A couple weeks ago Xan and I met a friend at Al’s Place. It was named America’s best new restaurant in 2015 by Bon Appétit. So, of course there’s been a lot of buzz. Usually, when a restaurant or something else is name best “whatever” we try and stay away. The crowds and wait times over shadow whatever to-die-for thing you’re going for in the first place. The plan started innocently enough. All 3 of us are part of a larger dinner party group who scheduled an event for that evening, but then it was re-scheduled for a later date. We all had that evening free, what could we do with it? Sit at the bar and eat French fries at Al’s Place, right?? For weeks we claimed all we would do is get fries at the bar and move along. Ha, yeah right! By the time we were in line to get in we had all agreed that if we could get a table we would stay for a full meal. “We’ll probably never come back – we might as well go for it” we said to ourselves. And that’s exactly what we did.
You have to make reservations 8 weeks in advance, which we didn’t do. We knew the restaurant was small and popular so we agreed to get there 15 minutes before the doors opened at 5:30. When we arrived we were already 7th in line. We expected this sort of thing, so we weren’t deterred. As we waited those 15 minutes the line grew. By the time they opened there were probably 20 people waiting. They opened the doors and we slowly shuffled closer to the hostess stand. When we made it, the waitlist had already already started. There were 2 groups ahead of us. One was a party of 3 and they were trying to decide if they wanted to wait or not. If they didn’t the next 3 top that opened up would be ours – they guessed it would be about 7:15. If that other party of 3 did decide to stay we would get their table when they were done and they expected that would be around 9:30. Ouch! We collectively agreed that 7:15 was fine (great, actually) but 9:30 was probably too late. We decided to take our chances and wait it out. Fortunately, directly across the street was this perfect little dive bar. So we got a couple cocktails and sufficiently worked up an appetite. All the while apprehensively ignoring the fact that we might have to come up with a plan B. Around 7:00 Xan ran over to check on the reservation. The hostess called the party of 3 ahead of us. No answer. “I’m pretty sure she crossed their name off the list” he said excitedly as he came back. Still unsure, we talked about the perfect juxtaposition this dive bar was right across the street from the country’s Best New Restaurant. And not 5 minutes later did the hostess call us and tell us our table was ready!
We walked into a restaurant that was even more packed than when we left it. Wedged in the very front of the restaurant there were people waiting to eat and people waiting to find out what their wait would be. Meanwhile the lucky few on the other side had secured their table. We were one of them now! We were seated at the very table we wistfully hoped would be ours as we stood in line. We were looking at menus by 7:15. I mean, does it work out any more perfectly than that??
The whole meal was incredible. All three aspects of a good experience at a restaurant were there (food, service, and atmosphere). The food completely lived up to the hype, which after reading some Yelp reviews I wasn’t sure it would. It was some of the most innovative food I’ve ever seen. It’s heavily focused on vegetables and the things the chef is doing with them are out of this world. On top of that, the service was incredible. Everyone was so friendly and helpful, it truly made the experience. The atmosphere was warm and inviting. They were playing good music, had candlelight all around, and sound absorbing panels on the ceiling so you could actually speak to the people you were eating with. It sounds silly, but that one detail makes all the difference. Everything worked out so serendipitously and the company was wonderful, it’s definitely one of my top dining experiences.
Overall it was a great experience and I highly recommend making the trek. Here are a couple snaps of the meal. Excuse the crummy iphone photos.