If you score one of the tables or booths that cluster around the kitchen pass at Seed Kitchen & Bar, you get a front-row seat to observe owner/chef Doug Turbush as he tends to all the dishes that leave the kitchen. He works by a gleaming expanse of counter under domed pendant lights with a cloth in his hand, buffing every plate to a high gloss.
You will also welcome the olfactory benefits afforded by this vantage point: blasts of grilled rib-eye steak, pan-roasted flounder fillets, breaded chicken fresh from hot oil and — pow! — a heady melange of garlic, chili and fish sauce and suddenly you’re in a Thai restaurant.
These smells herald the arrival of an intriguing restaurant.
Seed figures among the cohort of exciting new spots that have goosed the northern perimeter food scene. Like Marietta’s Chicken and the Egg and Roswell’s Table & Main, Seed offers a contemporary dining experience for a neighborhood — here, East Cobb — that has long needed better options.
With all due respect, I find Seed the best of the bunch because it comes across as the most forward-thinking in terms of its design, its wine program and its global larder. Turbush, who previously helmed the kitchen at Buckhead’s fusion-minded Bluepointe, has a particular fondness for Asian flavors, sharp edges and all. He shifts confidently from these to Mediterranean and then to Southern without losing the unifying tone and finesse that defines his style. While I have yet to fall in love with any dish on the menu, I have developed a serious case of the likes for most everything I’ve tried. Considering the reasonable prices (nothing but the steak exceeds $20), this menu begs exploration.
I also appreciate the easy-on-the-eyes Scandinavian-style design, which makes this strip-mall restaurant an oasis of taste. Blond wood flooring and tables drive the neutral color scheme, floor-to-ceiling drapes divide the space, and industrial materials such as textured rubber flooring and brushed steel integrate themselves effortlessly. The area by the kitchen, with its L-shaped chef’s table and shelving filled with cookbooks, makes you feel like you’re in your friend’s too-cool-for-school loft apartment. However, I might avoid the high bar-area banquettes unless you like having your feet dangle like a 5-year-old’s.
This restaurant’s global outlook informs its tightly edited but broad wine list, which makes that moment when you settle into your seat and decide what to drink a real pleasure. Among the two dozen wines offered by the glass are an Oregon pinot blanc, a Vouvray, a Petite Sirah, a Super Tuscan and a very nice champagne (Nicolas Feuillette, $14). The list offers another two dozen wines by the bottle, all with 90+ ratings from trusted wine publications.
Meanwhile, the beer selections encompass an Allagash Tripel on tap ($9) and bottles of Hitachino Nest White Ale from Japan ($9) and Belgian Delirium Tremens ($9). A short cocktail list shows real edge — try the Pimm’s Cup infused with saffron ($9). Even teetotalers get uncommon care from this bar, with house-spiced cider and other options. One of my favorite tastes here has been the house limeade ($4), perched right on the teetering edge of sweet and sour.
The appetizers arrive so quickly and with so little fuss that you go, “Oh, look, something to nosh with my cocktail!”
I thought I was over pimento cheese until I got the version here — creamy soft and spread over sheer, brittle crostini ($6), with smoky Benton’s ham and slivers of apple on top. Pair it with some Gulf shrimp sambal ($8) — springy curls glowing red with the spicy Asian chili sauce and sided only by a few slips of cooling pickled cucumber. Add in a cast-iron skillet of garlic-and-thyme roasted mushrooms ($7) over good Anson Mills polenta, and you’ve got some zippy flavors to pass around the table. Turbush is the kind of cook who builds flavor from the ingredients themselves rather than excessive seasoning and fat.
And he doesn’t seem to have a “me, too” bone in his body. Let other chefs make another beet and goat cheese salad. Turbush outfits his yellow and red roasted beets ($7) with grapefruit segments, pistachios, arugula and a tuft of aerated Parmesan cheese whip. What an electric pile-up for your taste buds to sort through.
A spicy Asian fish sandwich at lunch ($12) also defies expectations. This is not the chef’s version of banh mi (the popular Vietnamese sub) but something entirely novel, with fried flounder tucked into a tender roll with spicy Sriracha sauce, tangy ginger-onion marmalade and copious tufts of cilantro and dill. Yes, dill, which is not unheard of in Southeast Asian cooking. If the overcooked slip of fish offered up just a little juicy gush, this sandwich would be one for the ages.
Overcooking also mars a chicken schnitzel ($16) that looks like a million deep-fried bucks presented between a pool of glossy mustard-miso sauce and a mountain of arugula-tomato salad. But I found it so parching and heavily breaded that I didn’t want to eat much. (My 14-year-old, who polished it off, said I didn’t let the sauce soak through.)
The pan-roasted flounder entree ($19) is nearly overcooked, but its odd and wonderful bed of roasted Brussels sprouts and cauliflower in garlic-chili fish sauce keeps things appealing. Even better is Moroccan-spiced salmon ($17) nestled in a bed of pebbly Israeli couscous creamed with goat cheese. A sweet onion sauce and a sprinkling of pine nuts and sultanas conspire for a big, rounded mouthful of flavor. The salmon’s natural unctuousness holds up well to both these assertive ingredients and the kitchen’s tendencies.
Some of the food gets a little too weird, even for me. Plump seared scallops and crisp tiles of pork belly ($18) arrive lined up over a butternut squash mash with fennel and apple. Instead of underlying the scallops’ natural sweetness, the garnishes just make them taste fishy.
I’d say the one consistent weakness is the dessert (all $5) lineup. The staff chats up the knobby individual pineapple upside-down cake, but it has too much muffin-like cake and not enough caramel goo. The apple “pie” (really a pot of chewy cooked apple slices with a disc of pastry) only makes you want to go find a version without quotation marks. The citrus tart is but a soggy lemon bar despite its foo-foo swirls of sauce and meringue.
But that’s a small complaint for a restaurant that doesn’t just recycle crowd-approved dishes and current trends. Seed Kitchen & Bar could have been another safe, familiar restaurant — a little American bistro, a little farm-to-table, a little beets and goat cheese — but it decided to be something more.SEED KITCHEN & BAR 1311 Johnson Ferry Road, Marietta. 678-214-6888 Food: Modern American, with more than a few Asian accents Service: Very good, very knowledgeable about the menu and drinks list Best dishes: Pimento crostini, flounder with Brussels sprouts and cauliflower and Moroccan-spiced salmon Vegetarian selections: Yes Credit cards: All major Hours: Lunch 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. daily; dinner 3-10 p.m., Sundays-Thursdays, 3-11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays. Children: Not a great spot for younger kids; get a babysitter. Parking: Self-parking in a sea of cars Reservations: Yes Wheelchair access: Full Smoking: No Noise level: Moderately high Patio: Yes Takeout: Yes