Alder, woodsy and brilliant
I don't know if it was the two bottles of wine, or if it was the two bottles of wine plus the crazy rootbeer float we capped the dinner off (Irish whiskey, Mexican Fernet, and Guinness Head). My guess is they did. But, it was also the convivial atmosphere, the super-helpful waitstaff and the food.
The bar is your seat of choice at Alder. Once seated you'll get to look around at the dining room, the cute bartenders, the East Village neighborhood walking by the giant plate-glass window and the comings and goings through the front door.
We arrived a little before six o clock, when the restaurant opened its doors (there was a short line), and, once seated, took our time chatting with our server, snapping photos and picking out our first wine.
Pigs in a blanket, that ubiquitous passed hors d'oeuvres last seen at a Bar Mitzvah, was the appetizer that first caught my eye. The pigs, actually Chinese sausage, from first glance looked like your usual hot dog and one of my friends, apparently so anti-hot dog she waved her hand and said, "No thanks."
The small bites were arrayed on a piece of slate and topped with dollops of spicy mustard and a sweet chili sauce. I used my fingers and enjoyed the savory richness of the thick sausage offset by the sweet tang and bite of the two toppings. I especially liked it when both sauces mashed together. Our next appetizer, kumquats stuffed with parsnip, black sesame and merguez sausage, ran on the sweeter end of the spectrum. They were served in what looked like a play on a deviled egg dish. These snacks looked and tasted like they would be at home on a Spanish tapas menu. Curiously interesting because of the zest from kumquat peel and redolent from the sweet bits tamped down inside.
Our next two shared plates were fried cauliflower (with lemon-almond puree, lardo and cocoa nibs) and rye pasta (with shaved pastrami). The cauliflower was interesting, but I'm not sold on it. I think it needed to be cooked at a higher temperature and maybe even roasted versus fried. I think the lardo was heavy handed and unfortunately the cocoa nibs didn't pop in your mouth unless you grabbed one and crunched it between your teeth without any other elements hampering it.
Now, let's talk about the insanity that is long strands of wheat pasta nestled in a bowl and covering up luscious pink shredded pastrami. Good lord this was good. Rich and salty, it was a dish that was fun and satisfying to eat. Also, I didn't feel quite as guilty knowing the calories were shared across three people.
My last dish was the crispy fried quail over curried banana and pickled turmeric. When I ordered the dish I expected quail, you know, a bird. What I got were round little discs, breaded on the outside and quailed on the inside. The discs lay on top of the curried banana and I ate the two together, the curry acting as a kind of relish. The flavors in the banana curry were what made the dish and I can see it as a compliment to a world of other meat dishes. Part of me wanted the quail to be closer to its original state, but what do I know. The dish came with one anemic spear of broccoli, so my suggestion would be to add one or two more or remove it as a callout on the menu, it just didn't do anything to move the dish forward.
My girlfriends had the oxtail stew, which came in a small bowl with plantains planks poking out that looked like tempeh, and smoked arctic char (atop lentils and apricots), which tasted like eating bacon, without any of the complimentary artery damage. This dish was impeccable and beautifully composed.
At Alder every detail seems to be tended to, the decor, the drinks, the menus––rubber-banded to wood planks, the aged timber overhead, the coasters, and the rubber bands around the bubbly or flat water. We chatted with everyone around us and all in all the restaurant is just plain fun. I hope the menu changes often because I want to go back.