accessAtlanta

City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP
City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP

Abattoir Restaurant Review, West Midtown

$$$

$$$

When Bacchanalia’s Anne Quatrano and Clifford Harrison first opened Abattoir in 2009, many bloggers and writers mistakenly spelled the name “Abbatoir.” I’m not sure what made me more squeamish: a restaurant that went by the French word for “slaughterhouse” or the thought of a chamber where you’re forced to listen to “Dancing Queen” over and over.

John Kessler is the chief dining critic for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

John Kessler is the chief dining critic for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Set in the White Provision space that was indeed part of a massive meat processing plant back in the day, Abattoir opened then with a “whole animal” spin on the menu. It seemed like it would develop into a Westside answer to Holeman & Finch Public House — the influential Restaurant Eugene spinoff that first plumbed the viscera of whole-animal cookery in Atlanta. But Holeman & Finch was (and is) a bar — an honest-to-badness joint where you want to eat head cheese and hamburgers and have one or two more cocktails than you should.

Abattoir wasn’t that. The menu, under talented opening chef and partner Joshua Hopkins, did feature tripe stew, lamb liver fritters and other odd bits in a format that encouraged the passing and sharing of small plates. But it also had a cool elegance about it, all market-fresh ingredients and gentle flavors. The industrial-chic dining room with its pretty appointments under a massive pitched roof underscored the schism.

120322kess0330

Duck Soup. (all photos by Becky Stein)

Despite its bloodthirsty come-on, Abattoir was never a place to snarf up salami with your fingers; it was a place to dine. I’ve been to this restaurant a dozen or more times, and while I’ve applauded its aesthetic sense, I’ve never felt a strong personality emerge.

Until now.

Chef Tyler Williams, on board since January, cooks lusty, intriguing dishes with a manifest point of view. Under his watch, Abattoir has become less of a tasteful farm-to-table dining hall with a butchery jones and more of a spirited American brasserie. It feels more integrated, more fun. There’s more there there.

Williams brings all kind of international seasonings to his cooking and he knows how to use them to layer flavor. His Thai-inspired dishes hopscotch with chile and aromatics; his Indian ones unfurl their spice from that all-important base of browned onion.

Spicy veal sweetbreads with cabbage, pear and beef bacon

Spicy veal sweetbreads with cabbage, pear and beef bacon

He really gets umami — that primary taste of savoriness. Umami-rich appetizers include a don’t-miss dish of spicy veal sweetbreads with cabbage, pear and beef bacon ($14). The nuggets of meat are exemplary, with a crisp surface and creamy center. But the dark wash of sauce distinguishes this dish. It fills your mouth with an expansive flavor, spicy like a bee sting until the sweet, salty and umami flavors take your tongue for a spin, inviting everything on the plate to the dance. This elixir includes soy sauce, fish sauce and a hot sauce made from ghost peppers grown by sous chef Brett Ashcroft. I want to drink it.

Also memorable: a beet-red tartare of local beef ($12) prepared in the style of the Korean dish yukke, with bits of jalapeño, pine nuts and Asian pear. A perfectly pitched base line of sweet soy tunes every high note of flavor into harmony.

It isn’t all a tribute to Buford Highway here. Witness the gorgeous puff pastry cup (a classic French vol-au-vent) overflowing with tender little snails in a wild-mushroom cream sauce ($14). Williams can rock it old school.

Then again, I find the Asian flavors on this menu have the most to say. A whole goo-centered burrata cheese ($12) arrives over crostini with radishes and asparagus for a nicely forgettable taste of spring. And a firm and fairly flavorless blood sausage ($10) cut into lengths over a vivid spinach puree brings the kind of tame offal I’ve learned to expect from Abattoir. (It has none of the rich depth of a French boudin noir.) But those Korean sticky fries ($8.50) showered with kimchi and marinated beef bulgogi (Korean barbecue meat) get more snarftastic with each bite. I have my new guilty pleasure bar food.

After these rich appetizers, I’m more than happy to dig into a lovely take on Chinese duck soup ($22), with tender duck meatballs, pan-seared potato gnocchi and bok choy in a limpid (if a bit oversalted) consommé.

Snails with wild mushrooms and chervil

Snails with wild mushrooms and chervil

I love the umami-bomb flavors of the pork belly ($18) served with a weirdly winning pâté sauce and a pickled vegetable salad jumping with the brightness of kaffir lime leaf and ginger. This is the work of a chef who sees the big flavor picture. Alas, I can’t quite deal with the hard jiggle of that seared hunk of fat. A longer cure, a braise, a sous-vide spin in an immersion circulator — something needs to be done to this porky blubber.

Likewise, a limp-skinned trout fillet ($24) over a thick glob of celery root and dandelion greens in a pasty-thick Meyer lemon cream sauce gets higher marks for flavor than execution. The best entree may be the simplest: a tender hanger steak ($24) with bordelaise sauce and pommes frites, trailing the perfume of wood smoke.

As before, the well-edited wine list offers just enough choice with a welcome focus on budget-priced bottles. The L’Arco Valpolicella (a steal at $31) has the acidity to go with food and soft flavors I always enjoy. (I do wish this place would get over the stemless wine glass thing.) You can also choose from a dozen good beers and a smattering of house cocktails.

The desserts I’ve tried rely on a bit too much sugar for my taste. That’s true of an apple tarte tatin ($8), though the slivers of apple are so deeply caramelized and a thyme sorbet adds such a nice herbal twang that it stays in check.

The menu — with nearly 50 distinct snacks, sides, appetizers and entrees — might benefit from a little editing. That whole “whatever you want, whatever your mood” approach works better for simpler and/or cheaper fare.

This new spirit in Tyler Williams’ kitchen has given the restaurant a focus it lacked before, and I’d love to see it continue evolving.

Mamma Mia! Abattoir’s singing a new song.

ABATTOIR
1170 Howell Mill Road, Atlanta, 404-892-3335
3stars5
Food: Eclectic American fare that’s less “meat-centric” than the name would imply.
Service: Attentive and quick with recommendations; kitchen can be a bit slow getting food to the table at times.
Best dishes: Spicy veal sweetbreads, beef tartare, duck soup, apple tarte tatin
Vegetarian selections: Quite a few, despite the slaughterhouse moniker.
Credit cards: All major cards accepted.
Hours: 6-11 p.m., Mondays-Saturdays.
Children: Fine for older kids; little ones won’t deal well with the noise.
Parking: Both self-parking and valet parking.
Reservations: Yes.
Wheelchair access: Yes, but you need to find the elevator elsewhere in the retail complex.
Smoking: No.
Noise level: Lively in the bar, clamorous in the dining room.
Patio: Yes, a great one
Takeout: Yes
ratings

16 comments Add your comment

Mark

March 29th, 2012
7:41 am

Nice review, will need to try the new menu. And many thumbs up to your comment about stemless wine glasses. They totally miss the point: stems are to prevent your hand from warming the wine. Since almost all restaurants serve reds too warm to start with, this just compounds the sin. And you can’t swirl a stemless glass gracefully, an annoying but beloved habit of mine.

Ken

March 29th, 2012
8:10 am

Too salty and too sweet? Not a very positive review for expensive, small portions. And you did’nt even mention the poor service and rude employees. With all the nice resturants in town, I think we can forget this one.

Al

March 29th, 2012
8:59 am

Great review John, I was wondering if the change in Chef was the impetus for the review or the Abba based opening line was something you had been dying to use for a while. Keep up the good work!

Kristen

March 29th, 2012
10:17 am

I second your comment about the stemless wine glasses. My husband and I can’t stand it when drinking a nice glass of wine. Although, I must admit the staff at Abbatoir is always very accomodating and when asked, they will go next door to get “real wine glasses”!

Victor

March 29th, 2012
11:52 am

Only bloggers who don’t know anything about food spells it Abbatoir. This place is more of a solid 2 stars than 3 but still a decent place for consistent food that borderlines on the adventuresome.

JRC

March 29th, 2012
12:27 pm

You on the wagon John? No real comments on the bar? We ate at the bar last week after showing up unannounced on a Saturday night. Powell and Ryan at the bar could not have been more accommodating, and produced an absurdly good gin drink when presented with a challenge. It tasted like lemongrass, mown grass, herbal gin….I still dream about it, even if I did end up at Johnny’s Hideaway because of it.

Additionally you don’t spend much time discussing service, which I have found to be thoughtful and warm.

We are Westsiders and thrilled to find this place in such good shape. Now if they will just have us back after our last visit…

NomNomNomATL

March 29th, 2012
4:16 pm

Couldn’t find a more rude waitstaff and set of bartenders. They rival Dick’s Last Resort, without the irony.

Allison

March 30th, 2012
8:28 am

With a name like Abattoir, I was personally hoping for blood soaked cleaver wielding staff. I felt the atmosphere was much more farmhouse than slaughterhouse. My gore loving heart was slightly disappointed. The food was pretty good, but I felt the service was just about as good as I’d find in any chain restaurant. We won’t be coming back. There are too many other restaurants in Atlanta that top my list before this one.

Fmrbosnowatl

March 30th, 2012
8:30 am

John……..great April Fools “review” of the Olive Garden in North Forks, ND. Had me fooled until the end. Too bad, however, that the AJC operations people spoiled the joke by prematurely inserting Sunday’s Living & Arts section in Friday’s paper!!

Veggie

March 30th, 2012
9:42 am

Victor seems to have appointed himself the arbiter of who knows what about food. PS, bloggers don’t spells, they spell.

Omnivore

March 30th, 2012
9:58 am

Kessler’s love of all things Asian all the time really gets tiring. Is there an Asian flavor on this menu that you didn’t love, John? And is there a non-Asian flavor on this menu that you did love?

John Kessler

March 30th, 2012
2:24 pm

Omnivore – I mentioned a couple of very good non-Asian items in the review.

Academic Socialite

March 30th, 2012
6:30 pm

Agree w/ JRC – we are Westsiders and love to have this place not far from home. Had the Hanger Steak last week, and it arrived delicious, bloody and perfect with crispy fries to sop up all that juicy goodness. I agree w/ Kessler, the hanger steak is one of their hits as are many of their cocktails. We always find the service to be friendly and the staff are up-front and spot-on with their recommendations. @Omnivore, settle down. Seems like you’ve had a bad day. Please do yourself a favor – go immediately to Abattoir for the snails and the hanger steak and chase it all down with a Vespa (cocktail) or two. It will make you forget all about knocking JK’s love of all things Asian (and what’s wrong with Asian?? Kessler’s review was well-balanced)

Jane F. Garvey

March 30th, 2012
9:18 pm

So what the hell’s wrong with Asian flavors anyway? They’re GREAT!!!

dkbp73

April 2nd, 2012
10:52 am

I guess you stemless wine glass haters have never been to Italy or France?

John Kessler

April 2nd, 2012
2:03 pm

dkbp: I really love drinking rustic wines from small, thick, faceted water glasses. But those fine, rounded bowl glasses like the Riedel O line (right?) are kind of difficult to pick up, difficult to swirl, and they get smudgy. If the wine is of a quality where the bouquet matters, I want a stem.