pointed out to us. She could have brought out a three-star plaque from Michelin and I wouldn't have really cared -- I knew what I'd just eaten. I hadn't expected or anticipated that our critique would escalate to the restaurant's namesake, and pretty soon, my wife and I both began to feel uncomfortable. Alison was as apologetic as she was defensive, and made it clear that she wanted to make things right by having us back another night as her guest.

Given how bad the meal was -- or rather, given how little we enjoyed the meal, since taste is (literally) subjective -- I'm not sure we'd want to go back, even for free. There are plenty of good eaters who go to "good" restaurants and don't like it; not every restaurant is for every palate. So if you've eaten at Alison Eighteen, or any of Alison's other restaurants, I'm curious to know whether you enjoyed the meal. Maybe it was a bad night; maybe we ordered the wrong dishes; maybe we have the wrong tongues for their menu and it's just not a shidduch, as my grandmother used to say.

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  1. Sorry about the awful meal. Quite surprised, actually. I haven't been to her new place, but we used to go to Alison on Dominick quite often, and it was a solid American-style bistro. Still have fond memories of her braised pork shanks. I would encourage you to give it another try if she's offering a free meal, 'cause she really is (?was) a fine chef.

    2 Replies
    1. re: strangemd

      < 'cause she really is (?was) a fine chef. >

      Alison is not a chef. Never has been. However, the current chef was once chef at Alison on Dominick.

      1. re: rrems

        I did not realize she was "just" the managing partner in her various restaurants. Funny how she seems to have overshadowed the chef. I guess one could say the same about some Danny Meyer places, but this one really surprised me.

    2. Just for context, which restaurants do you like in Manhattan? I'm sorry to hear about your poor experience but have to give credit to the owner for inviting you back for a free meal.

      I enjoyed my dinners at Alison Eighteen though I haven't been there in the past 6 months. I did find the food to be "healthier" i.e. not as rich or heavily sauced as other restaurants that serve the same style of updated comfort food..

      1. I think her offer of a free meal is extremely gracious. What do you have to lose?

        1 Reply
        1. re: rrems

          Agreed on this.

          To the OP, she's trying to do right by you. Let her at least try.

          I've been to Alison on Dominick years ago. I liked it, but it was so long ago, I couldn't get more specific than that - sorry. The fond (albeit vague, ha ha) memories did make me put Alison Eighteen on the list for upcoming trips to NYC. Sorry about your experience.

        2. The original comment has been removed
          1. Yes, I agree with everyone who says she's trying to do the right thing. But I don't agree with "What have you got to lose?" -- in part because if we return, we have to hire a babysitter.

            Also, here's an analogy: If you go on a date with someone whom you realize is not the right person for you, why would you go out with that person a second time? You've got nothing to lose! But if you're sure a second date would only tell you, again, what you felt you knew the first time, it's fruitless.

            I'm grateful for the feedback. Still thinking this over, but we're leaning towards No thank you.

            1 Reply
            1. re: tanno

              I totally agree with you. About a year ago, my husband and I hired a babysitter and went to Prune to celebrate my birthday after hearing some great things about the restaurant...and what a disappointment it was. I thought our local diner had a better lamb chop. The service was very impersonal. The table was way too close to the next table. Overall, it was one of the worst dining experiences I had. After spending $250 for a meal and more for the babysitter, I didn't expect to come out of the restaurant feeling angry.