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30 Restaurants in 30 Days: One Midtown Kitchen

p-door1I 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.

One1Over 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.

One2A 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.

28 comments Add your comment

DivineProvidence

November 17th, 2009
9:41 am

Kessler, don’t be afraid to make negative comments about a restaurant. You seem almost apologetic when disliking a particular dish. Us regulars have to pay for our meals and carefully appropriate our disposable dollars. We need to know, without any melancholy glaze, if the food doesn’t work. Many expensive, designer made downtown restaurants don’t serve very good food.
P.S. McDonalds? Really? I eagerly await the review of the side-walk hot dog vendor.

John Kessler

November 17th, 2009
9:57 am

I’m never afraid to make negative comments. But I reserve the right to the bad-food blues…

TnGelding

November 17th, 2009
10:48 am

Eating out is a luxury many of us can’t afford.

uberVU - social comments

November 17th, 2009
11:01 am

Social comments and analytics for this post…

This post was mentioned on Twitter by HomeMadeEnergy_: 30 Restaurants in 30 Days: One Midtown Kitchen – Atlanta Journal Constitution http://bit.ly/41fD4A…

jimmy

November 17th, 2009
11:12 am

Personally, I enjoyed the post on McDonald’s, and I like that a wide variety of topics are covered. These aren’t reviews, in the formal sense.

Melissa W

November 17th, 2009
11:15 am

JK, you are spoiling us with these daily blogs. Now I’m gonna need my daily JK fix … keep up the great work! You bring so much thoughtfulness, experience, nuance etc. to the process. It’s true, I am a long-time and unabashed fan!

J

November 17th, 2009
11:17 am

Mr. Kessler-

The burger is REALLY good. Go again. See if you can sit in Nathaniel’s section and ask him for recommendations. The way he describes the dishes is AMAZING and if you order what he suggests you will be happy! I think you may even find yourself writing another review!
Also, how about a review on Bone Garden Cantina?

RACER X

November 17th, 2009
11:23 am

I used to live around the corner from One Midtown Kitchen, and had the exact first impression that you had…until I ate there a few times.

The resaurant exudes great energy….but the food was always more show than substance. Its a novelty to choose from so many wines, but you only get wowed one time at the circus….and its pretty dull the second time.

I have always thought of Bob Amick as the P.T. Barnum of Atlanta restaurants but with mediocre food to sell. I’ve never walked out of one of his places thinking I had a great meal with decent value. He puts on a great show, but it gets old fast.

When the food reviews are great, I will go back to One Midtown, Parrish, or Urban Licks. I certainly don’t miss Trois, and don’t enjoy the food at Tap.

Swatdad

November 17th, 2009
11:24 am

This was once my favorite spot and celebrated many occasions here. However, about 3 years ago, I had an awful experience there. Service was bad, and food was worse. I have not gone back. With a new menu, I may try it out. I love the location and the atmosphere.

Johnny

November 17th, 2009
12:27 pm

Funny John, I ate there last Friday after a long hiatus and had the same impressions, such a great room, energy, potential, but the food needed refining. Had the agnolotti which I also thought was swimming in excessive butter – just doesn’t make sense (the chef can take a clue from Sotto Sotto’s michaelangelo ravioli pasta dish- its exactly the right amount of butter). I will say the oxtail canneloni was interesting but really heavy/overcheesed. The wine list was impressive, the Gewurztraminer is a solid buy, with its fine balance and the 02 Spanish Priorat is a screaming buy/QPR (I think it was $30/bottle). I enjoyed the sorbets a lot and felt they were more sophisticated and interesting than you get in most restaurants. With just a few refinements, this restaurant could be a top choice. I will go back, however, to continue rediscovering. Lastly, I will say, Bob, the host, is superb – every good restaurant needs a front of the house guy with his sense of grace and hospitality.

TI

November 17th, 2009
12:44 pm

Been to ONE once, but never really fall for the “trendy” restaurants in the city. If you like to be in the scene and be seen in this type of place this is all good and can be fun. However if your expecting a decent size meal for the price I choose to go elsewhere.

LindaK

November 17th, 2009
1:02 pm

I used to love this place, when it first opened, but the food got mediocre. I liked Piebar too, until the food got mediocre. Maybe why it isn’t open any more. It seems to be a pattern that once the restaurant gets established, the attention to detail and food quality slips.

all glitz and glam and little substance

November 17th, 2009
1:45 pm

I have felt this way about any concentrics group restaurant I have been in. The atmosphere is incredible…it seems that the food is an afterthought. I really loved the bar at Trois….too bad it closed.

RK

November 17th, 2009
4:34 pm

I went to One in August, and I was pleasantly surprised. So, if there is a new chef, who was it before, and where did he end up?

John Kessler

November 17th, 2009
5:49 pm

Johnny – Interesting. I think brown butter sauces work best when you can see the browned bits of milk solids actually clinging to the pasta. I still think Van Leuvan is a chef who knows his stuff. I’ve heard he has redone the pizzas, and they’re much better than before.

Anniegetyurgun

November 17th, 2009
11:45 pm

We too used to go to One when it first opened and were blown away by the cool decor and vibe. Food was pretty good, too, until (1) a mixed shellfish dish reeking of ammonia, and (2) several bouts of post-dining intestinal distress on 2 subsequent visits. Several member of our party were stricken both times. What can I say? We’re slow learners. And we won’t be back. Racer X, your comparison of Amick to P.T. Barnum is spot on. Heavy on spectacle, light on substance.

Roswell Girl

November 18th, 2009
7:37 am

I really like these brief reviews — JK, keep up the good work! For most of us in the post- Great Recession economy, dining out needs to be a special investment that provides a memorable experience so thank you for looking out for all of us!

VT Hokiefan

November 18th, 2009
8:50 am

ONE is still one of my favorite restaurants…I went a month ago on a first date, and everything was exceptional. It makes me sad to think that either my taste in fine dining has gone down considerably, or that in a month one of my favorite restaurants has gone downhill. I’m going to have to investigate this matter further.

Jeff

November 18th, 2009
9:37 am

I agree witht the comments about Amick’s restaurants starting out great and then fizzling out. Piebar may be the most extreme example – it was outstanding when it opened but within a couple of months became just another average trendy place to hang out.

Anybody know where former chef Tom Harvey from One is now?

John Kessler

November 18th, 2009
12:06 pm

Tom Harvey? You out there? Your fans are looking for you.

SM

November 18th, 2009
12:14 pm

My mom doesn’t like Richard Blais anymore after he didn’t come over and say hello at Flip.

Living next door to Parish

November 18th, 2009
1:54 pm

Talk about wanting to love a restaurant! Great space and idea but the food is just mediocre. There are a dozen restaurants within 2 miles where the food is wonderful for the same price or less. I feel the same about One. Amick needs to keep his designers and find another Richard Blais to create menus!

Andy

November 18th, 2009
3:34 pm

RK and JK, Assuming Tom Harvey was the previous chef at One, you can find him at Murphy’s. I haven’t been since the move and am hoping it’s as good as it ever was.

I’d been to One three times before the chef change. The first two times had solid food and on the third I was hugely disappointed. In fact my entire table was disappointed, which was doubly irritating since the place was my idea.

It’s a phenomenal space and I hate to see this review! John, maybe a Murphy’s review is in order?

rebelliousrose

November 19th, 2009
1:30 pm

I had the pleasure of looking after JK when he reviewed One, and he was an excellent customer. Polite, courteous, well-informed, and of a decent, unpretentious vintage. ;}

Lauren

November 21st, 2009
2:23 pm

I’ve generally felt like Concentrics places were style over substance — though I’ve had some terrific dishes here and there. Maybe it’s a luck-of-the-kitchen-staff-that-night sort of issue.

TCfan

November 21st, 2009
5:47 pm

Just went to One on Wednesday with a friend. It’s been years since either of had been. We had the roasted mussels and marinated beets appetizers to start. The mussels were yummy! but I can’t really recall the what the beets tasted like even though I was looking forward to trying them. We shared the Scottish salmon entree which was cooked as we had ordered and delish!

J: If you’re going to out Bonegarden, they’re going to have to open more locations.

JK: Have you been to the new Super H Mart in Doraville yet? It was supposed to open this past Wednesday. I’ve heard so much about the place and am looking for some reviews.

pop1379

November 24th, 2009
8:16 am

If you are unsure about drew, the chef at one, give it another go around. When Richard was at One , most critics didnt give him a chance first time around. He was odd, ecentric and truly on the wrong coast at that time. However, Atlanta grew to love him because his food was so unique and unusual…Drew is very much like Richard, in that he is bold and out there and truly original in his dishes….the best thing about him is, like richard, he isnt afraid to put himself out there …most chef’s are

ACATL

January 9th, 2010
9:31 pm

JK. I appreciate your brutal honesty. I can tell you as a former employee of ONE that Chef Drew is very conscious of his audience. His dishes were ever changing when I was there not because he was saying “Hey look what I can do”, but he actually listens to what guests are saying. I worked with 5 high profile chefs in this city, and he is as good as Ian Winslade about keeping in touch with what works, and have the ability to admit a failure. Most chefs just think that the diner does not have a refined palate.