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The Sound Table dining review, Atlanta

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At the Sound Table, 5 o’clock brings the “Violet Hour” when the evening drinkers start to wander in, and barkeep Paul Calvert mixes a daily special Prohibition-era cocktail with a recipe derived from historical records. Named for a line from T. S. Eliot, Violet Hour has become a popular expression in today’s cocktail culture, as it sounds far cooler than Happy Hour.

Oaxacan hanger steak (All photos by Becky Stein)

Oaxacan hanger steak (All photos by Becky Stein)

That said, the much more intriguing time of night at this edgy Old Fourth Ward restaurant comes later — 9:30 or so, when diners are happy with wine and gin, the wood-slat benches they sit on start to glow from lights beneath, and a DJ slips into the long-empty booth in the back of the narrow space that has suddenly turned neon green. With thumps of ambient music come guests who mill about rather than sit. A few tables quietly disappear to make room.

You’re still eating? Good! The food is what the kitchen likes to call “modular,” so it makes perfect sense to order up a final quartet of lamb meatballs ($9), their coarse texture and tingly spice so suave against the silk of eggplant puree. Not driving? Then you get another glass of that off-dry German scheurebe, the kind of white wine that is as energizing as the room you’re sitting in.

stroom

The Sound Table — now in its sixth month — is the newest concept from the guys behind Midtown’s Top Flr. Like that restaurant, it occupies a narrow, two-story spot with more drinking downstairs and more eating above. It also features a wonderfully curated bar program and well-edited menu with a mix-and-match attitude. But as the clever double pun of the name suggests, it has a dual personality — both a DJ’s clubbish lair and a dining destination. The small-plates menu is indeed sound: chef de cuisine Brendan Keenan cooks with a broad palate, fine technique and a keen eye for presentation. The food is easy to like though nothing jumped out to me as worthy of love. Go for the clever vibe, and the high quality of the food comes as a bonus.

The broadly ranging yet compact menu is indeed as modular as a Lego starter kit. Two dozen starters, sides, salads and mains trot the globe, with prices that rarely creep into the double digits.

You want a killer cocktail from what is surely the most writerly drinks list in town. What speed do you want? Sours, Citrus & Coolers? Flips & Fizz? Tiki? Or maybe Strong, Rich & Strange?

There’s the ticket. The Stone Mountain ($10) blends cognac and apple brandy with pine and pear liqueurs for an autumn walk in an orchard with Charles Bukowski. The Bohannon ($9) makes gin prickle with herbal green chartreuse, smoky Swedish Punch (a liqueur) and flecks of black pepper. Kudos to Calvert for finding the sweet/savory balance in each drink.

But do stop at one cocktail before dinner unless you’re just planning to sway in front of the DJ booth. As the food arrives, you’ll have little idea of what’s a starter and what’s a main. No biggie, dudes, we’re going modular, and all kinds of white slab plates begin to pile up.

stchicken

Spatchcocked chicken

Keenan is a meat whisperer. He gets all kinds of crisp, charred deliciousness on the skin of a spatchcocked chicken ($11), grilled simple with lemon, olive oil and herbs. Spatchcocked? He removes the backbone and the keel (breast) bone so the birdie grills flat and evenly.

Oaxacan hanger steak ($13) doesn’t get much help from its chile marinade and polite pico de gallo salsa, but wowie-zowie is that some gorgeous pinkish-red steak. Slice after slice at a killer price. Chinese pork ribs ($12), on the other hand, come impregnated with so much flavorful chile-soy marinade and cooked to such a degree that they taste like meat candy. I mean this as the highest praise.

Here’s a swell Sound Table scenario: Go with a friend and get a table upstairs, where people go for more conversation than scene. Order lots of meat and split a bottle of wine. May I recommend the 2008 Conreria d’Scala Dei Les Brugueres ($54) — a minerally, full-bodied Spanish wine made in the Priorat region from white garnacha grapes that gets more interesting as it reaches room temperature?

The firing-on-all-cylinders Sound Table feels like it’s about actual dining — good wine, good food — which is why the snacky things may come off as forgettable or even a little annoying. Fried chickpeas and capers ($4) in sweet curry salt feel soft and greasy in all the wrong ways, and they make your fingers smell funny. A smoked trout spread special ($8) has a hollow campfire flavor and no fish-oil unctuousness. Black truffle arancini ($7) — the Italian-style fried rice balls — start with a mushy risotto.

I also find that some of the Asian stylings on the menu rely too heavily on soy sauce. I detect it in a silly version of goi ga ($7), the Vietnamese chicken and cabbage salad that usually smacks so appealingly of the lime juice/fish sauce dressing called nuoc cham. A side of baby bok choy and yellow squash ($4) came just shy of delicacy thanks to the tongue-curling edge of truffled soy. As far as the sides go, I’d opt for either the fried cauliflower with peanuts ($5) or the trim portion of Belgian-style fries ($4), each crisp potato baton a thing to savor.

Then again, if you get together with a group of friends, order those second cocktails and pass each boldly seasoned dish around the table, this food may hit the spot. If you’re sitting on the bottom floor, with the bar stretching along one wall and the dining area getting more crowded as the evening goes along, you might find the Sound Table captures the feeling of that hour — royal blue turning to indigo — when the evening is full of delicious possibility.

THE SOUND TABLE
483 Edgewood Ave., Atlanta; 404-835-2534
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Food: International flavors on a menu designed for good drinks, good friends and lots of passing plates around
Service: Knowledgeable and attentive
Best dishes: Spatchcocked chicken, lamb meatballs, Chinese pork ribs
Vegetarian selections: Side dishes and salads, but not this kitchen’s strength
Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover
Hours: Kitchen opens 6-10:30 p.m.; Mondays-Thursdays, 6-11 p.m., Fridays-Saturdays
Children: Not really an atmosphere for kids, but would be fine for teenagers on the early side
Parking: Complimentary parking in adjacent lot; nearby lots charge $3 for customers
Reservations: Only for parties of 8 or more
Wheelchair access: Bottom floor only
Smoking: Outside, in front of restaurant
Noise level: Moderate to high, depending on time of night
Patio: No
Takeout: YesRatingsKey_3

11 comments Add your comment

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Kim Severson, ajcdinecritic, Brad Kaplan, judi knight, John Kessler and others. John Kessler said: The Sound Table dining review, Atlanta http://bit.ly/avGrZf [...]

Shannon

October 15th, 2010
10:15 am

Nice to see that you “get it”. Hope that the owners and the chef don’t dwell on the two stars. The review that you wrote, reads like five stars for the experience that they are offering.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by The Real Curvy Jones, accessAtlanta. accessAtlanta said: Review of The Sound Board: Part DJ lair, part dining destination. Home of the "meat whisperer" http://bit.ly/9iCdGE [...]

dean

October 15th, 2010
1:48 pm

While it’s not amazing-knock-your-socks-off food, its really good food at a really reasonable price and amazingly balanced drinks. Combine that with the music and the atmosphere and its a guaranteed fun night for a couple or group.

ted

October 15th, 2010
3:50 pm

We really enjoyed it a few weeks ago. It wasn’t a cheap outing mostly due to the drinks, but the food was excellent. Loved the fried chickpeas with curry salt.

John Kessler

October 15th, 2010
4:39 pm

LC

October 16th, 2010
10:15 am

so nice to see a local critic giving the beverage program as much print space as the food. i hope to see more of that from you even for establishments where it’s not considered a “focus”. for some of us, believe it or not, the wine list and cocktail menu are an equally important part of the experience.

count_schemula

October 16th, 2010
7:05 pm

2/5 stars just looks bad, even though I would be used to 3/5 being a good/solid review, 4/5 being above average and 5/5 being rare and exceptional. 2/5 seems hit and miss, and 1/5 would be fail. The review reads like 3/5. I get it, your 2/5 is my 3/5, but, it sure does not look that way.

John Kessler

October 17th, 2010
10:49 am

I understand what you’re saying, Count, but I really don’t like the idea of one star being a fail. Fail is fail. For what it’s worth, I really thought a long time on the rating for this one — it’s such a good example of this new direction in dining, the drinks program is so smart, and the food is prepared with care. But there wasn’t one dish I just flat-out loved, and to make a restaurant a destination, you have to have one of those. I hope the chef takes this review as a positive one and also as encouragement to kick it up to the next level. I can see he has it in him.

j

October 20th, 2010
9:51 am

John, went last saturday based on your review, which I read as positive and piqued my curiosity. We had a full sampling of the menu, as well as a great many drinks. Loved the atmosphere, loved the friendly service. we thought the food was decidedly above-average, with some choices better than others. The chorizo sliders were loved by all, and we thought the arancini weren’t mushy but full of flavor, with a nice kick of salt to help ease down the drinks. Consistent with your review, our first order of brussels sprouts were moderately seasoned, crunchy, and tasty, but the second order was overdone with the sauce (it tasted like soy sauce but I’m not an expert) and you couldn’t taste the sprouts. I liked the fried cauliflower which was surprisingly spicy in a nice way, and thought the hanger steak was worth ordering (but not as good as the chimichurri hanger steak at pura vida). Wouldn’t order the bok choy again; would just order a second plate or cauliflower or the yummy fries. I’d visit again; I slurped down the drinks like a, well, let’s just say I slurped them down. A very fun evening.

John Kessler

October 20th, 2010
3:43 pm

J – Sounds consistent with my review…loved the space, the drinks and the vibe. Liked the food a lot, but want to find something to love there….