In a few short years, alizée has gone through more kitchen changes than the Orioles have been through managers. Now, executive chef Stephen Bohlman is at the helm, hoping to bring back some of the venue’s former mojo.
During its days as The Polo Grill, diners packed the refined dining room to enjoy the menu’s traditional and continental cuisine. After owners Lenny and Gail Kaplan retired in 2002, an unfortunate tailspin began. Several restaurants came and went, not able to retain the crowds.
Alizée, the latest rendition, has also had its ups and downs, starting out with its “fushi” (fusion sushi) phase under former hotshot chef Joshau Hill before settling on a more practical modern French-American cuisine with respected chef Christian deLutis, who didn’t stay long.
Chef Bohlman stepped into the turbulent fray in August, bringing credentials as a previous chef at The Polo Grill. He has the challenge of boosting the culinary reputation of alizée at a Doubletree Hotel location that also needs to feed its overnight guests, starting at 7 a.m.
We wonder if simply changing the name might be a terrific help. If Polo Grill is copyrighted, surely, there must be something punchier than the baffling (lowercase, thank you) name alizée. It just doesn’t seem to fit the handsome, clubby atmosphere of the dining room.
On a recent visit, we slid into a sumptuous booth wrapped around a richly red faux-marble bare table. Around the room, highlighted with more red touches and dark woods, other booths and individual tables were generously spaced to allow for a hushed, intimate dining experience.
The menu is easy to maneuver, divided into dinner and bistro-fare sections. Categories include potages, salads, premier plats, entrees, small plates, and large plates. While you’re deciding what to order, sip a dirty spicy martini ($12), made with house-infused chile pepper vodka and courting danger with a fat red chile pepper floating in the cocktail. It’s icy/hot at the same time. Go slow!
The food choices are a mixed bag, leaning toward French comfort food but also very much New American. We liked a lot of what we saw. But our evening was marked by unevenness.
To start, we enjoyed rings of lightly fried, delicate calamari presented in an adorable mesh basket and served with a pleasant garlic aioli dipping sauce. We also liked the coffee-cured salmon, an interpretation of a classic smoked salmon appetizer. We couldn’t detect any coffee curing, but the excellent fish, rolled with a luxe crème fraiche, was a taste treat with a red-onion-and-caper relish.
The fried oysters were monsters in a scary way. These palm-sized, overly salty, extremely fishy-tasting specimens made us wonder where they came from. Their creamy texture seemed unnatural. We could only nibble on them—and we are major lovers of oysters.
The entrees were more promising. The grilled veal porterhouse was a he-man cut with a puddle of sauce Robert (a brown mustard sauce), a wild mushroom ragoût, tiny sautéed spaetzle (our German grandmother would be so pleased to find this on a menu), and crisp haricots vert.
The caramelized diver sea scallops in and of themselves were delicious—lightly seared and wonderfully moist inside as was the accompanying warm Georgia corn salad. The crispy potato hash probably would have pleased our toddler relatives, but it looked like a spider-web wheel of unappealing potato sticks mashed together. The tomato coulis was not what we expected either. It was salmon-pink sauce with a distinctive chile undertone.
Our favorite was the least complicated—a pan-seared rockfish fillet topped with teardrops of jumbo lump crabmeat, bits of wild mushrooms, corn kernels, and asparagus pieces in a lemon beurre-blanc sauce.
Desserts are made in-house and were a highlight. The mini powdered sugar doughnuts with pistachio gelato was a fun finish, but we can also speak well of the chocolate tower with a chocolate-mousse bottom topped with a cream layer and the individual fruit tart with a custard filling balancing berries and oranges.
Throughout the meal, our waitress was a treasure. She was polished and unobtrusive, anticipating our needs as if by some sort of professional radar. We haven’t had service this good in a while.
This type of deportment also extended to the bar area, where we sat one night for another meal. Our bartender, who looked like a young James Spader, carried off his duties as bartender and waiter with aplomb.
Here, we devoured a sweet corn bisque (it could have been a tad hotter) with crunchy corn-chip slivers in the mix and a delicious arugula, endive, and frisée salad with dabs of goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes in a sherry-shallot vinaigrette. (It’s a portion big enough for two.)
We also were pleased with the steak frites, the meat dressed with a flavorful wine-based Bordelaise sauce, featuring hand-cut fries. If we had a quibble, it would be the thinness of the beef.
Chef Bohlman may have to tweak a few things to get back to The Polo Grill heydays. But we think he’s heading there.