Restaurant Week at Al Biernat’s

20 Aug

Friday night, a group of six of us headed to Al Biernat’s for Restaurant Week.  Although Al’s hasn’t received the best reviews for Restaurant Week in the past, it was one of the only places I could secure a reservation for six on a Friday night at a decent hour, namely 7:30pm.  When you’re planning for a group, sometimes timing is everything.  Furthermore, I thought that Al’s traditional menu of steaks and seafood would have wide appeal for the large group.

Upon prompt arrival at 7:30pm, we were immediately seated at our table in the main dining room under the arched roof.  Al’s has that dark, sexy ambiance, only to be ruined by the fact that the dining room is outrageously loud.  I understand that the restaurant is completely full because of Restaurant Week.  However, despite the small size of our table (too much elbow to elbow contact), we were screaming at the people on the other side of the table.  I am sure the roof architecture is partly to blame as we could distinctly hear the conversation at another table, not adjacent to us, but across the dining room at the other end of the arched roof.  Bad acoustics for a dining room, I guess.

Al’s is mostly known for being a steak house, so I was disappointed to see that not a single steak made it onto the Restaurant Week menu.  However, prime rib was an option and that suited most of the table just fine.  My date and I ordered a half bottle of 2003 Merryvale Cabernet Sauvignon ($32).  The retail for the full bottle is $39.

For starters, you have a choice between Caesar salad with sesame lavosh (fancy name for sesame wafer), house salad with choice of dressing, and soup of the day, which on this night was a vegetable soup with shrimp. 

House Salad with Bleu Cheese Dressing:

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Nothing spectacular, just a regular salad with fresh field greens and a decent dressing.  Nothing, good or bad, surprised the diner.  The Caesar salad gave a similar impression.

Vegetable Soup with Shrimp:

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This may not be the most attractive soup in the world but it was actually pretty tasty.  The broth was very flavorful (like a lobster broth?) and the veggies tender.  The downside was that the shrimp were a little overcooked and had a crawfish-like texture. 

The entree choices were prime rib, chicken ratatouille (a new restaurant trend inspired by the Disney movie?), Parmesan crusted halibut, and grilled vegetable stuffed ravioli.  Between the six of us, four chose prime rib, one person chose the halibut, and I went off the beaten path for the ravioli. 

Prime Rib:

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“My goodness that is one large piece of meat” was the general reaction of the crowd.  The menu states it’s 10 oz but I’m certain every plate contained a larger portion.  Served with sides of au jus and horseradish sauce (whose tanginess was just what the mild, tender prime rib needed), the prime rib came with excellent garlic mashed potatoes and forgettable steamed seasonal vegetables.  The focus was clearly on the meat, and Al’s did a decent job on the prime rib with only one complaint at my table: one diner pointed out that her piece was a bit on the fatty side.

Grilled Vegetable Stuffed Ravioli with Wild Boar Sausage and Mushrooms in a Blueberry Port Wine Demi Glace:

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The first bite I took of this dish was a tender piece of grilled portabello mushroom smothered in the blueberry port demi glace.  It was heavenly.  I immediately took a sip of my berry-licious Cabernet to maximize the impact.  However, the dish was downhill from there.  The blueberry port demi glace, though amazing at the beginning, became too sweet and syrupy as the meal went on.  The wild boar sausage struggled to find its own taste identity through the overwhelming flavor of the glace.  The ravioli had a mushy filling that was indistinguishable both in texture and taste.  The pasta dough was tough with some areas undercooked (and are those striped markings suppose to resemble exaggerated grill marks?)  This was a dish that started off great and ended up regrettable.

The halibut, not pictured, received complaints for being dry. 

Dessert choices included key lime pie, coconut cream pie, and bourbon chocolate pie a la mode.  The original Restaurant Week menu on Al’s website also included a pineapple upside down cake as a dessert option, but this cake was not an option on the Restaurant Week menu presented to us at Al’s.

Key Lime Pie with Raspberry Coulis:

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I only had one bite of this dessert because it was simply too dense and too sweet.  Others at the table had similar complaints.  One diner actually said that my key lime pie, made with regular store bought lime juice, was better.  That’s not saying much for Al’s version.  No, not at all.

Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Pie a la Mode:

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This was a really intense dessert.  I enjoyed the slight bitterness of the bourbon with the dark chocolate.  However, the intensity became overwhelming after a few bites.  Complaints of the pie’s overpowering richness were unanimous around the table.

The best dessert of the night is unfortunately not photographed here.  The coconut cream pie was light yet flavorful.  I admit I only ordered the coconut cream pie so we could sample all three desserts offered.  But I was pleasantly surprised by a pie that was creamy, just the right amount of coconutty, and almost airy.  The pie receives my vote as favorite course of the evening.

Overall impression of the meal?  Too many items that were just too much: too sweet, too dry, or too rich.

Service was quick and polite minus the fact that he always confused the two diners on the other side of the table (each kept getting the other’s order).  Even the waiter was shouting at us due to the loudness of the restaurant.  For Restaurant Week, Al Biernat’s is not a bad choice for those who love a giant piece of prime rib and doesn’t mind the imperfections in the side items, desserts, and starters.  I personally think there are better options out there for this week. 

I realize that Restaurant Week is not the greatest representation of what the restaurant does on a regular basis.  I can excuse a mishap in service due to the busy hustle and bustle, but I cannot make excuses for the food.  It’s a restaurant, cooking food well is why it exists. 

Two other things to note:
1) Al Biernat’s does not participate in the Central Market Fourth Course.
2) The restaurant was so dark that diners at an adjacent table used flashlights to peruse the menu.

Rating: 2 / 5

Al Biernat’s
4217 Oak Lawn Ave
Dallas, TX 75219

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