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Atlanta revisited: One Midtown Kitchen

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Almost two years ago, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s chief dining critic John Kessler wrote an open letter to Atlanta chefs calling upon them to “up [their] game,” noting that “The standards aren’t what they used to be.” He issued a 10-part challenge to the restaurant community to boost the quality of the Atlanta dining scene.

In response, chef Nick Oltarsh, then leading the kitchens of Concentrics’ Lobby Bar and Bistro and Room at Twelve, wrote an Jenny-Turknett-Reviewopen letter to Atlanta diners, highlighting their role in supporting quality restaurants and chefs, thereby enabling them to accept Kessler’s challenge for improvement. He called for Atlantans to be more adventuresome, allowing chefs to express their creativity, and to support restaurants financially by dining out, especially on weeknights.

Now two years later, we find Oltarsh at the helm of One Midtown Kitchen, the 10-year-old Concentrics venture that has been the training ground for some of Atlanta’s finest, including Richard Blais, during its tenure. Having just made the move from Lobby earlier this fall, Oltarsh is still in the process of putting his modern-American-style stamp on One’s menu.

That’s the singular piece of the puzzle hanging in the balance. The restaurant has other key components in place — a warm interior glowing with test tube lighting and (mostly) professional waiters with knowledge of the menu and beverage program.

Kessler presented a mission (quoted below). Oltarsh chose to accept.

“Set high standards, train your cooks well, and if you don’t yet trust them to execute the food as well as you do, don’t leave the kitchen.”

Oltarsh has embraced this challenge, hiring a new sous chef at One and conducting a search for people who “are really into food, ambitious, want to learn and push the envelope.” During each of my three meals here, Oltarsh manned the pass directing the kitchen and inspecting plates.

Griddled goat cheese toast, a One classic. (All photos by Becky Stein)

Griddled goat cheese toast, a One classic. (All photos by Becky Stein)

“Each dish should be a story well told, even if it’s one that has been told many times before.”

Many of the restaurant’s longtime signature dishes remain on the menu, vestiges of the restaurant’s history. One such item includes the griddled goat cheese toast ($9), a thick and toasty wedge of buttery bread stuffed with goat cheese and completed with a velvety porcini mushroom sauce. The steak frites ($21) have also enjoyed a long run on One’s menu. The tender hanger steak with a rich red wine sauce and the slightly over-salted Parmesan-herb fries make it easy to see why. It’s also no mystery why the upscale Kit Kat Bar ($7), an overindulgence of layered chocolate and praline, remains on the menu.

“Dazzle us with your finesse: People go out to restaurants to eat the kinds of dishes they can’t make at home.”

Oltarsh calls Atlanta a “conservative dining town,” yet still devotes about 20 percent of his menu to “more challenging” dishes appropriate for foodies. Enter the wood-roasted bone marrow with toasty bread ($9) or the crispy pork trotters with pickled veggies ($9). Not too many folks are making these items at home (or in Atlanta restaurants).

“Don’t be afraid of sauce.”

One’s menu showcases a collection of sauces: red wine, Madeira, Romesco, brown butter. One of my favorites is the saffron fish sauce accompanying the pan-seared scallops, an umami hit with a subtle touch of saffron. I’m less enthusiastic about the arugula-walnut pesto with the tuna dish ($26). While bright and tasty in its own right, the pesto declares an all-out flavor war with the briny olive relish, pungent pickled garlic and heavy parsnip puree.

“Surprise us.”

In this part of the challenge, Kessler lamented the monotony of the omnipresent butternut squash soup. Rest assured, you won’t find it here. At One, the much maligned cauliflower makes its debut in a hearty soup. Playful additions like chorizo oil, bits of garlicky broccolini and brown butter pine nuts (say no more!) beckon you back for bite after bite.

Oltarsh also surprises us with flavor pops like the unexpected pickled cauliflower with the pan-seared trout ($23) or the sherry vinegar in the Brussels sprouts ($5 side).

“Show us your unique POV… Show me something that you, personally, in your most uncompromising state of mind, want to eat.”

One’s menu offers the obligatory burger ($12) with Gruyere and onion jam, and it still retains the restaurant’s signature dishes. Yet, Oltarsh continues to mold the menu to represent his contemporary American style. His favorite dish on the menu is a nice pink duck breast ($27), served with wheatberry for a pleasantly bouncy texture. While I would prefer crispier skin, all is forgiven after enjoying the duck’s red wine and sour cherry jus.

Two years and another restaurant later, mission completed.

ONE MIDTOWN KITCHEN
3stars5559 Dutch Valley Road N.E., Atlanta. 404-892-4111.
Food: Contemporary American
Service: Most are experienced and knowledgeable.
Best dishes: Griddled goat cheese toast, cauliflower soup, steak frites, Kit Kat Bar
Vegetarian selections: Appetizer salads; few vegetarian options
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Credit cards: Visa, Mastercard, American Express
Hours: 5:30-10 p.m. Sundays-Wednesdays, 5:30-11 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays
Children: Not a place I’d take mine, but there were some there.
Parking: Valet
Reservations: Yes
Smoking: No
Noise level: Moderate to high
Patio: No
Takeout: Yes
ratings_key_febUSE

8 comments Add your comment

Richard Mafong

December 20th, 2012
8:46 am

The restaurant is too noisy. The volume of the music could be turned down so one can carry a conversation and not leave eith a sore throat from having to scream to be heard.

Edward

December 20th, 2012
10:17 am

I think this is a great assessment of One Midtown Kitchen. It is certainly a place to frequent. I do agree with Richard about the noise, though. Turn the music down to a whisper and the diners wouldn’t then be required to shout, which then increases the noise even more, requiring even louder shouting. A vicious circle, indeed. A kitchen this talented deserves a better dining experience.

Ganners

December 20th, 2012
10:37 am

I love ONE. Bob welcoming me at the door with a happy smile is the best. I have enjoyed many different takes on gnocci over the years. Sitting at the bar is like having a front row seat in kitchen stadium. Great place to enjoy an evening with a great bar program, intersting menu and great staff—all the way to the valet fellas!

(the other) Rodney

December 20th, 2012
11:11 am

I have never, in 10 years of dining at OMK, had a bad meal there. As a matter of fact I’ve had some pretty fine meals there. My first chocolate pasta was at OMK (and I loved it).

It’s remained one of my favorite restos in the city. Nice to see it getting good press still!

A.S.

December 21st, 2012
7:43 am

Why does the AJC never talk about service in the reviews? Service is one of the three most important elements to the dining experience and somehow all the “expert” critics overlook that part of the experience. To say, “professional waiters with knowledge of the menu and beverage program” is weak. Be more specific. Add more information about the beverage program. It’s not all about the food.

Westy XII

December 21st, 2012
9:44 am

How about improve the beer selections on menus. First thing is remove all BMC beers and replace with locally brewed beers.

Us beer geeks are making this an issue.

Baltisraul.....

December 26th, 2012
8:23 am

Rodney,,,,,,chocolate pasta, two of my favoite foods…I just have to try that combo!

A.S……..service and the wait staff are mentioned in about ever article I have read over the years here. You said ‘it’s not all about the food’, yes it is!

Scot Krause

December 27th, 2012
9:44 am

The food at One is great. The service has been AWFUL during several recent visits, so I am now done with One.