Fast-casual dining seems to be today’s trend in restaurant concepts. In a typical scenario, fast-casual spots present a variety of ingredients that customers combine as they choose. Think places like Chipotle Mexican Grill, Uncle Maddio’s Pizza Joint and Moe’s Southwest Grill.
Here’s the million-meal question: Can restaurants successfully create a hybrid concept? Say, a buffet at a bistro or fast-casual choose-you-own-ingredients in a fine dining setting?
There’s a new restaurant in Johns Creek attempting just that. At Meat and Potato Kitchen and Bar, guests design their own entrees from a list of meat, sauce and potato options. Restaurateurs Khalid Raji and Jamal Sahri created this model based on a popular selling dish at one of their Washington, D.C., restaurants: short ribs with the choice of sauce and potato gratin.
Though sporting a fast-casual concept with a hotel-esque dining room, the restaurant is one of few upscale dining options in John’s Creek. The bar, a hot spot for locals, features pianists playing tunes, occasionally with jazzed-up backup tracks and vocals.
“Moon River” will float along in the background as you peruse the wine list with many familiar names but little information (no vintages or other details). If you talk wine with your friendly waiter, he’ll be quick to point out the Duckhorn Merlot ($107), the most expensive option on the menu. “It goes with everything,” he says. And it probably would pair well with beef and potatoes. I didn’t find out.
The restaurant serves Braveheart beef from the Performance Food Group’s DNA-tracing Black Angus product line. The program was designed to allow traceability for verification of brand and quality claims. Meat and Potato orders 21-day, wet-aged steaks and dry-ages them in-house for another 14 days.
The New York strip ($26), though slightly past the medium-rare I ordered, was a nice specimen, juicy and well-seasoned. For my sauce, I initially waffled between the garlic-shallot and red wine sauce. In the end, I settled on a well-balanced shiitake cream whiskey sauce with a sweetness akin to sherried she-crab soup. Yet, after a bite or two, I pushed it aside. A good steak needs no sauce, at least not a sauce-boat full.
The hanger steak ($21) takes an overnight dip in a sherry vinegar, garlic and herb mixture. The resulting beef sports a sickly grey pallor and a smacks of a sweet and tangy marinade. (Where’s the beef?) The chimichurri sauce I selected provided no aid, a silver vessel flooded with two-thirds oil, one-third herb mixture minus the garlic sharpness I craved.
The seasoned rack of lamb ($29) earns “best dish,” cooked to temperature with its juices creating a natural sauce, a better pairing than the dried-cherry gastrique recommended by our server. The gastrique, much like one of those syrupy pancake sauces they serve at breakfast dives, worked better as a topping for the sweet potato brulee I chose as my potato. The baby-food smooth sweet potatoes with a sugar crust morphed into a Thanksgiving casserole with the gastrique.
The sweet potato brulee scores points for creativity. Other potato options include a potato puree (devoid of texture and in desperate need of salt), a traditional potato gratin and house-cooked crispy herbed and salted fries.
In keeping with the theme, the coconut curry mussels ($18) come with fries. They spill from a silver cup, nestled deep in the matching silver bowl of mussels in a spicy Thai coconut-curry sauce. The fries arrive with a dipping dish of aioli, but I prefer to run them through the silky sauce of ginger, lemongrass, coconut, Kaffir lime, red curry paste and fresh shellfish stock.
Pescetarians can also participate in the restaurant’s build-your-own-dish gimmick with salmon ($21), monkfish ($22) and shrimp skewers ($20). Or there are options including the hamachi ceviche ($10), a molded round mound of firm-textured chopped fish bound with a citrusy yuzu juice and studded with cilantro. A corn nut topping adds crunch and novelty.
End your meal on a sweet note with treats like ice cream from High Road Craft or the oversized square of tart and not-too-sweet key lime pie ($8) with fresh lime zest and coconut-flavored whipped cream.
Meat and Potato Kitchen and Bar, which opened in June, has a few kinks to conquer. Namely, reconciling the mix-and-match concept with a fine dining setting. Perhaps it would be wise to leave the pairings to the kitchen.MEAT AND POTATO KITCHEN AND BAR
Food: A twist on a steakhouse with combinations of meat and potato dishes.
Service: Friendly and very chatty
Best dishes: Rack of lamb, coconut curry mussels and fries
Vegetarian selections: Few options: salads and penne pasta.
Price range: $$-$$$
Credit cards: All major credit cards
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5-10:30 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5-11:30 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5-10:30 p.m. Sundays.
Children: Better not
Wheelchair access: Yes
Noise level: Low