>> 1/10/11

1695 Second Avenue
New York, NY 10128
(212) 722-5133

Cafe D'Alsace is one of the Restaurants that pepper Manhattan as part of the Tour De France restaurant group. It includes the likes of L'Express, Nice Matin, and French Roast, to name a few. Each of them, in theory, focuses on the cuisine from a certain part of France. Cafe D'Alsace focuses on the Alsatian region near the German border, so the food here is heavily German influenced. They naturally have a pretty damn good beer list. I was a jerk and ordered an Ommegang Hennepin.

Cafe D'Alsace rests comfortably on the Upper East Side. Much like the Upper West Side, this isn't a dining out destination. The restaurants are good, to be sure, but they are rarely innovative. People come home from a long day at work (this being the UES, they're probably hedge fund people) and want to eat something that they're familiar with. And let's not forget that 88th street isn't the most youthfully exuberant area in town. Slightly farther north and you've got 20-somethings just out of college rooming four to a two-bedroom and going to fratty bars drinking beer out of plastic cups, but 88th street is a solidly empty-nester friendly zone.

And so Cafe D'Alsace, while thoroughly pleasant and comfortable, isn't about to make me lie in bed at night craving their cuisine. I arrived around 8pm to meet my friend Lina. There was a pretty good sized crowd and we wound up at a table smack in the middle of the restaurant. Good for camera angles, not good for being able to gossip without the table right next to you listening in. After ordering a round of drinks, Lina skipped an appetizer but I started with their Venison Sausage appetizer, which I liked quite a bit. Venison, for those who've never had it, is very very good. It's gamey, but not gritty and tough like buffalo. It's a red meat, so it's similar to beef in texture, but with a twist, the way wild boar is pork with a twist (for the better, in my opinion). Served on a bed of sauerkraut salad with lingonberries and a sweet red wine glaze, this was a great appetizer, but was not indicative of the rest of the meal.

Lina orders the good ol' French go-to dish, Steak Frites, Thin steak with french fries. It was, as I implied earlier, fine, but not spectacular. I order it A LOT and have certainly had better steak frites (though she asked for it well-done so maybe this isn't the restaurant's fault. Seriously, for the rest of you out there, don't let those cows die in vain by ordering your steak well-done). I ordered the Classic Cassoulet, a bean-based stew with fois gras, lamb, duck and garlic sausage, and duck confit. It was heavy. Super heavy. And when you get it you think it's small. But it's dry. The beans were okay, but too gloppy and the sausage required being eaten while drinking your beer. Lina loved the duck confit though and has since out trip here reminded me twice of how good it was. I took half of it home and finished it the next day.

Come dessert, I was ready to explode like a Monty Python character but Lina ordered a Chocolate Tart. It looked nicer on the plate than it tasted on my tongue. Like the other dishes, it was too dry and too heavy. I stole a bite or two with my coffee.

Compared with the other restaurants in the Tour De France playbook that I've been to, Cafe D'alsace is the weakest. It doens't have the outdoor space of Maison or the eye candy of L'Express or the relaxed cheapness of French Roast. It doesn't have escargot on the menu. It does have a good beer list though, something that I would certainly be willing to return for. I'll just skip the chocolate tart.

1 expensive Ommegang, 1 less expensive Leffe Blonde, 1 appetizer, 2 entrees, 2 coffees, 1 dessert, and tax and tip was about $125.

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