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Truffles Cafe restaurant review, Buckhead

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“You’ve got to try the grouper!” says our ecstatic waiter, who loves many dishes on the menu but none with quite the ardor he feels for the grouper. “The chef glazes it in Parmesan and basil and the sauce runs off it in rivulets,” he explains, his fingers fluttering down the sides of an imaginary mid-air fillet. “I’m not embarrassed to tell you I squealed like a schoolgirl when I first tried it!”

Review by John Kessler

Review by John Kessler

We all burst into peals of laughter at the image: squealworthy seafood.

This waiter has a mandate to sell hard and he does so with good humor. If Truffles Cafe is to succeed with its ambitions, it will need for every customer to find their own squealer of a dish.

This new restaurant across the street from Lenox Square in Buckhead looks like any number of restaurants that hug the periphery of shopping malls. It’s a vast box of space, dark and glossy, with distinct areas for every dining need. There are booths to sink into and a bar to belly up to, tables to push together for that office party of 10 and those high lounge tables where two of you can meet for martinis and – why not? – burgers. Overhead lights that look like ginormous lampshades cast an easy glow.

The interest here is that Truffles Cafe is the first link in a small restaurant group that sees the national chain stretching out in its future. In fact, it’s the missing link: that one where the particular flavors of food and service that have charmed a small community are meeting the focus groups of hungry mall-crawlers and office workers.

Crispy chicken (all photos by Becky Stein)

Crispy chicken (all photos by Becky Stein)

Before opening in Atlanta, Truffles was a trio of casual restaurants in and around Hilton Head Island, S.C. Then its owner, Price Beall, struck a licensing deal with his brother, Sandy Beall, the chairman and CEO of Ruby Tuesday. Sandy was looking to convert some underperforming locations of the casual restaurant chain into a new concept and so Buckhead was chosen as the prototype. (Sandy’s two sons are also in the hospitality biz: David Beall owns the Atlanta area Pinkberry franchises, while Sam Beall runs the swank Blackberry Farm in eastern Tennessee.)

Now the all-American recipes that have charmed a generation of sunburned beachgoers are having their tryout in the city. They’re looking to push the magic yum button in the manner of the pineapple juice-marinated ribeye at Houston’s or the cheddar biscuits at Red Lobster. Dishes you come back for.

My vote goes to the crispy chicken ($16) – a half-bird whacked into six or seven chunks, fried to a fare-thee-well and tossed in a soy-ginger vinaigrette thick with fresh grated ginger. What the preparation loses in moisture, it gains in the kind of crispy edges and bits that makes you want to pick the bones clean. Honestly, this just may be my dragged-to-the-mall go-to meal. However, I might ask to substitute the orange spackling paste (otherwise known as truffled macaroni and cheese) that comes on the side.

Mushroom crostini

Mushroom crostini

Other dishes may depend on your taste. My daughter and I were pooh-poohing the chicken pot pie ($12) for its jiggly cream sauce holding cubes of flavorless chicken and broccoli under a puff-pastry crust. Then I noticed her friend gobbling it up, wide-eyed, thinking, “Delicious!” I thought the mushroom crostini appetizer ($10) with toast rusks was herby and well seasoned but far too dry. My wife loved it for that reason. Why goop up pieces of cooked mushroom?

And trust me, there’s plenty of goop to be had. Shrimp alfredo ($17) tosses pasta with cream, cheese, bacon and gobs of seasoning and salt. It’s one of those dishes against which the Center for Science in the Public Interest will launch jihad one day. If you like stuff like this, you will like it. The signature blondie dessert comes pumped full of chips and covered in all kinds of sweet drizzle. A hamburger ($10.50) arrives coated with so much pimento cheese you can’t taste the patty. This is one item that’s definitely not ready for prime time in burger-savvy Atlanta.

That said, the kitchen executes most dishes consistently and well. I don’t like the surfeit of seasoning on an 8-ounce filet ($29), but it’s a center-cut piece of meat cooked to a perfect medium rare and its side of lumpy mashed potatoes have the kind of silken richness that invites your fork over and over. Tomato dill soup ($5) brings a coarse-textured cream of tomato soup in which a generous sprinkling of dried dill doesn’t seem out of place. I may be wrong, but I’m guessing the chicken almond soup ($6) is the chicken pot pie filling minus broccoli and plus a handful of toasted almond slivers. Not my thing, but I don’t doubt it’s someone’s. Ditto the nicely cooked fillet of salmon ($19) in a mango barbecue glaze with sticky, tangy pineapple chutney. We took a bite and scraped the sauce to the corner of the plate.

The service is so nice and so enthusiastic that I hate to point out it needs tuning. The schtick comes on hard, but then folks disappear. If hospitality were a car stereo, this would be all treble, no bass. All front, no back. My very tasty chunky tuna burger with cilantro mayonnaise ($14) was impossible to eat because a side of spinach had totally saturated the bun. After waiting in vain for the “how’s everything” visit, I just pushed the bun to the side and ate it with a fork. On both visits there were forgotten dishes, and water refills can try patience. Checks are dropped before you can ask for coffee or dessert. New staff: give them time.

But Truffles Cafe does seem a nice place to hang out and drink and that will go a long way for future franchise prospects. For an almost-chain, the drinks list has an almost contemporary feel. There’s a doable selection of draft (Fat Tire, Sweetwater 420) and bottled (Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA) beers. The specialty beverage list has one foot in Sweet-neon-tini-land, but another in today’s cocktail culture, with elderflower and basil making appearances. I had no qualms with my “Millionaire’s Manhattan” ($9) made with Woodford Reserve and shaken tableside.

Alas, the wine list is old-school horrible, with no vintages listed and a selection that reads like a walk down the aisle at Kroger. When my wife asked if there was a rose by the glass, the waiter enthused over the Beringer White Zinfandel.

Now would be the time to squeal like a schoolgirl.

TRUFFLES CAFE
3345 Lenox Road, Atlanta. 404-364-9050
1stars5
Food: Casual American fare: sandwiches, steaks, seafood, big salads
Service: Super enthusiastic but not as detail oriented as it could be
Best dishes: Crispy chicken, tuna burger, tomato dill soup
Vegetarian selections: Yes, about what you’d expect
Credit cards: All major
Hours: 11 a.m-10 p.m., Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-midnight, Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Sunday.
Children: No problemo
Parking: In private lot, sometimes with valet
Reservations: Yes
Wheelchair access: Full
Smoking: No
Noise level: Moderate
Patio: No
Takeout: Yes

ratings_key_febUSE

32 comments Add your comment

kmb

May 12th, 2011
10:24 am

When my family ate there, we liked it. However, I have a problem with its focus. It claims to be a low country South Carolina restaurant. Yes, it started in Hilton Head, but it lacks low country cuisine. I told the manager and chef that they needed to add items that are traditional to the low country if they want to call it a low country restaurant. Flounder is more typical of the low country than is grouper, which is more typical of Florida. She Crab Soup is a must for a low country restaurant. Blue crab, shad, and hush puppies are basic items in any authentic low country restaurant. They certainly can do their twists on the traditional recipes but to call themselves a low country restaurant without them is a misnomer.

Kirk

May 12th, 2011
10:26 am

I am reminded that everything tastes better after a long time in the sun at the beach. I tried them in Hilton Head and never went back.This is an Applebees upgrade.

James

May 12th, 2011
10:36 am

I tried them in Hilton Head, too. And have been back a hundred or so times :) . Let’s hope the one here can get to that level. I’ve been once to the new Lenox location – the food seemed close, the service was still spotty – though not atypical for a recently opened spot.

Kar

May 12th, 2011
11:17 am

“If hospitality were a car stereo, this would be all treble, no bass. All front, no back.”

John, this reminds me of Dan Neil’s writing back when he was writing car reviews for the LA times. LOL!

Nom Nom Nom

May 12th, 2011
11:18 am

This may be fine dining in Hilton Head, but not in the capital of the South. I can rattle of a list of complaints, but why beat a horse when he’s down.

Catherine

May 12th, 2011
11:46 am

I was just there this past weekend and loved it! Not sure why it’s getting such bad reviews. I had the salmon which was awesome! BBQ mango sauce + pineapple salsa = yum. BF had the cajun tuna and mom had the grouper. All of us thought our fish choices were great. As for wine, our waitress recommended the Silverado and it was a hit with all three of us even though I like my wines a bit sweet and my mom likes them more dry. It was the perfect compromise. I mean yeah it’s not super fancy schmancy there, but I’d definitely say it’s a way better option than Applebees. Our waitress was super sweet too! She checked up on us during our meal and suggested the blondie for dessert. So good!

James

May 12th, 2011
12:01 pm

@Catherine – there will be haters simply because of its connection with Ruby Tuesday, for whatever reason. For some, it’s not trendy enough and too family friendly to be cool. But for those of us who are not that fond of chains but like a dinner without the pretense, Truffles is a great compromise.

John Kessler

May 12th, 2011
12:14 pm

Thanks, Kar!

Kar

May 12th, 2011
1:10 pm

John, if he can get a pulitzer for describing suv’s, why not one for table service?

Marcel P

May 12th, 2011
2:00 pm

Unlike a lot of the other fancy fern bars in the area, Truffles seems to actually care about the food.
Not a lot of places in this category give you so many seafood options; from delicate to covered in goo.
But let’s face it – it’s still a one-star destination that is only servicable if you find yourself driving past.
And I’m not saying that to be critical, but fine-dining it is not. But you don’t always need fine dining.
Nary a mall trip has passed without one member of my suburban bunch needing to nosh. Quickly.
Just because the waitstaff wears flare doesn’t mean you should be ashamed to stop in for a bite.
Only pretentious food snobs should be critical of such an eatery meant to serve such a purpose.
So what if it’s full of salt and butter? Let’s face it – that’s an established staple of the suburban diet.
However, there is an art to that type of cooking and I, like many other readers, can appreciate that.
How to upscale my local Chilli’s/Ruby Tuesday’s experience is crucial.

PJ

May 12th, 2011
2:20 pm

Though I have some friends who profess this to be among their favorites in Hilton Head (& I’m sure they are reading this – sorry!), I have never really felt it. I think Truffles is very good for what it is, reminds me of Houlihan’s or the like, but not somewhere I would go out of my way to eat. The tomato dill soup is my favorite thing there, but beyond that, nothing has wowed me. I have yet to visit the new Atlanta location, but I could see popping in there if I was in the area.

@kmb – They’ve never had “lowcounty cuisine” on the their menus – did it say that somewhere on the Atlanta menus?

James

May 12th, 2011
2:44 pm

Very well said, Marcel!

John Kessler

May 12th, 2011
2:44 pm

Marcel P – I think you and I are saying the same thing.

Julia

May 12th, 2011
2:55 pm

I’m always saddened when I read of yet another small restaurant wanting to become a national chain or hitch their wagon to a giant corporation. who in this city remembers the Peasant Corporation? Started out with one small store, then grew. As long as they were locally owned, the food, service, ambiance were all consistently good. And then General Mills entered the picture. today? gone. sad.

eatoutatlanta

May 12th, 2011
3:29 pm

This is Ruby Tuesday’s upscale concept to compete with the restaurant next door to them…Houston’s…and Ruby Tuesday’s has another concept coming soon, a seafood chain to compete with?? I am not sure…Red Lobster?

A

May 12th, 2011
4:22 pm

I had the Club Salad and it was terrible. The salad was topped with chicken fingers that were recently frozen and warmed. For only a few dollars more, you can go next door and have the best Club Salad in Atlanta at Houstons.

Debbie

May 12th, 2011
4:45 pm

For the office workers in the area, it’s a nice to have. Phipps Plaza has all but done away with its food court; the Lenox Food court gets old; Burgers on the patio at The Bucket Shop get old; Lenox Grill is awful; Shula’s is expensive; Houston’s is crowded. It’ll do.

kmb

May 12th, 2011
5:11 pm

@PJ
@kmb – They’ve never had “lowcounty cuisine” on the their menus – did it say that somewhere on the Atlanta menus?
When they opened and I was there, they claimed to be a low country restaurant on the Atlanta restaurant’s menu. That was why I had the discussion with the manager and chef. I felt that should have flounder, She Crab soup, shad, and hush puppies on the menu to justify having low country mentioned. I thought it would give them a difference from the other restaurants they were in competition with since those items are difficult to find in Atlanta done well.

slammy

May 12th, 2011
7:25 pm

Food is ok, severely overpriced. Nothing I couldn’t make at home

george

May 12th, 2011
9:10 pm

it needs she crab soup with a dollop of sherry, shrimp and grits and softshell crabs and shad roe in season to be a lowcounty restaurant; otherwise just another poseur.

Roger Salz

May 13th, 2011
7:06 am

I went to Truffles the other day with 3 friends…..I had the turkey club sandwich on a sour dough roll…at best it was shaved turkey meat form Kroger….the whole thing was tasteless and somewhat of a disappointment as we waited a while for the food to come. Two of the group had seared ahi tuna…and it looked bad…it was gray. They didn’t seem that happy. And another friend had the pimento cheese burger for the 2nd time and enjoyed it. Next time I am going back to Houstons if I am in that neighborhood,,,, tried and true. Service at Truffles is slow; they seem to be understaffed. One thing they do nicely there, is without having to ask they subtotal the check by each guest…so if one is splitting the bill he doesn’t have to make all the calculations.

BNM

May 13th, 2011
10:09 am

I ate here a few weeks ago for lunch, finding a restaurant that can get you in and serve food during a work lunch in a reasonable amount of time can be challenging. They sat us, took our orders and brought piping hot food to our table with plenty of time to eat and enjoy our lunch with out running us late back to work. The customer service was amazing. I had made an opentable reservation, the manager knew who I was when I walked in, also took note that it was our first time eating there (i noted it on opentable when I made the reservation) and offered to buy us a desert because it was our first time. Its the little extras that made this a good experience. I will say the food needs some tuning, but over all we were pleased with what we got. I got the chicken pot pie, it was a little runny more soupy, but the puff pastry it came in was very good and I would order this again. My husband got the Chili and ate every bite.

ziza

May 13th, 2011
10:16 am

Truffles is my and my shopping buddy’s go to when we’re at Lenox. It’s comfortable, not crowded, pleasant wait staff and when you find a fave menu item you just stick with it. I’ll go everytime I’m at Lenox. It’s a perfect place to relax and chat after feverish shopping in the mall. We like it just fine.

Chuck Wolf

May 13th, 2011
10:16 am

Have a vacation home in Hilton Head and every time we are there my entire family including myself want to eat at Truffles in Sea Pines or their new restaurant on Pope Ave. Always great food and great service.
I don’t know how long they have been open here but they are right around the corner from my office and hope their opening problems are solved as we will visit them often if they are like the ones in Hilton Head.

Rick

May 13th, 2011
11:33 am

I’ve eaten here twice and I think Applebee’s upgrade is a good description. The prices at this place are completely out of line with what they are serving.

John Kessler

May 13th, 2011
11:53 am

Well, this is the prototype for the expansion, so it will be interesting to see where it goes from here. I think that having more high-quality chains like Houston’s is a good thing. I really did dig that crispy chicken and hope the gobs of grated fresh ginger on it stay as part of the recipe. Also look forward to having the tomato dill soup with a grilled cheese sandwich in cooler weather. It’s a nice option near Lenox, and I hope it becomes a nicer one still.

Lawyer Schiff

May 13th, 2011
12:04 pm

Well, as a frequent “business lunch” diner or supposed “office-crawler” (not all of us can be local-celeb, picture published, “food writers” after all) in the neighborhood, I must say that it is a fantastic addition to an an occasionally over crowded market. Compared to the other stand alone places in the Lenox hood, it should do well and is a welcome replacement for the dreadful Ruby Tuesday it replaced. At least those of us who refuse to wait for the overpriced, poorly serviced, and generally not so good Houstons now have a real alternative for an in-offensive lunch destination. Never gonna beat a 5 minute drive up Buford Hwy, but us business-folk need a tasty, semi-generic option to meet n’ greet with people who may not appreciate my favorite dingy taco stand or pho joint.

ksch

May 13th, 2011
2:40 pm

I have eaten there twice and loved it! I thought their big claim to fame was everything was made from SCRATCH, but I don’t see it mentioned here. Way better than Ruby Tuesday or Applebee’s – more comprable to Houston’s.

foodieATL

May 13th, 2011
6:58 pm

Sounds to me Beall is bringing back Silver Spoon, his spin off of Ruby Tuesdays-from 1989!! Hello- 1985 wants their menu back….don’t think I will try this one John. Sorry!!!

Pnutter

May 14th, 2011
7:09 am

For what they serve the prices are way out of line.and I think they will be gone in the near future. Food, service, and reasonable price are things that keep joints open. They do not have any of these.

Vino.envy

May 15th, 2011
2:38 am

What, no truffles! Why have the name? Cool vintage 1980’s wine list ☺

Edward

May 15th, 2011
7:38 pm

Maybe they should have picked a mall area in the ‘burbs, perhaps Alpharetta or Conyers. But at Lenox, next door to Houston’s, with places like Capital Grille and Nava and countless other great choices nearby? It’s just not up to par with the competition in the area.