Remember Alto Plaza? This is the $16 million restaurant that opened in Centreville right before the recession hit in all its fury. It was a high-stakes gamble from the beginning, and is one of the few restaurants in history Washington Post Food Critic Tom Sietsema officially bageled: zero stars.
I’d been here twice before, but decided to give it another try. The “AP Room” – that ritzy dining area on the top floor – is probably still there, but you can’t get to it because the elevator will no longer go there. On a Wednesday night during what should have been prime dinner rush, there were just a few people on the second floor which is the main dining area. I took a seat at the bar on the first floor which is where most of the action was – there were perhaps twenty people there.
Alto Plaza has always had a Pan-Latino bent to it, but at no time did I feel it as strongly as on this visit. The menu is almost purely Latino, and most of the service staff seemed like they were as well.
There were 17 beers in bottle and 9 on tap, and the best of the bunch was pretty darned mediocre. My genuinely friendly, professional bartender, Julian, served me a bottle of Pacifico ($4.75), and I made the mistake of starting with the Chicken Taquitos ($5 at happy hour, normally $6.95). We all know what chicken taquitos are, but these were described as “three crispy corn tortillas [halved], filled with chicken and Chihuahua cheese, served with pico de gallo, sour cream, and ajillo sauce.” I don’t wish to be mean, but these were lousy – I’ve never had the taquitos at 7-11, but I can’t imagine they’re much worse than these. I’m not going to say these were pre-purchased, but if they weren’t, then Alto Plaza may wish to reconsider because they’re not worth making in-house – the one saving grace was the ajillo dipping sauce which was not at all bad.
Julian had poured one too many drafts of Sam Adams, and graciously offered one to me gratis, adding that he hates to waste beer, and he wasn’t going to drink on the job. Kudos to him – he’s an asset, and deserves special mention for his friendly treatment of Alto Plaza’s customers.
I ordered much better with my entree: Argentinian Skirt Steak ($18.95), ordered and executed to a perfect medium-rare, served with white rice and chimichurri sauce. When it was on its way out, I didn’t think this was my order because it was a very vertical dish, and I thought, from a distance, it might have been something like a molten chocolate cake; what I got instead was a delightful presentation: the naturally circular, skirt-shaped steak was served on its side, in a cylinder, wrapped around a pile of white rice, and tied together by skewers. I love skirt steak, and I’ve never seen a presentation like this; I’m used to seeing a big, long thing flopping off the plate – this was both elegant and entirely appropriate, and the chimichurri sauce surrounded it on the plate. If you come here, and order this, you will not regret it – it was delicious.
Okay, so Alto Plaza came nowhere near to living up to its initial investment. Quite frankly, I don’t see how it’s still in business, but aside from the taquitos, the dinner was pretty good, due to the steak and the bartender. The valet parking, needless to say, no longer exists.
This place has probably lost millions of dollars, and I take no joy in that whatsoever, nor should anyone else. They tried, and failed (we all have) – I hope one day, it makes a comeback, but I see no signs of it yet.