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Seven Lamps: A guy walks into a bar…or does he?

fielder

Bartender Arianne Fielder in her boozy lair (photos by Becky Stein)

“Expletive! If that stupid expletiver can’t expletiving bother to pick up that expletiving order then, well, expletive him!”

AJC Chief Dining Critic John Kessler writes about all cuisines.

AJC Chief Dining Critic John Kessler writes about all cuisines.

So says a red-faced man to his friend as they sit across a narrow table from me — a piece of furniture on which he sometimes bangs his fist for emphasis.

Next to me, a woman receives a dish covered with melted, bubbly, robustly funky cheese — the kind of cheese that smells like a dark and dirty place. It’s something I might appreciate later in the meal but, good Lord, I need a drink first.

I’m at the “bar” at Seven Lamps, except it’s not really a bar in the common sense of a counter behind which shakers shake and in front of which tipplers tipple. It is, rather, this long, high table that fronts a showcase cocktail staging area where mixologist Arianne Fielder assembles her potent concoctions. It’s a tight space, and so we sit cheek to jowl, the lady with the stinky cheese, the angry business guys draining the dregs of their brown drinks and me, wishing I could just disappear into my iPhone.

It lights up with a text. My friend is running late. Great.

Seven Lamps, the new restaurant in the Shops Around Lenox in Buckhead, has followed the lead set by STG Trattoria, the Spence and other edgy new restaurants around the country in banishing its bar. Without a counter obscuring it, the bartender’s domain begins to look like an apothecary shop — all shiny bottles and beakers, shrubs and tinctures — and plays up to the romance of today’s cocktail culture. Table seating encourages a sense of community. We drinkers are no longer the spiritual brethren of lonely businessmen at the airport Hilton bar, but hungry travelers gathering around for a shared experience.

Or so the theory goes.

Atlantans are not people who weave through crowded sidewalks or jostle each other on subways, so we’re not quite sure how to act at community tables. We don’t really grok the fine art of keeping our collective inside voices, respecting boundaries and yet eavesdropping just enough so that our mutual coexistence becomes a source of pleasure.

But we’re learning, and Seven Lamps might be a good place to start. While the evening started out like some new circle of dining hell, it improved dramatically thanks to Fielder’s inspired handiwork. She has that rare gift for cocktails that refresh through strangeness. She confounds and delights your tongue with unexpected flavors. The Snow White brings her take on the classic Bee’s Knees. She starts with a mixture of gin, lemon and honey, but then adds apple schnapps and a healthy glug of white ale. It is harmonious but weird, and lethal enough to knock a princess flat on her back. The Goin Back to Cali brings a whacked-out diva of a margarita — a tequila drink in a salt-crusted champagne flute that gets its effervescence from Sweetwater IPA. This bartender has a fresh, exciting voice.

Soon the angry businessmen have left. We have better neighbors and an iced tray of Watch House oysters from Virginia. The bar is crowded with people who buzz rather than shriek. We order more food, including a novel, delicious take on the lobster roll — here served in a gooey, springy steamed brioche bun, its texture cannily matching that of the lobster.

Chef/owner Drew Van Leuvan breaks down salmon fillets

Sous chef Conor O'Reilly breaks down salmon fillets in the open kitchen

Chef-owner Drew Van Leuvan has cooked around Atlanta for more than a decade, recently at One Midtown Kitchen and years ago at a little Midtown cafe called Toast, where many got a first taste of his fine homemade pasta.

When asked to describe his intention for Seven Lamps, he said, “It’s a bar, but it’s not a bar.” That makes sense, as the industrial, wedge-shaped room really does feel like a modern tavern. The plain wooden tables are set in cafeteria-style rows, shelves of bottles line the walls and, well, the menu appears to be dedicated to serving the kind of food that appeals when you’re drunk. Lots of cheese. Lots of rich, gooey things. Lots of dishes that read like a dare.

There's pork in them thar cookies: pistachio macarons filled with mortadella mousse

There's pork in them thar cookies: pistachio macarons filled with mortadella mousse

Example: pistachio macarons filled with mortadella mousse. We’re talking about sweet, creamy, bologna-filled cookies. If Oscar Meyer and Pierre Hermé were to join forces and develop a product for the citizens of Colorado or Washington state to enjoy after engaging in a perfectly legal activity, then this is what they would come up with. To me, the first bite seemed so wrong but perhaps kind of right. The second bite was just plain wrong.

I do admire Van Leuvan’s estimable culinary technique. He not only made the macarons, he made the mortadella. But I don’t always agree with his prodigious sweet tooth.

“I’m a pastry chef at heart, but I like to work in both sweet and savory dishes,” he said. He added, though, “I have been called out on this before. I love sweet, and I love acid. What I like to make is comfort food without parameters.”

His mostly small-plates menu features really terrific tortellini filled with cheese and chestnut, tossed in brown butter then festooned with apple leather and vanilla cookie crumbs. Pillowy potato gnocchi, as tender as any in the city, share a bowl with pear and gingerbread. Even the cheeseboard comes with pecan biscotti rather than bread, and the simple green salad features a notably sweet honey vinaigrette.

Chestnut tertelloni with apple leather

Chestnut tortellini with apple leather

Van Leuvan also prepares some killer rich dishes that might strike your fancy if you’re hankering for excess. At lunch he makes a crispy cheese sandwich that starts with brioche (i.e., bread that is one-third butter by weight) and saturates it with fat to fry to a perfect crisp. It gushes molten cheese, and there’s even an egg along for the ride. It’s a doozie.

Which is all a roundabout way of saying I personally could not warm up to Seven Lamps as a restaurant, even though I welcomed the edge and experimentation on the menu.

But once I realized it was a bar, albeit it one without a bar, everything kind of clicked into place. You go for a drink, have one too many, and then the bologna cookies proffer kink.

Meanwhile, I just got a call from Brian Lewis, the owner of STG Trattoria, the Buckhead restaurant that helped introduce Atlanta to this trendy new barless bar look. He wanted me to know he was adding seating.

“Oh, like a communal table?” I asked.

“No,” he said. “It’s going to be more of a bar. You know, a real bar.”

Ah, wonderful, I’ll be right over. Make it a double.

Seven Lamps: 3400 Around Lenox Road, Atlanta. 404-467-8950, sevenlampsatl.com

14 comments Add your comment

david c

January 31st, 2013
8:40 am

The Goin’ Back to Cali “fresh and exciting”? I was making those as a bartender in the early 80’s. Of course, it was in Cali.

Natalie

January 31st, 2013
8:41 am

The person pictured above breaking down salmon fillets is not Chef Drew.

Jasmin Scott

January 31st, 2013
8:53 am

Enjoyed my evening with the girls there. The Charcuterie never fails, a strong wine list and a cocktail menu that begs me to experiment; I enjoyed and will go back. It gave me the flavor of Flour & Water in SF, but without the 2 hour wait.

jaybird

January 31st, 2013
9:03 am

Also, the guy breaking down the salmon filets has no gloves on. EEWWW!!!

John Kessler

January 31st, 2013
9:11 am

It’s fixed, Natalie. Thanks.

RK

January 31st, 2013
10:34 am

Gloves? That’s funny.

Robert

January 31st, 2013
4:22 pm

Gloves??? Really?? Gloves promote cross contamination more than hands. Chef’s & cooks continuesly wash their hands without gloves. Everyone I’ve seen in a kitchen with gloves will wear them all day, and touch everything. Don’t ever leave Georgia, you all might be in for a shock.

Darin

February 1st, 2013
12:42 pm

“Atlantans are not people who weave through crowded sidewalks or jostle each other on subways, so we’re not quite sure how to act at community tables”

Obviously, you’re making a very good point about the majority of people in Atlanta, but I’ll kindly disagree with this as a blanket generality. There are many intowners (myself included) who do use the crowded sidewalks of central Midtown and Downtown daily and ride the crowded MARTA trains.

I think there’s a market, certainly not a big one but a reasonable one, for places that put people in communal settings here.

Some of the best dining experiences I’ve had have been at bars and communal tables in Atlanta.

[...] Seven Lamps: A guy walks into a bar…or does he? [...]

KP

February 3rd, 2013
9:41 am

I’m happy to see more of these kind of establishments coming to Buckhead. I enjoy Bones, Chops, Hal’s, The Palm, Fogo de Chao, Prime, New York Prime, Ocean Prime (did someone say Prime?), etc. as much as anyone, but not every restaurant in Buckhead needs to come with a tuxedo clad waitstaff and $300 tab for two. I was there on Friday for cocktails and a snack or two. The vibe was nice. I sat at the “bar”, and the bartender that served us was great about explaining drink ingredients and flavors without making us feel foolish. My wife and I shared three cocktails, and all were very good. They do get very creative here, but that’s frankly what I want if I’m going to spend $10+ on a drink. I can make a Jack and Coke at home. We also shared an order of rabbit and pork fritters (apparently just put on the menu), and if we weren’t headed elsewhere for dinner, I think we would have just ordered a half dozen more of them–they were addictive. We’ll have to go back for dinner some time with a group of friends. It seems like that kind of place–plus, we can all eat and drink there for under $300.

KP

February 3rd, 2013
9:46 am

Enter your comments here

KP

February 3rd, 2013
9:54 am

I am happy to see places like this one opening in Buckhead. I like Bones, Chops, Hal’s, The Palm, Fogo de Chao, Prime, New York Prime, Ocean Prime, (anyone else care to use the word “Prime” in their name?) as much as the next guy, but not every meal out in Buckhead needs to come with a tuxedo clad waiter and a $300 tab for two. I like the Vibe of this place. The bartender serving us at the “bar” table was friendly, and did a good job of explaining drink ingredients and flavors without making us feel foolish for asking questions. They do get creative, but I can make a Jack and Coke at home, and for $10 a drink, I like the idea of getting something different. We only tried the rabbit and pork fritters (apparently just added to the menu), as we were headed elsewhere later that night for dinner, but they were addictive. We’ll come back with a group of friends for dinner some time. Seems like that kind of place–and we can all eat and drink there for under $300.

Johnny

February 5th, 2013
7:50 pm

It’s actually state law in GA that food can’t be touched with bare hands when being prepared to serve. You can wear gloves, use tongs, etc. but you aren’t supposed to touch it.

Casey

February 5th, 2013
9:37 pm

I’m with you Johnny but unless someone ordered half a raw salmon, then that food more than likely wasn’t about to be served to anyone. Just saying.