Note: Chef Robert Gurvich severed his ties with the restaurant in July 2012. His chef de cuisine, Juan Carlos Landazuri, replaced him, so there shouldn’t be much of a change.
“Just fine” is a label I often use when I’m served capably executed food which neither excites me nor fails in any articulable way.
Alison Eighteen is “just fine.”
The décor is modern and stylish. Service is attentive and professional. The wine list offers better breadth and depth than you usually see at a new restaurant, with plenty of reasonable choices below $60. Food prices are slightly on the medium-to-high side, but certainly not extortionate for the neighborhood.
The owner, Alison Price Becker, is a former actress who rose through the ranks at Rakel and Gotham Bar & Grill, then opened her own place, the much loved Alison on Dominick Street. Bryan Miller of The Times awarded two stars in 1989 and again in 1992, both under founding chef Tom Valenti, who is now at Ouest. Scott Bryan replaced him, also receiving two stars from Ruth Reichl. Dan Silverman (later of Union Square Cafe, Lever House, and now the Standard Grill) replaced Bryan. James Beard Award winner Michelle Bernstein cooked here at one point. Those are some impressive names.
The lesser known Robert Gurvich replaced Silverman in 1999. By now Alison was a franchise, with a place in Sagaponack (Alison by the Beach; 1998–2004). Alison on Dominick closed in 2011 after the 9/11 attacks, as diners stopped coming downtown, and for a while the site (located hard by the Holland Tunnel exit) could not even receive truck deliveries. She opened another restaurant (just plain “Alison”) in Bridgehampton in 2006, again with Gurvich, who is likewise chef at Alison Eighteen.
Ruth Reichl called Alison on Dominick “one of the city’s most romantic restaurants.” No one would say that about the new one. It is, as FloFab put it, “lighter and airier,” with a more overtly commercial intent. Still, there is a cool elegance and obvious care in the design: Ms. Becker even created her own wallpaper.
I suspect she’ll attract fans of the old Alison on Dominick, plus those who’ve gone with her to Sagaponack or Bridgehampton, and Elaine’s refugees. The restaurant is open for three meals a day and should do a brisk breakfast and lunch trade in this neighborhood.
The old Times reviews suggest that the cuisine here was never cutting-edge, but it was always executed with care and skill, and it remains so today. Even in 1992, Bryan Miller would write: “If there is a minor shortcoming here, especially for repeat customers, it is a moderate-size menu that usually lacks more than one special supplement.”
Twenty years later, with American locavore restaurants found on every half-block, the menu at Alison Eighteen may seem a bit old-fashioned: serving spit-roasted chicken without saying which farm the chicken came from? Shocking!
The menu fits on one broadsheet, with nine appetizers (mostly $12–19, but Foie Gras “A La Plancha” is $28), eight entrées (mostly $26–34, excluding a 35-day aged sirloin, $45), and half-a-dozen sides ($9).
That old standby, the Raw Yellow Beet Salad ($15; above left) shares the plate with slices of escarole and honeycrisp apple (neither very flavorful), with watermelon radishes and cider vinaigrette. It was a dish that read better than it tasted.
Sardine Crostini ($16; above right) were an annouced special, with a list of about ten ingredients that I won’t even attempt to recall. This was a considerably more exciting dish, the kind Alison Eighteen needs more of.
Both entrées were competently executed, if unexciting: Black Bass ($32) with artichokes, cannelini beans, cockles and a bit of chorizo; Spit-Roasted Lamb Shoulder ($32) with roasted vegetables. The server tried to upsell us into a side dish, which neither of these mains required.
The bread service (baguettes and olive oil) could be better, but petits fours (below right) were a nice touch, and I especially appreciated the (mostly French) wine list. We had the 2006 Pascal Granger Juliénas, a Beaujolais I suspect you won’t find in many other NYC restaurants.
Many of the city’s pro critics thumb their noses at restaurants that exist mainly for social reasons, and thereby miss their real merits. There is a need for places that serve reliable menus in stylish surroundings, with upscale service. I won’t run back to Alison Eighteen, but for the intended audience it fulfills its mission well.
Alison Eighteen (15 W. 18th St. between 5th & 6th Ave., Flatiron District)