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Goin’ Coastal dining review, Atlanta

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Good seafood restaurants recount the story of a coastline, of the fish that live on one side of it and the people on the other. It is usually a simple story of food and culture told though an iconic dish: An oyster po’ boy, a grilled whole sea bream with lemon and olive oil, bouillabaisse, Lowcountry boil, sliced raw tuna, a bright red lobster served with a claw cracker and a silly plastic bib.

All photos by Becky Stein

All photos by Becky Stein

But the times are too complicated for simple stories. Fresh seafood is available in any town with an airport, tastes are as fluid as the seven seas, and the global seafood industry is working overtime to put a fish in every pot. The world has become a mess of crashing fish populations, of polluting aquafarms and of the very real specter of extinction of particularly delicious species.

We can thank Zach Kell and Seth Hendricks for opening their Virginia-Highland restaurant Goin’ Coastal with the right story for today.

The restaurant, which is a satellite of their popular Canton restaurant by the same name, serves only North American seafood, both farmed and wild, from sustainable sources. It’s a message that those of us who hanker for fresh fish in landlocked Atlanta need to hear.

But Goin’ Coastal also tells a second story — that of “Southern-inspired dishes with a focus on fresh fish” — to give the cooking some context. Here’s where the gumbo gets a little murky.

It’s a little bit Gulf seafood shack, a little bit uptown bistro and a whole lot of unconvincing Lowcountry-style cookery. Kell’s kitchen is at its best when it keeps things simple, but it gets into trouble quickly.

goinfishThat means you should pay close attention to the oversized chalkboards when you walk through the handsome brick dining room. On any given weeknight you’ll find five or six daily items. You can count on a few more choices on weekends, but don’t go looking for a gracious plenty.

A hefty slab of amberjack ($23) gets the kind of hot, hot broil that keeps the juices inside, and it is a pleasure to eat with nothing more than its dusting of seasoning and a squeeze of lemon. It arrives on an aluminum plate in true Florida coast style, with your choice of two sides. I can’t imagine choosing any better than crunchy roasted potatoes and fresh cole slaw — the creamy kind that knows how to play second fiddle with no raisins, excess sugar or celery seeds.

Apalachicola oysters ($1.25 each) are reliably on the menu most days, and they come perfectly shucked and icy cold. I’ve most enjoyed Goin’ Coastal sitting in front of a platter of these oysters in one of the deep booths in the rear of the restaurant. The simple food and the warm design — weathered timber beams and black-and-white portraits of fishermen popping against the red brick walls — conspire for a moment of pleasure.

goinoysters

But the menu promises more sophisticated cooking than this. Alas, the kitchen has a hard time delivering balanced flavors.

Tomato and arugula salad ($6) puckers the palate with pure vinegar, while a generous bowlful of mussels ($12) wallow in a salty broth flavored with so much andouille sausage and Tabasco sauce that we were blotting them off. The Coastal scallops ($22) bring six wiggly, watery, smallish specimens broiled in a tarragon butter sauce that did not show this licorice-scented herb’s good side.

Weirdest of all are the kitchen’s forays into the Lowcountry cooking of Charleston and its environs. I’m not sure this stuff would make a splash on Broad Street. The she crab soup ($6) is neither the good kind that pits sweet crab against ocean funk nor the trashy-but-tasty kind that cuts heavy cream with the sweet/alcoholic nip of sherry. This one is thick, pink, beady with oil, strangely flavorless and plumbed with little bits of something.

goinsoupA dish called Sullivan’s Island shrimp ($18) rings a mound of white rice with springy shrimp in a pasty curried tomato sauce. It reminded me a little of shrimp korma and a little of the shrimp creole my mother used to make with Hunt’s tomato sauce. Kell claims it to be a traditional recipe, but the part-time Charlestonian who dined with me had never heard of this recipe, and I couldn’t find any reference to it. Whatever, I’d skip it in favor of the similarly tomato-pasty but more appealing “Low Country bouillabaisse” ($24) — a big, messy fish-and-sausage stew topped with a segment of North country dungeness crab.

Service here is energetic, proud and fast, if a little programmed. On both visits our servers were quite eager to “get our appetizers working” before we ordered our entrees. We actually asked one fellow if we could order our meal all at once and be done with our menus, but he wouldn’t hear of it. It goes like this: order drinks, order appetizers, and within seconds someone drops off yellow squares of cornbread (the kind with the sticky surface that reminds me of Jiffy mix). My only small complaint is they might have inquired about the dishes that went uneaten.

Goin’ Coastal trumpets a wonderful mission statement, and that’s what it needs to focus on. We’re in a huge non-coastal city with the world’s busiest airport, but nowhere near the seafood cultures of the Gulf and Atlantic coasts. Focus on buying fish from responsible sources, cook it with the care it merits, and then I’ll bite.

GOIN’ COASTAL
1021 Virginia Ave. NE, Atlanta, 404-941-9117

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Food: Sustainable seafood, with dishes that reference the Gulf Coast and the Lowcountry
Service: Friendly, but could be a bit more attentive to uneaten food
Price range: $$$
Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 5-11 p.m.,  Sunday, 5-10 p.m.
Best dishes: Fresh oysters, simply broiled fish, roasted potatoes, cole slaw
Vegetarian selections: Side dishes and salads
Children: Fine for older and well-behaved kids, but there are likely people here who got their own babysitter
Parking: Street parking
Reservations: Yes
Wheelchair access: Yes
Smoking: No
Noise level: Moderate
Patio: No
Takeout: Yes

RatingsKey_3

43 comments Add your comment

sansho1

September 17th, 2010
7:34 am

Hunt’s and Jiffy? Not the name-checks you’re looking for at $30 and up. I’ll wait until the kitchen staff gets culled.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by ajcdinecritic, John Kessler. John Kessler said: Goin’ Coastal dining review, Atlanta http://bit.ly/chhJcq [...]

muffin

September 17th, 2010
8:42 am

“Kell’s Kitchen” Ha ha!

Allen S.

September 17th, 2010
9:04 am

When does a restaurant critic’s finely honed epicurean taste become too disparate with those tastes of the average restaurant patron?

The reviews of Goin’ Costal from diners on the various blogs and review sites are nothing short of spectacular. It is my opinion that restaurant reviews from the culinary elite should be taken with a grain of salt, and not the exotic spices with which you and your colleagues insist upon.

Rodney

September 17th, 2010
9:38 am

“…and the global seafood industry is working overtime to put a fish in every pot.”

Made me laugh out loud. :)

Sounds like Goin’ Coastal is goin’ in my probably-won’t-stray-too-far-from-the-standards file, if ever I go. About the only thing that really grabs my attention is the amberjack – I’ll probably give that a shot.

Foodgeek

September 17th, 2010
9:51 am

Do they still have the family-style Sunday supper? That’s the most enticing thing I’ve seen about this place, and it seems like the price is more reasonable on Sunday for what seems to be hit-and-miss food.

kmb

September 17th, 2010
10:22 am

My wife and I are natives of the SC lowcountry. The original she crab soup served at Henry’s and Perdita’s (both long closed) and in the recipes in the 1950 Junior League’s Charleston Receipts (FYI a source of true low country cuisine recipes) is milk with butter and/or cream with sherry. Sorry, John, but no where can I find ocean funk in an original lowcountry she crab soup recipe. “The good kind that pits sweet crab against ocean funk” is not traditional Charleston she crab soup. Per Charleston Receipts “‘She-crab’ is much more of a delicancy than ‘he-crab,’ as the eggs (roe) add a special flavor to the soup.” Also, per it:

“She Crab Soup

A soup to remember!
The feminine gender
Of crabs is expedient-
The secret ingredient.
The flavor essential
Makes men reverential
Who taste this collation
And cry acclamation.”

With regards to Charleston/low country shrimp curry, the only authentic recipes I can find are either mayonnaise or cream based, not tomato based. Bouillabaisse is not mentioned in Charleston Receipts, Faithfully Charleston, or Charleston Hospitality and dungeness crabs were never served in the low country in the old days. Crab in Charleston is blue crab caught with chicken necks on a string off the docks and bridges along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, which is created by the Ashley and Cooper Rivers merging at the Battery of Charleston.

Unfortunately, when Johnson and Wales brought their culinary shool to Charleston, traditional low country cuisine was recreated. Those of us who remember Charleston pre-Johnson and Wales frequently do not recognize these “traditional recipes” as ever exsisting when we were growing up. Dirty grits and its ilk, in particular, are not traditional low country cuisine. Cooked grits back then were referred to as hominy. One last point, Hilton Head was a one telephone island pre 1960’s development. There never was such a thing as Hilton Head/low country cuisine prior to its becoming a resort. At least one restaurant in town is claiming traditional Hilton Head recipes. That is false advertising besmurching low country cooking and is worthy of a duel to the death.

Booger Sandwich

September 17th, 2010
10:31 am

Just gimme some BOGO coupons for Capn Ds.

[...] this week’s review of Goin’ Coastal — the new Virginia Highland satellite of a popular Canton seafood restaurant — [...]

Ruff

September 17th, 2010
12:29 pm

I haven’t been to the Virginia Highlands’s Goin’ Coastal, but I do frequent the Canton location and it is always fantastic. Maybe my “taste” are not quite as sophisticated as the blogging food critic who I don’t know from Adam, but Mr. Kell serves up a delicious dish everytime I enter one of his establishments. The Canton locations atmosphere and food are wonderful and always full of patrons. Mr. Kell’s Downtown Kitchen just down the street in Canton is equally satisfying and filled with patrons when it is open. Those are my indicators of great food. Goin’ Coastal is worth the trip never a ‘miss’ for myself and my family.

Tom from Finland

September 17th, 2010
1:15 pm

Good post Ruff – I will check the Canton location out. The amberjack looks great!

John Kessler

September 17th, 2010
2:22 pm

Allen S. — I’m just fine without exotic spices, and so are the best dishes at Goin’ Coastal.

Loved it!

September 17th, 2010
3:48 pm

My husband and I were there last week and we had wonderful food, appetizers and drinks. Loved the people watching in VA Highlands and the staff was friendly and educated. I would certainly add a couple more stars to this review.

Chris

September 17th, 2010
3:48 pm

Goin’ Costal (Canton) and Downtown Kitchen are both excellent. I have literally never been disappointed and I’ve been to both at least ten times each. I’m highly skeptical of your review – did you really eat there?

Robert

September 17th, 2010
3:58 pm

Enter your comments here

Kevin

September 17th, 2010
4:03 pm

I have only been to the Canton location, but it is always great! Not good, great! Check out the reviews on the web and get the real story.

Robert

September 17th, 2010
4:04 pm

I’ve eaten at Goin’ Coastal in Canton several times and I agree with Mr. Kessler. If you stay with the simplest dishes you should not be dissapointed. The side dishes, in particular, have not been particularly tasty in my experience. Especially the cornbread with sugar in it – tasted like cake the only time that I tried it. Awful, just awful. That being said the seafood has been extremely fresh the times I have eaten there. I hate to admit it but the fried shrimp is my favorite. Really good.

Robert

September 17th, 2010
4:11 pm

Hey, kmb. Wouldn’t the cuisine of the Gullah who lived on HHI before the developers ruined it be considered the traditional cuisine of the island. I’m sure with some research a local restaurant could certainly be based on this cuisine.

Dave

September 17th, 2010
4:35 pm

This critic is absolutely out of his mind! Goin’ Coastal is a great restaurant and everything we have tried on the menu has been amazing. John Kessler must be smoking something yet again on another missed review. That or he has money in the oyster house across the street. Either way, he is waaay off. I encourage everyone to give this place a try. Make sure you load up on the sides that the so called critic failed to mention especially the hush puppies! They will keep you coming back! The service is great and Zach and Seth are fantastic chef’s and owners. They will find great success in this neighborhood because they always take care of the customers and provide great food and value for our $$$. I wonder what kind of kick-back fontaines gave the food critic for bashing the best restaurant to come to the highlands in a loooonnng time. Nice Face John, keep it across the street from now on.

Good Food Eater

September 17th, 2010
4:58 pm

I have to agree with the one star. I live in the neighborhood so we were excited to give it a try. It was just ok. The server was great but the food mediocre. I have to wonder if it is similar to the one in Canton because it gets rave reviews on Open Table. I sort of take OT lists with a grain of salt.

RK

September 17th, 2010
5:13 pm

Read what the one star means — that sounds like the review in a nutshell.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Cheryl Hayes, accessAtlanta. accessAtlanta said: John Kessler's review of Goin' Coastal in Va.-Hi: Great idea, execution could use some work. http://bit.ly/9xYMG8 [...]

SRF

September 17th, 2010
6:37 pm

While I have not eaten the same dishes the critic has, I still have to agree with his overall opinion of the place. The “jiffy mix” SWEET cornbread will be refused if I go again, as well as the fried App oysters I had (over and over and over again for hours). The sugar in the cornbread I recognized, but not whatever was in the bisque that kicked my butt with reflux in duet with the oysters. I am usually daring when it comes to eating new or complicated dishes, but if I return to CG I will only do the simple fish meals. On a positive note, I did like Sunday Supper’s family style eating and so did the rest of my party.

Clob

September 17th, 2010
7:54 pm

You can really tell who works there/owns the place in these comments.

st

September 17th, 2010
8:29 pm

I have not been to the one in Atlanta, but the one in Canton is fabulous. I’ve eaten there many times and had the shrimp and grits, scallops, and fish and all 3 were great. Great service, friendly staff, and great cooks. Keep up the great work.

Lowcountry Native

September 17th, 2010
8:54 pm

As a Charlestonian that grew up crabbing, shrimping, and fishing the local waters around the lowcountry; I can tell you that the Sullivan’s Island Shrimp dish mentioned is not prepared they way we do it back home.

It sounds to me as though they are trying to recreate shrimp prioleau (pronounced pray-low). It’s made with sautéed onions, garlic, and bell pepper, then you add flour to make a rue, then you add shrimp stock to thin the rue out and finally uncooked shrimp and you let it cook until the shrimp is done. It’s good over rice for dinner or grits for breakfast.

As for the Lowcountry bouillabaisse mentioned I’ve never heard of it back home. We do cook a tomato sauce and tomato paste based dish with shrimp, fish, sausage and sometimes lumps of crab meat but it’s combined with uncooked rice and prepared in the oven into a single dish.

Please don’t eat what they are serving and think its traditional lowcountry fare.

Elizabeth

September 17th, 2010
10:03 pm

Given than 1 star now means “a worthy addition to the neighborhood, but the food is hit or miss”, we think this review is right on!

Went recently with another couple. 2 of us went for more simple dishes (A trout special and a steamed shrimp/crab combo) while 2 others tried the Low Country inspired dishes. Our experiences matched yours in that the simply prepared trout and steamed shellfish were outstanding; the Sullivians Island shrimp really was like Country Captain, but poorly done and with shrimp. It just isn’t good (and this is from someone who grew up on Country Captain made by mama with Hunts tomatoes and loves it – this just doesn’t translate to shrimp). The shrimp and grits were bad too.

If you could rate the menu in halves, the “plain” dishes are close to 3 stars, the other dishes are a 1.

One cocktail was consumed at our table – I sampled it and it was really nice (a basil limeade).

Oh, and if I had my way, anyone daring to serve cornbread with any sugar in yet, let alone the cake like mush this place serves, should be shot on site :-) We made our waiter take it off the table it was so offensive.

Glad this place is here; As a seafood lover. I hope it does well (maybe focus on what you do well and take the rest off the menu?). We don’t live in the neighborhood and probably won’t drive over just to eat here, but if we are nearby, it’s a nice option to have.

kmb

September 17th, 2010
10:54 pm

Robert:

I visited Hilton Head before the development. There just wasn’t much there, period. If you want to raise what impoverished people on a barrier island ate on a day to day basis as cuisine, then you might find something that is typical Hilton Head. However, there was no restaurant on the island. One gas station with the only telephone for the island was basically it as far as commercial enterprises.

Joe McKaughan

September 17th, 2010
11:31 pm

KMB, I remember Henry’s and Perdita’s fondly.

Serita

September 17th, 2010
11:45 pm

I disagree with the review on this restaurant. Thought it was an unfair criticism of the restaurant and I’m not sure why. In the two times I’ve dined here, I had excellent service. Enjoyed the crab cake, mussels in the andouille sausage broth I never have seen mussels prepared this way before and liked the novel approach. While the rice in Sullivan’s Island Shrimp could have been cooked a little longer, the sauce was wonderful. Overall, I was impressed with the restaurant and have recommended it to several people. Glad to see a sustainable seafood restaurant in the Virginia Highland area.

Try it out for yourself and don’t believe the review.

jack trent

September 18th, 2010
12:08 am

this review was spot on.

Ramona Clef

September 19th, 2010
6:22 pm

I miss Indigo.

3 Thugs in a Black Sedan

September 20th, 2010
10:46 am

McDonalds has a wonderful Fish Filet sandwich.

The Walrus

September 21st, 2010
8:46 am

I make a point of going there every time I find myself in Canton. I have yet to have a bad meal. I was unaware of this intown opening and part of me is very excited and now having read this review, part of me is very nervous. I hope John just had a bad experience and it will be of the same quality of the Canton location.

DAG

September 21st, 2010
8:58 am

I too haven’t visited the VA Highlands location but have been several times to the Canton location and all I can say is I think the atmosphere is great and the food is fabulous!! I’ve never had a bad meal or experience that whatsoever. Whoever rated this restaurant only one star needs re-evaluate this restaurant!!

jeas3

September 21st, 2010
2:20 pm

Hopefully Mr. Kessler will come back and give Goin’ Coastal another try! I for one have eaten at both locations and will give the restaurant my endorsement. That being said, I usually have the simpler dishes on the menu since I don’t cook much fish at home. Since these are also the dishes that the reviewer liked so much he may have a point with some of the others on the menu. However, every restaurant has items that work better than others for each patron so I would encourage you to visit and form your own opinion. I for one am excited to have it as an option in the VaHi neighborhood and I expect it to be around for quite a while.

Atlantan

September 22nd, 2010
11:56 am

Went there last night. I had fried shrimp and they were as good as any from the beach and as good as I’ve had elsewhere in Atlanta – Fish Market.

Cornbread is like cake – sides were pretty good.

My wife had the steamed platter and enjoyed it as well.

I liked it and hope it succeeds in the hood. I will go back.

Bob B.

September 22nd, 2010
12:55 pm

I think that this rating system of 1 to 5 stars is misleading. Logically a rating of 1 star out of 5 would and should be a horrible rating. But if you read the definition of a Kessler 1 star rating it reads “A worthy addition to it’s neighborhood, but the food is hit or miss”. While I think Goin Coastal deserves more stars and is “A worthy addition to it’s neighborhood” Kessler’s review is not as devastating as a “1 star” rating logically would indicate. But people see the rating of 1 star and expect the worst. Perhaps more stars in your system would give more flexablity in your ratings and 1 star would indeed mean a horrible restaurant. In this system there is no room to rate a truly bad restaurant with truly bad food. Just a thought…

southern hope

September 22nd, 2010
1:46 pm

You need a new star system. Yes, yes, we can all read your explanation & it turns out that 1-start is a “worthy addition to the neighborhood.” but for most food review sites (all?), 1-star means “avoid. run.”
I haven’t been to the place. Don’t know the owners. But this review (with thousands of us looking at the 1-star & not reading further) feels grossly unfair.

Dave

September 22nd, 2010
1:56 pm

Clob:
if you are referencing my review you are wrong, i have no affiliation with the restaurant or the ownership im just tired of seeing food critics bash places that are great! esp when i have info that the critic actually does have ties with other restaurants and owners and gets kickbacks for making certain reviews. you clob

Atlantan

September 22nd, 2010
5:30 pm

The waitress last night referenced this review to the couple behind me. She said it was a bad review – actually 1-Star in the new system isn’t bad, but the perception is it stinks if you look at it first glance.

Frank McCormack

September 22nd, 2010
7:10 pm

If this is the same critic who thought Millers Union was a fine dining establishment with a good wine list then once again are opinions are polar opposites.

Freehawk

September 23rd, 2010
11:29 am

A prominent South Carolinean (former judge) said “Hilton Head is what 250 thousand confederate soldiers died trying to prevent.”

I live nearby and look forward to trying this place.