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THE ALLEY VIEW GRILL
We really enjoy the Alley View Grill.
Honest. We do. Whenever we get a late-night craving for goat-cheese
pizza or a veal-and-pancetta burger with some tomato coulis, itís
almost the first place that comes to mind. Oh, sure, we know itís
a frenzied, schizoid place, with one foot in Momís kitchen back in bucolic
Kansas and the other in New Yorkís arty SoHo, but what the heck, weíre
probably a little schizy ourselves.
the décor. Faux-zebra Formica, faux-tiger upholstery, faux-leopard
carpeting, faux-peacock wallpaper. Our companion thought she had
stumbled into an old Busby Berkeley musicalósomething like Decorators on
Safari. But we like it. And since weíve always favored gigantism
in floral arrangements, we adore the Brobdingnagian bouquets. We
donít even blush at their showy sexuality, the way they flaunt their whopping
pistils, their stupendous stamens. We keep an open mind. We
tolerate lubricious vegetation in all its bizarre varieties. We donít
even blink at the gigantic buds of shell ginger, which seem to us so very
like the spent and drooping members of enormous armadillos.
In a way, the Alley
View Grill is a mom-and-pop eatery brought up to date: the décor
is dada-deco, and the food is nouvelle Momóa type that we have begun to
see more and more in cutting-edge restaurants. Restaurateurs seem
to be savoring anew their memories of Momís kitchen. Suddenly theyíre
nostalgic for the food they ate before they came to the city, learned to
speak another language, began ridiculing their parents, and tried to hide
their small-town naïveté. They donít serve up their nostalgia
straight, of course; itís seasoned with the sophistication theyíve acquired
away from home. So every remembered dish must be treated with face-saving
contempt. Each is made the butt of an elegant, and sometimes quite
delicious, joke. So the Alley View Grill offers Dadís favoriteógrilled
sirloinóbut itís smothered in nasturtiums, not the onions Dad preferred.
It arrives looking like a ritual sacrifice to Kongógrilled thigh of virgin,
perhaps. Thereís grilled pork tenderloin, too, but itís served rare,
flouting everything Mom said about pork. The apple pie is made with
six varieties of apple (three American, one French, two Australian) and
dusted with chopped macadamia nuts. There is even a burger, but it
is the aforementioned veal-and-pancetta burger, with tomato coulis, about
which Mom and Dad knew from nothiní, we bet. (Even Dadís martini
gets the snicker treatment. Itís just a frozen ginsicle, minus the
touch of vermouth that would elevate it from an anaesthetic to Nick and
Noraís favorite tipple.)
Well. Our heart is warmed by the sight of waiters and waitresses
enjoying themselves, and here they certainly do. On some evenings
our heart has been so warmed by their happy chatting and chortling that
we have scarcely noticed that they have scarcely noticed us. Apparently
the owners have quite an enlightened attitude toward what in the old, benighted,
classist days of dining used to be called ďservice.Ē Nor does the
enlightenment end there. The Alley View Grill has, apparently, a
hiring practice that favors waiters and waitresses with striking good looks
and a total ignorance of food. We say bravo! These people have
to start somewhere, donít they? Let them practice on us! We
can attest to the fact that the Alley View gang learns quickly. Theyíve
already mastered indolence, indifference, and ignorance, the three essentials
of contemporary sophisticated service. But does the place have style!
The waiters mispronounce the names of the foods with impressive panache,
and the menu misspells them in handsome deco-revival type. The golden-tressed
fellow who will tell you, when you phone for a reservation on a Friday
or Saturday, that he canít possibly fit you in for four weeks will be speaking
to you over an old black telephone straight out of an uncolorized film
noir (perhaps that should be a film noir-et-blanc). The neon sign
over the entrance once flashed beside a motel somewhere on the banks of
the Connecticut River, the Valley View. Rescued from a salvage yard,
it flashes again, all but the first V. And the ne plus ultra: above
the bar, in pale green neon script, is the single word Champagne.
Now if thatís not style, we sure donít know what is.
Of course we adore
the ebullient, well-dressed clientele. Theyíre a vastly diverse group,
representing every shade of sexual preference, sporting the latest garb
smuggled in from New York. Youíll get to know them well, thanks to
their indefatigable table hopping, the extravagance of their greetings
(are they performing for hidden cameras?), and the fact that the management
has had the foresight to put the tables close enough to one another so
that your neighbor (soon your chum!) is nearer (soon dearer!) to you than
your dinner companion. Beware, though, of the weekends, when the
truly trendy are squeezed out by poseurs from the íburbs, who have come
in to see what they should be wearing and find out what arugula tastes
The Alley View Grill
221 Rear Bartleby Street, 555-6100.
American Express, Visa, MasterCard.
Handicapped: handicapped restrooms.
Lunch 12-3, Tuesday-Saturday.
Brunch 12-3, Sunday.
Dinner 6-11 Tuesday-Sunday.
Reservations recommended weekdays, a must