Allium (Waterbury, VT)

(Update: Apparently Allium had trouble finding its way; Allium closed suddenly in Summer 2018, and is slated to become “McGillicuddy’s sometime in 2019)

For our other dinner out while we were spending an extended weekend in Vermont, we decided to go back to Waterbury and check out some of the locations. Since we moved to NH (more than 16 years ago, how time flies!), Waterbury has definitely grown up from the fairly sleepy town that also sported a coffee roasting factory and an ice cream factory into something a bit more refined. It had one really well-regarded brew pub grow up, get flooded, and moving on to found a full-fledged, world famous brewery (now up in Stowe). It’s also had several restaurants and beer bars appear over the last decade or so. One of the newer arrivals in town is Allium.

Located on Main Street just down from Prohibition Pig, and just across from The Blackback (a very pleasant beer bar with a good enough looking menu I need to try them on my next trip), in 2017 Allium replaced an earlier favorite of both tourists and locals, Arvad’s. While Arvad’s was basically a burger place with a few higher-end entrees and some darker decor, when the owners of Arvad’s sold the place in 2017, the new owners decided to do a serious makeover on the place, converting the concept into more of a “Belgian Bistro” concept and changing the name. This isn’t without it’s hazards; while nominally not that different in concept from Arvad’s, apparently some of the tourist crowd didn’t get the menu, since we actually saw two parties arrive and upon discovering that the restaurant was no longer “Arvad’s”, turning around and leaving.

But ourselves, we were here to give the current incarnation a try. When they re-opened as Allium the motif was supposedly “Belgian”, but since then it’s morphed a bit back toward’s Arvad: some light appetizers, some light salads and soups (including a riff on the classic French onion soup named after the place), burgers, small plates, and a few entrees. We both decided that their signature soup, the Allium soup (chock full of members of the allium family, including onions, shallots, leeks, and scallions). Arriving in the classic onion soup presentation (oh, how I feel for the dishroom in places that do this, since it usually involves a lot of scraping of crusted cheese off of bowls), this was a hearty soup of alliums, in a rich marrow broth topped with a thick crusty artisanal bread crouton and a nice, thick layer of gruyere. Most importantly, unlike entirely too many onion soups I’ve had, the primary flavor wasn’t “salt”, but was definitely focused on a rich combination of marrow, onion, and shallot. I definitely enjoyed this entire bowl, and I’m pleased that the signature soup named after the restaurant was indeed up to snuff.

For the main course, I opted for a bistro classic, steak frites. Another example of “classic dining”, this was pretty much the exact standard rendition of a normal steak frites, aside from using a rib-eye where a continental butcher usually uses a French cut like bavette or entrecote, but the ~10 oz thin-cut rib-eye worked well enough and was nicely grilled medium rare: a nice still pinkish-red in the middle with a nice char all around. Served up with a nice red wine marrow sauce and some cheese crumbles, this was a good balance between enjoying my steak while also having a reasonable portion. The fries, however, were a bit of a dissappointment; if one is going for a good “bistro” atmosphere, having excellent fries in the French/Belgian tradition is key.

Carol did quite well with her entree as well: the evening’s special of a glazed pork chop served up with corn bread, cippolini onions, and a shishito pepper, this was a nice, perfectly cooked thick-cut pork chop with a nice, tender, and juicy interior with a soft, unassuming glaze. Despite looking a bit dense, the cornbread was actually light and pleasant with a good crisp. Overall, an enjoyable dish as well.

In general, we enjoyed Allium. I think the place is still finding it’s way a bit under the new owners and concept, since there were a lot of little random things that were off: getting seated in a lower dining room that was almost entirely empty (a bit odd, since I actually had reservations, at a good place the folks with reservations tend to get the better tables), the menu seems to be evolving a bit, and, to be honest, the cocktails we had were a little lacking. But the food we had was pleasant (the soup particularly good) and prepared correctly, our waiter pleasant and efficient, and the prices reasonable. While probably not my first choice for a return visit to Waterbury, I wouldn’t be disappointed to come here again.

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