I can still remember the first time I walked into One Midtown Kitchen in 2002. That weird and unchartered side street on the far side of Piedmont Park. That glowing purple wall set with the restaurant’s name in stark sans serif lettering. That valet parking knot. That thick curtain just inside you have to push away…
And then, wow.
There was an urban energy inside this buidling that felt so wholly Atlanta. The collaboration of restaurateur Bob Amick and designer Bill Johnson captured the city’s warm spirit, low-key glamour, friendliness and romance.
I loved the democratic wine program (a hundred or more bottles by the glass), the swooping bar, the unfinished cinder block walls, the dishtowel washcloths, the icicle lights twinkling above, the city lights twinkling in the distance.
I liked the food just fine.
Over the years, I went less and less because there were enough nearby restaurants where I loved the food (Floataway Cafe, Sotto Sotto, Nam). In fact, I don’t think I’ve set foot inside since Richard Blais was the chef, and I took a visiting food writer to go eat oysters covered with spicy red Dippin’ Dots. That was years ago.
The new chef, Drew Van Leuvan, has recently taken over the helm and introduced a menu that goes heavy on his homemade pastas. It reads very well. My first few moments here — reacquainting myself with the wonderful setting and looking over the appetizing options — felt grand.
Okay, can I bury the lead a little more?
I didn’t care for a lot of the food we tried. This is an impression based on one visit, not a review, but I didn’t find as much satisfaction on the plate as I would have liked. That’s a shame because I’d really like to put this spot back into rotation.
The good news first: The house-cured salumi are among the best around. From the lonzino (pork loin) with oregano to the toscano salami with lemon and caraway, the meats are well made with original flavor profiles. I’m not sure why these meats come with a kind of dried, compressed carrot cake (imagine the carrot cake WALL-E finds one day, and you have the idea), but there is regular bread in the basket.
A starter of firm squash agnolotti in a pool of brown butter with a torrent of toasted hazelnut bits over the top makes tasty sense. The French call brown butter beurre noisette (”hazelnut butter”) for its nutty flavor. I think with fewer hazelnuts and less butter in this dish, I’d cherish every bite of this rich dish rather than shake the pasta pillows off before eating them.
But an entree of pan-roasted Nantucket bay scallops with grilled shrimp, mushrooms and a whole lot of buttery sauce is a swampy, gooey business. These small scallops should find plate mates that emphasize their incredible briny sweetness, but this preparation totally obscures the flavor. Again, I was blotting.
Then I took a bite of a squash risotto outfitted with three breadcrumb-fried balls of stringy braised lamb. Damp and gamy, this was one of those culinary creations that leaves you scratching your head. It’s like an also-ran “Top Chef” dish.
For dessert, we shared a scoop of excellent bitter chocolate sorbet that had been plunged into weird tasting citrus curd (sharp, bitter, strangely soapy). I actually asked if it was supposed to taste that way. One of the chefs came to our table and said he tasted it and, yes, it was fine. The bitter flavor was grapefruit. Normally I love grapefruit anything.
I really wish I could visit a couple more times and write something based on more than a first impression. The space is great, the service warm and attentive, the wines awesome, the menu interesting.
Maybe we didn’t choose well.
Has anyone else tried the new menu? The burger (50% brisket, 50% chuck) going to the next table looked great.