Chef Tracey Bloom did not last long on the current season of “Top Chef.” Asked to leave after the third episode, Bloom later told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the stress got to her. The lack of sleep, rigorous filming schedule, and being away from both her partner and her partner’s young daughter took their toll.
But Bloom’s quick turn on reality television did bring attention to Table 1280 — the important Atlanta restaurant where she is chef.
Built as part of the High Museum of Art expansion in 2005, the restaurant opened as a beautiful and promising addition to the Midtown dining scene. It juts into the open “piazza” that architect Renzo Piano formed from his addition, the original Richard Meier High building and the Woodruff Arts Center. At the time of its opening, Piano talked at length about how a piazza — or public square — would benefit the fabric of urban Atlanta. It would be an aesthetically pleasing environment for commuters to cut through en route to the Arts Center MARTA station, but it could also be a place to stop for a coffee or glass of wine. Enter Table 1280.
Yet this restaurant never did feel like it became an integral part of Atlanta’s streetscape the way Tap, the pub just down the street, has. Maybe it was the stark and chilly environment. Maybe the high prices. Maybe the horrors of the High’s parking garage. But Atlantans tend to visit 1280 when they’re already at the arts center; it’s not a draw.
I stopped by last Wednesday to sample Bloom’s cooking, unaware that it would be her last night on “Top Chef.” I thought the food was, frankly, not a lot different that it had been under the two previous chefs at Table 1280. Tasty. A bit uneven. Expensive.
We really enjoyed a smooth-as-silk corn soup topped with a swirl of crème fraîche as well as a fluffy green salad showered with marcona almonds, crumbled feta cheese and slivers of yellow beet.
But funny things were off. The tasty little pot de crème topped with blueberry compote was vanilla, not the advertised lemon. A gorgeously cooked fillet of wild salmon — its skin as crisp and tasty as a potato chip, its flesh bursting with juice under a hot sear — came with a whole lot of pickled cucumbers. I mean like a Vlasic jar full. The specks of crispy quinoa on the plate were fun, but the only way to actually eat them was by licking your fingertip to make them stick.
A chunk of halibut was just plain odd — cut thin, gooey-rare in the center, pungent and unlike any halibut I had ever encountered. The garnish of pea shoot, shaved raw cauliflower, salsa verde and a respectful hint of truffle oil deserved a better piece of fish.
As is always the case here, a pared-down staff doesn’t expect much business on off nights, and so service is professional but slow.
Here’s a plea. I want this restaurant to become more vibrant. I want the prices to come down. I want the fantastic-looking bar to serve cakes and coffee in the afternoon. I want an ice cream truck out front. I want the management to think about serving a high-end buffet occasionally, so people can walk through the gorgeous space instead of feeling stuck in a chilly corner. Or — Can I say it? — give over part of the space for a great cafeteria. This restaurant does not need to be going after the dwindling $24 salmon crowd.
There’s a good chef here. Let Tracey Bloom remake this restaurant.