Alizee, by my count, is the fourth restaurant to move into the space in the Colonnade once known as the Polo Grill. Probably we came to review it too soon. Some promising amenities, such as a wine cellar with a communal tasting table, haven't materialized yet, and there are still both functional and cosmetic touches to be applied. On the other hand, there's nothing introductory about the prices.
But it's not any one thing that Alizee is lacking, but more essentially an identity. There's a vaporous sound to that name, Alizee, that fits a restaurant that doesn't yet feel substantial, or where the food doesn't match the carpeting. There were moments when I started to feel confident everything would eventually come together, but others when I wondered - wondered, for example, whether this concept is the best fit for the space, which, even after some cosmetic softening, still reads conservative to me. With an average entree of about $25, Alizee will only ultimately work when diners aren't left wondering. All of it, from the ambience to the service to the Asian-accented boutique bistro food, should be a seamless whole.
The smallest thing, like the tacky Doubletree hotel name badges that the staff is presumably compelled to wear, can detract. (One of Alizee's obstacles is its obligation to serve as a hotel amenity, seven days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner.) Also distracting, more importantly, is table service that is well-intentioned but continually off the beat. (For the record, I was recognized here, which might explain some service stumbles.) As for the food, there were flashes of brilliance, and many moments of satisfaction, but there were some misfires, too.
The menu is divided now into about a dozen large plates (please, entrees) and a half a dozen small plates (please, appetizers) and "fushi" plates. These last feature Alizee fusion sushi, and they're playfully elaborate creations, worth a look. One of them encloses spicy lobster and shrimp tempura in delicate slices of fresh banana; another artfully uses a seaweed reduction in a roll of salmon, eel, shrimp, crab and avocado. They're delightful, but they don't feel essential, part of an overall design or mission. (This is partly because the sushi is prepared in the back.)
The non-sushi appetizers were engaging twists on the familiar fresh mozzarella and prosciutto layered with pineapple instead of tomato, a frisee and goat cheese salad with pickled peaches and wasabi cream, a napoleon of tuna tartare with watermelon and mint. (We thought we had ordered this last one but received a similar-sounding tuna fushi plate instead). We did receive a pretty glazed calamari appetizer, the flavors of which were tilted too much to the sweet for most of us.
The entrees are when things get serious at Alizee, and when the fusion starts making some sense. Tender bok choy shows up as an accompaniment on a few exuberantly plated dishes, along with fascinating details like charred edamame (with a grilled salmon), crispy lotus root (for the tuna au poivre), and pink sea salt (for a pan-seared duck breast). These were mostly well-thought-out dishes. The duck breast here is as good as it can get, with crispy skin and juicy meat. A bistro steak was cooked perfectly. It's hard to account, then, for something like the fusion crab duet, which was a monochromatic heap. That tuna au poivre had a lot dancing around it, but not enough to distract from its not being a persuasively glorious seafood specimen.
I am curious about Alizee. I want to see if they can pull it off, and how. They've got Hopkins commencement to get through, and then the hard job of making themselves into the kind of essential place people return to.
alizee Where: 4 W. University Parkway
Open: 7 a.m.-10 a.m. for breakfast, 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. for lunch, 5 p.m.-11 p.m. for dinner
Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa, AMEX, Discover
Food: ** 1/2
Service: ** 1/2
Ambience: ** 1/2
on the menu •Glazed calamari - $10
•Fruits de mer roll - $16
•Banana lobster shrimp roll - $16
•Tuna au poivre - $27
•Bistro steak - $28
•Fusion crab duet - $32
•Duck breast - $30
•Rack of lamb - $30
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