In the classic 1999 film, 10 Things I Hate About You, Larisa Oleynik's (Alex Mack to the uninformed) character is asked the age-old question, "I know you can be overwhelmed, and you can be underwhelmed, but can you ever just be whelmed?" Oleynik's Bianca of course answers, "I think you can in Europe," a fact I am not trying to dispute. However, after my experience at Exchange Alley this weekend, it's safe to say that you can save money on the flight to Paris and just head to the East Village to get your whelm on. The overarching feeling I had when leaving EA was that I was just....whelmed.
The experience was really a study in contrast. The space is just downright cozy, a few steps below street level, offering a dark, warm respite to the bitter cold of last Friday night. We walked in at 8 with no reservation and were seated immediately. Obviously this would go down on the "Pros" side of the page. Our waiter, who was sporting an immaculate pencil thin mustache, was downright chatty...a tendency that has been known to cause an immediate TGF walkout...but I have to say, he did an amazing job. Gave us the information we needed without going overboard, was right on time with everything from drinks to the check, hell, even his borderline-inappropriate arm rub felt oh so right. Unfortunately, that was about it for the "Pros" list...except for this:
But we do have to talk about the food. It was just. so. whelming. Started out with the charred kale with chile vinegar and a cow's milk cheese from CT. Both were fine - not exactly reinventing the wheel with the kale side and the cheese, while good, was cheese. Maybe it was my fault for not ordering the jambalaya balls...but knowing what I would be eating on Sunday, I wisely passed. For my main, I went with the herb crusted hanger steak with cauliflower gratin. The steak looked awesome (shown below sans cauliflower) but it was just a total letdown.
The crust highjacked the flavor of the dish and there was just so little flavor from the actual meat. It got pretty monotonous after a while. The cauliflower gratin was good enough, which should be taken as a compliment since my mother's infamous 7 veggie soup was dominated by caulifower and I still wake up with cold sweats screaming for mercy because of that horrific soup. My date had the salt seared cod with almond mashed potatoes and lemon rings. The lemon rings (lemon rinds "confit'ed" in simple syrup and then breaded and fried) just didn't work for me - too bitter. The fish was fine and the potatoees were actually pretty good. But it was strangely served in a deep bowl which made the process of shoveling it into one's mouth more difficult than necessary.
And they don't have their liquor license yet.
So the bottom line - will I be back? Maybe just for drinks (once they can serve them) on a cold night.