accessAtlanta

City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP
City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP

30 Restaurants in 30 Days: Canoe

canoeWhen you walk into Canoe, you are first greeted not by a hostess but by a display of photographs set up on two easels in the foyer. They show the flood that destroyed the restaurant in late September and the ensuing cleanup, rebuilding and redecorating that culminated in the restaurant’s reopening eight weeks later.

Once inside the dining room, you can’t help but notice the high-water mark — a thin white line painted on the wall at about six feet above the ground.

If you were very familiar with Canoe before the flood, then you will notice a change in mood. The color scheme is richer, the lighting dimmer, the wood partitions darker. It feels more elegant — more like a special night out, less like a scene.

My memories of the antediluvian Canoe go back to its serious scene days. I first dined here soon after it opened in 1997 for a meal with a group of editors after a two-day job interview at the AJC. I remember that the bright, cheerful room thrummed with that Olympics-era excitement that used to be so palpable in Atlanta. The food, as I recall, was fine: competent, contemporary, appropriate to a restaurant that served hundreds of diners every night.

I checked in on Canoe periodically as the paper’s dining critic. While I always liked the food, it never had the edge of newer American contemporary spots like Floataway Cafe, Rathbun’s and Aria. Yet it was just as expensive, if not more. And while I appreciated the drama of the riverside setting and the natural materials used in its construction, the Southwestern lodge decor felt increasingly outdated.

So, I mostly recommended Canoe for brunch. A seat on the patio with a basket of house-made breakfast pastries combined, I thought, for  a great Atlanta restaurant experience.

PeopleCarvel

Carvel Grant Gould

When I returned to visit Canoe on its opening day after the flood, it was the first time I had been there for dinner in years and the first time I had ever tried chef Carvel Grant Gould’s cooking. It was an overdue pleasure.

I wish I had some photos to share, but the lighting was too dim to capture more than vague blobs. No picture, but I promise to stay well within 1,000 words.

We started with a half dozen cold water oysters ($16.95) with a cucumber and pink peppercorn mignonette. It was a canny combination — the flakes of ground spice tasted almost like dill against the tiny cubes of cucumber. I think any chef who wants to pre-dress oysters should come here to taste how it’s done right.

An African squash soup ($8.50) was a frothy as a well-made cappuccino and a smooth-as-silk texture. It was also so gently seasoned that you could taste both the herby-vegetable and sweet-pumpkiny characteristics of the squash.

I didn’t care much for the venison carpaccio ($14) — a pretty assemblage of paper-thin loin slices offset with shaved garrotxa cheese, blood orange salt, pinecone bud nectar and celery shoots. The meat was mushy and stuck to the roof of your mouth, spelling doom to all those interesting, flighty flavors. (Gould, who had just debuted the dish that night, said it was a work in progress.)

For our mains, we had to try the one holdover from Canoe’s earlier days — a slow roasted rabbit ($24.95) with Swiss chard-applewood smoked bacon ravioli and candied garlic jus. I really enjoyed the combination of soft meat, intense pasta bundles and stickily reduced sauce. It’s an interesting dish that would be more wine friendly if the sauce were a touch less sweet.

Beautiful sliced duck breast came with a duck confit pot pie ($24.95) set inside a puff pastry shell to rich, rib-sticking effect. My bite of the pot pie seemed a little on the pastily-reduced-cream side, but my friend assured me the combination of diced vegetables and duck confit got better with each bite. She was definitely doing the happy-plate dance.

I thoroughly loved my dressed lemon sole ($26). It wasn’t dressed in a cardigan and shorts, but “dressed” as in skinned, de-tailed, beheaded and left on the bone. Gould fried the whole beast in a fantastically airy, crunchy batter and set it over a bright, sharp green chile curry sauce with sliced purple potatoes. I wish I could show you a picture of this because it looked like Peter Max’s fever dream.

The waiter kept offering to bone the fish for me, but I was having too good a time separating the four fillets of moist, white flesh myself. I love eating fish and meat off bones. (Do you?) Next time, I may try and split this huge portion of fish with someone.

That would help defray the considerable cost of dining at Canoe. You certainly want to get a bottle of wine from the fantastic, Wine Spectator award-winning list. And you can’t leave without trying the new dessert called Whiskied Chattahoochee Mud ($8) — a curl of tuile cookie holding a thick, boozy whiskey mousse that is the exact color of the mud that caked every surface of this place after the flood.

It all adds up to an expensive night out, but it is one I’d recommend if you have the means. Atlanta doesn’t have a lot of restaurants in beautiful settings, and it no longer has a lot of restaurants that capture that excitement of the special night.

More than ever, Canoe is a restaurant that matters.

This post concludes “30 Restaurants in 30 Days.” I hope you all enjoyed it!

32 comments Add your comment

John Sawyer

November 30th, 2009
1:39 pm

Great to hear the positive comments on Canoe and Chef Gould. I put Chef Gould on the cover of Restaurant Forum, a trade magazine for Georgia’s restaurant industry, in October. It happened to land in subscribers’ mailboxes just after the flood. Though the timing could have been better (the kitchen garden featured on the cover was under water), I thought Chef Gould and Canoe deserved recognition for their excellent food, Chef’s passion for Alaskan King Crab, and success as a long-standing restaurant. To read the article online, go to: http://www.restaurantinformer.com/?p=1164

Amanda

November 30th, 2009
1:45 pm

Loved all 30 days John! I know you can’t do this all the time but maybe once a year for your loyal fans!

Joseph. H.

November 30th, 2009
1:55 pm

John, I am so sad that this concludes the 30 in 30 series. I looked so forward to each of them — I could read and talk about our wonderful ATL dining scene all day long. Anyway, after you re-charge your batteries, I hope you’ll do another 30 in 30 again soon!

top chef fanatic

November 30th, 2009
2:05 pm

Great job Mr. Kessler….i have grown to be a huge fan of yours outside of the top chef spectrum, Now tell me when are you gonna review woodfire grill? I will definetelly get to canoe because i have never dined at this gem , and yet heard soo much about it. Thanks on the tip for the sole and im a huge fan of venison . So i look foward to it…and again thank you for your efforts on the 30 to 30 venture.

thanks and have a blessed day:)

D

November 30th, 2009
4:04 pm

Encore !!! Encore !!!

Linda

November 30th, 2009
4:40 pm

I have missed going to Canoe. We had Thanksgiving dinner there and it was lovely. The markup on premium wines is expensive but the service, food and surroundings were wonderful. The story of the flood and all the help from the community is heartwarming.

Renee

November 30th, 2009
5:01 pm

Don’t give up now, your on a roll.
Loved your 30 days.

Fishawk

November 30th, 2009
6:02 pm

Great job, John. 30 in 30 was a definite hit for me.

Art

November 30th, 2009
7:26 pm

John, all-in-all a wonderful read! I’m reminded, though, of one of my favorite Seinfeld’s where Kramer has test-driven the Saab and dares the salesman to go beyond the “E” on the gas gauge… Why stop now?

[...] I remember that the bright, cheerful room thrummed with that Olympics-era excitement that used to be so palpable in Atlanta . The food , as I recall, was fine: competent, contemporary, appropriate to a restaurant that served hundreds of … Originally posted here:  30 Restaurants in 30 Days: Canoe | Food and More with John Kessler [...]

Samcolt

November 30th, 2009
8:45 pm

Encore? Give me a break. You and the AJC are going the way of the dinosaur.

Billybob

November 30th, 2009
8:52 pm

Sounds like a bunch of over priced groceries to me. Good luck to them selling that in this economy, even with your kiss a review.

BobDog

December 1st, 2009
8:51 am

I am so happy to hear that Canoe has re-opened. It is my favorite restaurant in Atlanta. The food is great, but the setting is what makes it so incredible.

Sam

December 1st, 2009
8:58 am

Great job John. Enjoyed your commentary.

foodfight

December 1st, 2009
9:14 am

So glad that Canoe is back. Looking forward to going back this weekend.

Biologist

December 1st, 2009
9:34 am

Wasn’t Canoe the place that dumped all the French wines in the river several years ago in support of the Iraq war (and in protest of the French not supporting the war)?

Ramona Clef

December 1st, 2009
10:18 am

I’ve enjoyed the whole thirty days, John. Thank you.

In answer to your question about eating fish off the bone, I prefer watching someone with great skills debone and reassemble the fish at the table.

Madge

December 1st, 2009
10:41 am

Thanks for the 30 Restaurants in 30 Days blog. I will miss it! Canoe has always been a class act, and I hope to return one day to check out the renovations.

@Biologist, I think you’re confusing Canoe with Ray’s on the River.

John Kessler

December 1st, 2009
12:00 pm

Thanks, everyone!
Biologist: Yep…that was Ray’s on the River, back in the “freedom fries” era.

Curt

December 1st, 2009
12:41 pm

You should have mentioned that Carvel is a homegrown. She is a graduate of Westminster in 1987. Congrats to her.

Thomas C jr

December 1st, 2009
3:28 pm

Is upset that you never tried Pappis. It’s the best food you can get and it’s near your house. Try it and you can thank me later.

Jim R.

December 1st, 2009
3:46 pm

Say it ain’t so Joe..er…John. Is the 30 day ride really over? Who are we going to disagree with now? How will we find out if Rhett ever wrote back? Enjoyed the culinary tour of Atlanta, it is good to see such tasty diversity. We re-tried Joel after a hiatus and found it to be as exceptional as you said. They have truly re-made the space, service, and menu to be more of a comfortable neighborhood place with great food rather than a trendy take your in-laws when they are in town place. What are your plans for the next 30 days? 30 books? 30 motorcycles? 30 funky hair-do’s? 30 sex positions? 30 all-you-can-eat ground beef buffets?

NeilW

December 1st, 2009
3:47 pm

Great job. 30 days ended too soon. Sorry you could not get to Tasty China in Marietta.

jennifer

December 1st, 2009
9:14 pm

I have enjoyed this series so much. Please consider extending it!

Robert

December 2nd, 2009
4:50 am

John, as I am sure you know Carvel has been the Executive Chef at Canoe for several years now, and has been doing an exceptional job for quite some time. To suddenly discover her immediately after the flood comes under the category of “better late than never” I guess, but in all honesty I would have expected more of you. When she came on board, Canoe’s food finally transcended Canoe’s magnificent setting.

Now, with regard to the wine list, achieving a Wine Spectator award is about as complicated as posting a reply to your article on this website. While it is a decent list, and certainly a long list, I think the list is a bit short on spectacular wines, particularly from California, and in general I think the markups are too much. While the Atlanta wine markup screwjob is not unique to Canoe, I would expect more from Canoe because it is a very wine friendly place.

I hope that everyone will try Canoe, whether for the first time or as a rediscovery of an old friend. It’s one of Atlanta’s best.

goober eater

December 2nd, 2009
10:08 am

how bout 60 in 60, or 120 in 120, great series

Victoria Elder

December 2nd, 2009
12:18 pm

Thanks so much for this series of reviews, John! It has been lots of fun as well as being so informative. The next time you are in Vinings I would be happy to split that marvelous-sounding lemon sole with ya!

As to your bone question: Yes! My great uncle Julius from Alsace was an executive chef in downtown Cincinnati (major food city) and he taught me at an early age that “the sweetest meat is next to the bone” so my dining companions have been laughing at me for years as I happily pick or gnaw away! And as the official home cook on holidays, I eat the turkey neck myself after making broth then hoard/hide the “oysters” after the bird comes out of the oven!

John Kessler

December 2nd, 2009
12:32 pm

Thanks, I am working on the next project. Look for it in the New Year.
Neil – Love Tasty China. Need to get back.
Robert — Appreciate your comments. I stopped reviewing restaurants 5 years ago and have dined out far less than you might imagine since then. (It was funny when people at parties would ask me about certain restaurants and I’d say, “Sorry, never been.”) I am discovering all sorts of things now that I’m back on the dining beat.
All right, I’m off the the ground beef buffet…

John Kessler

December 2nd, 2009
12:34 pm

Victoria: I’m an infamous turkey oyster hoarder!

Jo Ann Mason

December 2nd, 2009
2:31 pm

I love Park 75 at the Four Seasons Hotel for Downtown, but never see anything about them. I would pick The Watershed in Decatur for local. A once in a life time would be Quinones @ Bachanalia. These 3 are my favorites. I am a 65 yr old foodie who loves to cook, eat & travel. Let me tell you about the food in Costa Rica some time.

[...] Canoe is back.  The excitement was pronounced enough to draw John Kessler’s attention, he returned to wax-foodetic in his last post of the awesomeness that was 30 restaurants, 30 days series.  It’s a great [...]

Sophy

December 3rd, 2009
11:09 pm

I’m so glad the slow roasted rabbit is still on the menu at Canoe! My husband cringed a little when I ordered it last year (what would our PETA supporting teenager say?), but it was melt in your mouth good, along with that delicious ravioli. Much better than his bland halibut! We enjoyed a very tasty beet salad there, also. The patio was so lovely, although we discovered that dining on a Friday evening in the fall may get you some unexpected Lovett football noise!