"You know, everyone says the Alameda is one of the very best places to eat, and I disagree. I think it is just average," Katia said, looking down at her newly manicured fingernails. "Beijing is not the backwaters anymore: there are many really fine places. If you are going to say you are the best then when you offer prime rib or tenderloin it must be the best quality, not some tiny strip of meat that happens to be beef."
I agreed with her. I'd eaten at this rather hard to find restaurant after an eager to please lover had wandered around a back alley in San Li Tun and dragged me there this winter. We had no reservations and the staff sniffed at us, as if we were homeless and trying to get into Maxim’s in New York. They finally did let us enter, after telling us that we were “very lucky”. This kind of attitude is not winning in my book. And I too had eaten a meal that was a prix fixee; the plates were pretty but so large they looked like flying saucers, while the meat resembled something I’d had in a fast food joint in Ulaan Baatar, except smaller.
But Katia and I agreed on the décor. “It is quite chic, with high ceilings, strange angles and lots of light colored walls, much light. Absolutely no smoking and the bathrooms are clean. They forgot to light the little candle when I sat down but finally did when I pointed it out, and that made the place seem friendlier, not so much like eating in Ferdinand Leger’s barn,” she said, adding: “Another positif trait is the location, so close to a really excellent spa called BODY where I really enjoy spending my hard earned RMB.”
Alameda has won some awards from other reviewers and could be precariously sitting pretty on past accolades. “To be fair, maybe this Brazilian restaurant has better food at lunch and for their reservation only crowds. Other friends have raved over their lunch specials, pas cher, and a woman from Havana told me that the feijoeda – a kind of Brazilian cassoulet - thick black-bean stew with pork and vegetables, is quite tasty,” Katia conceded.
But I personally found the desserts at Alameda to be a bit of a bore. Maybe I’m really being too hard on this place too - because the name is Alameda - I kept thinking about my hometown, Santa Fe, and our city’s beloved Alameda Avenue. Right off Alameda Avenue is San Francisco Street and Mark Miller’s Coyote Café. Café Pasqual is also quite near. Both of these places make their own desserts. Pasqual’s are hippie, homemade and out of this world while the Coyote’s ice cream is awesome – they make tequila sherbets and mango/kiwi ices, all sorts of exotic flavors, very fresh and tantalizing. But Alameda in Beijing served nondescript desserts and store bought ice creams – all at inflated prices.
“And for me, as a Corsican and a Frenchwoman, I was confused by the way this place calls itself Brazilian – most of the food seemed very ordinary. And in Brazil I assumed that people are never in a rush – here the waiters seemed to be timing me and staring me down as I ate, was it so they could turn the tables and get more clients in my warm seat? Are people in Beijing in that much of a hurry and simply satisfied because this place won an award for ‘best business lunch’?” Katia asked me rhetorically.
If Alameda will truly live up to its reputation we both recommend a more patient and generous hearted staff, as well as some concentrated focus toward either the very best quality meats and/or more specialty dishes that come deep from the heart of the Amazon. “To be authentic the waiters could try dressing up as indigenous South American aboriginals too,” Katia added with a mischievous grin.
Address: Sanlitun Beijie (beside the Nali Mall) Chaoyang District (6417 8084)
Reservations highly recommended
(China.org.cn by Valerie Sartor and Katia Loridon, June 5, 2008)