As many people who have spent the time reading this blog know, I have never been a big fan of Restaurant Week. I find that it's usually a means to get people in on the cheap, serve them marginal food at best and the service is generally grudgingly polite and semi-professional. And if a table chooses to not drink, the service loses most of the professional. That being said, there are places that choose to use this bargain week to showcase what they can do, albeit in smaller portions, in the hopes of getting new diners out of it.
So, wanting to try The Marliave (I had only been there for cocktails and one extra olive oil-y meat plate), L and I decided to give it a shot last night, thinking that at the very least, we'd not lose in the cost/flavor analysis and perhaps come away with a win for the night.
We made the decision last minute and were able to get a reservation for 9pm on Open Table around 8pm. Perhaps a little odd on a Friday night, but times are tight and if memory serves, RW people tend to want to eat on the early side. Whoever says that the economy is picking up must not be visiting higher end eating establishments.
We change into our going out to dinner clothing and hit the T to Park Street, where we walk to the alley that The Marliave is hidden down and make it to the joint. They have a little patio area, which is actually the alley itself, nestled between the restaurant proper and whatever the building across the alley happens to house. The patio was full with diners, the restaurant not so much. When we walk in and tell the hostess that we made a reservation on Open Table, she gave us a look like she had never heard of the service. So, she either didn't know about Open Table or simply didn't check the computer. I'm opting for the latter. She offered us seating outdoors, but we opted to sit upstairs instead of waiting for a patio table to open up and are seated at a table in the middle of the dining room. I asked for a corner table that was open and bussed (as many of the tables were) yet not cleaned and reset. As the hostess sowly weighed the question, a server wandered to that same table and started to drop some bread plates and napkins. The table was ours. The hostess came back to finish setting the table for us and, for some reason, brought enough silverware to set the entire 4-top even though only 2 people were sitting there. Fortunately, she didn't set all 4 seats and did pull the extra settings from the table.
The dining room has the appearance of being a place that was once really nice but has fallen on hard times. The sconces that housed some larger candles were unlit and the candles that were there hadn't been lit in a while. They looked to have been filled with tea candles that had started to burn through the candles they were resting in. Our votive was cracked and the paint used on our table was on the tacky side.
So, we are seated, we are noticing the lack of people in the dining room and wait for our server. He shows up and asks us about drinks. I know the guy, we used to work together. Actually, at one point, he worked for me. I know he's a good server, but I also notice that he's checked out and not interested in what he's doing. That aside, I am hoping that because he knows me, he'll at least give me a little better treatment than what I see happening at his other tables. L doesn't drink and I didn't know what I wanted, so we decline alcoholic libations. He wanders off and we sit looking at the Restaurant Week menu as well as the regular menu. We notice that they are offering essentially the same menu whichever choice one makes. I'm guessing that the portions would be different if one opted for the heftier pricing of the regular menu. We decide what we are going to have and I took a gander at the wine list, hoping to find something that would be a surprise and reasonably priced. I opted for a glass of Montepulciano. The server asked me to tell him what I thought about it. That's never a good comment and I almost immediately realized he knew me well enough to know that I wasn't going to like the wine. However, I took my chances. He was right. I took a sip and couldn't decide if the wine was either bad or just sucked. It was limp on the front palate and tasted like prune juice on the back. It wasn't good at all. He later brought two tastes of other glass pours that they have, but neither of them managed to really move me. The server blamed it on the economy and the restaurant trying to make concessions for the more value oriented diner. I just think it was a poor choice for a glass pour made by a person who wasn't interested in the glass program. I used to run a beverage program and know that there are decent, inexpensive wines out there if one knows where to look and trusts their reps. This was simply an indication of a lack of care. That, in a nutshell, is the problem with not having a good glass program; people who would have a glass or two have none because they aren't looking for a bottle and can't find anything worth drinking on the glass list, so the restaurant loses that sale. And, of course, i'll not go there and expect to have a glass of wine ever. I'll know that if I want a dinner and good glass, i'll have to go elsewhere. Not a problem, there are plenty of places that have a nice glass list and want my money.
We get our bread; which i'm really excited about, as I understand that they have a bakery and make all of their own bread on premise. It's supposed to be a foccacia, but what we get is dense, bland and oily. The olive oil served at the table has no discernible flavor profile, but the olives on the plate of olive oil are tasty. Too damned bad they gave a table of two only three olives. Instead of fighting over the last olive, I offered it to L.
The apps finally arrive, a little too long after ordering them in my formerly professional opinion, a beet salad for me and crab cakes for L. Her app comes on a plate that is for too large for them and makes them appear lost, as if they need a navigation system to find their way to her fork. My beet salad with goat cheese and balsamic has better plating and looks pretty tasty. Bright red beets set off with the creamy white goat cheese and light green mache. We dig in. Her crab cakes are tasty, but a little too much onion for my taste. The spicy aioli was more mild than I would have expected, but in all, the cakes were good. The beet salad had an assortment of candied nuts to add some texture and crunch, but were a little stale. The salad, after the addition of some salt (which I had to ask a passing server for, I guess that they don't see the need to allow people to add their own seasonings, and ordinarily, I don't need to), was actually quite delightful.
I will state that the wait time for the first course was a little excessive. I think that it shouldn't have taken as long as it did to get a pair of crab cakes and some beets to a table. The wait between courses was also probably a little long, but L did order the Wellington (I kept making "Hell's Kitchen" jokes while we were waiting for it), so I can forgive the delay. I ordered the Sunday Gravy; gnocchi and a sauce made with San Marzano tomatoes, lamb, beef and pork. The first pair of plates to hit our table look like a sandwich and steak frites. I'm pretty sure that neither of us ordered these, so before the runners leave the food at our table and before we touch anything, I mention that this food doesn't appear to be ours. Indeed, it belongs to a table across the dining room from us. Fortunately for them, they were blissfully ignorant of that fact and fell into their food with gusto. I'll admit, those fries looked tasty and that sandwich looked good. However, it wasn't our food.
Eventually, our dinner arrived, my gnocchi and L's Wellington. Her dinner was a little underdone, but she didn't care, we both like our meat somewhat on the rare side. The flavors were all there, though. A smallish hint of fois gras (c'mon, it's a 30$ meal, any amount of foie gras is a bit of a bonus), mushrooms, a wonderfully cooked pastry crust and a nice red wine reduction for some acid balanced the meal out. There weren't any sides, which was rather odd. One might expect some sort of something on the plate to balance all that richness, but nope, nothing there. The meat was tender and, as usual for tenderloin, dependant on the sauce, the pastry, the mushrooms and fois gras for its flavor. I know, I know, someone out there is going to start getting upset for that comment, but hey, it's my opinion and my blog. I happen to think that meat with no fat is meat with no flavor. If there had been more to the dish, I would have a longer description, but there wasn't, the dish wasn't mine and that's that.
My gnocchi was quite nice. The pillows were firm yet wonderfully soft, not at all overworked and pulled from the pot at just the right moment. The gnocchi is certainly in my list of tops in the city. The gravy was nice, but a little missing in the umame category. The meats were nice, but the beef was a little on the gummy, fatty side (I know, I said that fat matters when referring to meats, but there's also a limit on the amount that is acceptable with braised meats. I'm a little bit picky, it's my right) and the lamb didn't give my dish the gamey tilt that I was looking for. The tomatoes, which I would have expected to add a little acidic sweetness, were overwhelmed by the saltiness of the liquid in the dish. It needed, I think, a little hint of heat. Perhaps a dash of even something as innocuous as white pepper. Maybe a little sweet red bell pepper for sweetness. How about some sausage for depth? Any one of those things probably would have pushed the meal over for me and moved from nice to really damned good. Then again, I could be wrong about the whole thing.
We filled up quickly, one thing that I have to give the Marliave is that they don't skimp on the portions. One gets a meal for the money one spends. If these were lighter versions, there is very little chance that I could eat an entire meal at that joint without a table full of very hungry friends. The server bagged up our remnants and we ordered dessert. I got the Boston Creme Pie and L ordered the chocolate bomb. Desserts arrived and I take a look at our finishing touches for our Restaurant Week first (and maybe last) dinner. My dessert looks like a little cake, which is what I expect. L's dessert looks like a breast. I'm not joking. It's a chocolate mousse atop a chocolate cake covered with a ganache shell, some fresh whipped cream and a single red raspberry settled in right at the tip of the shell. So, in all, the dessert looked like a breast. Laughter and jokes ensued, but then we dug in. My dessert, from a person who doesn't eat dessert, was really yummy. It was a great rendition of a classic. Rich, creamy filling layered between two soft cakes, covered in dark chocolate and a wonderfully flavored vanilla sauce. L's wasn't as great, but it was still pretty good. I finished as much of the dessert as I wanted and offered the rest to L. Her dessert was a little on the dry side as far as the cake was concerned, the mousse was fine and the shell okay. The highlights of her dessert were the fresh whipped cream and the caramel sauce.
Finally, we finish up, pay our tab and head back out into the warm summer night; walking slowly b/c of L's new heels (ask her if you're interested in that kind of stuff) and enjoying the slightly too full feeling of a night spent eating like it was "Big Night", which is a meal that is replicated over at Grotto, which is the sister restaurant of The Marliave, and one that I would recommend. Probably with a little more gusto than The Marliave. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't great. I can't help but wonder if it was just Restaurant Week or something more.