Dining at Alexander's
The ambiance and the food at Alexander's render it an "anniversary destination too special to save for special occasions."
Hose yourself off. Take off your ball cap and put on a jacket. And set your cell phone to “Shut Up.”
Alexander's on Jefferson in Downtown Roanoke is not a place to go to when you’re looking for a quick and forgettable meal, eaten while allowing distractions to supersede dinner. This is the kind of place where you should make the reservation two weeks in advance and get in trouble at work for daydreaming about it during an important meeting.
We arrived a few minutes early, because I wanted to enjoy a glass of wine in the bar before being seated. The joke was on me, though, because there was no bar seating. However, an indulgent staff was able to have our table ready a few minutes early, and we settled gratefully in.
Without further preamble, I’ll just say that this was some of the most impressively crafted and designed food I’ve had in Roanoke. The creativity and skill that the chef has put into the menu belies the traditional old-world skills of the highly-trained front-of-the-house staff. When our appetizers arrived, a single proud sesame-crusted scallop came perched on a throne of sautéed root vegetables, plated in a rich reduction of cabernet and balsamic vinegar and impaled with a single potato chip – made of two ultra-thin transparent layers with a sprig of parsley pressed between, like a leaf in a memory book.
Another fascinating appetizer was the “deconstructed cajunese California roll.” As the name implies, it’s not rolled up. Onigiri, marinated lump crab, avocado aioli, wasabi and toasted nori. Like wonderfully fresh sushi without all that wrapper getting in the way.
I’ll never be able to adequately describe the lamb ragu, but allow me to relate a direct quote from my wife, after I grudgingly agreed to share a bite with her: “Oh, my God. That’s ridiculous.” It tasted like a buttery dream of rich meaty sauce. Her rockfish was almost as impressive, tender and fleshy. Both came tastefully garnished with home-grown sprigs of rosemary. In a chain-restaurant world, it was refreshing to see portions that were ample, but not too big to finish.
But it’s important, as incredible as the food was, to describe the service. The waiters at Alexander’s are world-class in their ability to deliver precise, attentive, and polished traditional table service without any trace of pretense, snobbery or exclusiveness. Fine dining service can sometimes be intimidating (especially to a commoner like me), but our waiters were as warm, helpful and accommodating as could be, and the manager and maître d’ were gracious and happy to answer questions. All the trappings of a European resort (or so I would imagine) with none of the stuffy French-waiter attitude. Alexander’s is a go-to-anniversary-dinner destination that’s too special to save for only special occasions. Go anytime you need to find an oasis of civility. Just check your phone at the door.