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Atlanta revisit: Ray’s on the Creek restaurant review, Alpharetta

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Almost exactly two years ago, a gang of six former “Top Chef” contestants gathered in Atlanta to host a multicourse benefit dinner. Fans of the show will remember chef’testants like Kenny Gilbert, Tiffany Derry, Arnold Myint and Atlanta’s own Tracey Bloom. They were among the chefs putting their talents on show at Ray’s at Killer Creek in Alpharetta.

After an amuse bouche bite from each of the chefs, the dinner progressed through six additional courses. I remember only two Jenny-Turknett-Reviewdishes from that meal two years ago. One I disliked. The other was far and away the best course of the evening: sous-vide Kurobuta pork belly with a surprisingly smoky blueberry compote, an onion agrodolce and marcona almonds for light texture.

Although no actual competition took place that night, the elimination challenge winner would have been Bloom, representing Atlanta in fine form with the pork belly.

Over the course of her career, Bloom, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, has worked the Buckhead Life circuit, at Concentrics Restaurants and at the former Roswell restaurant Asher. Prior to her move to Alpharetta to work for Ray’s Restaurants, Bloom spent four years at Table 1280.

When I spoke with Bloom two years ago about her transition to Ray’s, she said, “There’s a huge learning curve moving from inside the Perimeter to outside. It is so different in many ways. The clientele is different.”

Now at two years into her stint, Ray’s at Killer Creek is ready to make some changes. First, the 12-year-old restaurant rebranded itself as Ray’s on the Creek. Bloom got a new kitchen, the bar had an overhaul and the dining room received a refresh. Lighter colors and coastal touches enliven the ski-lodge-style architecture.

Yet, the transformation was not entirely complete. At first glance, Bloom’s stamp is still missing from the menu. If anything, the menu has inched closer to mimicking those at its sister restaurants, Ray’s on the River and Ray’s in the City. Ray’s on the Creek is now less chophouse and slightly more fish house.

The menu contains Ray’s signature dishes, which can be found at each of his collection of restaurants. Dishes such as the well-balanced and hearty seafood gumbo ($5 cup/$7 bowl) and the New Orleans shrimp appetizer ($10) with a rich barbecue butter sauce both fall into this category.

Salmon at Ray's on the Creek (All photos by Becky Stein)

Salmon at Ray's on the Creek (All photos by Becky Stein)

“Baby steps,” Bloom says. Working under tight guidelines, she’s making changes … gradually. Take the shrimp and grits ($15), a nice version layered with a medley of mushrooms, bell peppers and a thick white-wine-butter sauce. With Bloom at the helm, it’s now made with the toothsome Logan Turnpike grits instead of instant.

The horseradish grouper ($29) also bears Bloom’s influence. She nixed the breadcrumbs and added a Meyer lemon confit for a lighter, brighter version.

She also switched things up on the classic New York strip ($32), a lightly fennel-and-black-pepper-seasoned steak with a nice sear. Instead of potatoes here, the meat shares the plate with Bloom’s pan-browned spaetzle with spinach and an assemblage of mushrooms — a fun addition that just needs a little salt.

As Bloom quietly tweaks the menu, her style begins to emerge. You may be unaware that she’s buying non-genetically modified products whenever possible. You may not notice the disappearance of gluten from certain dishes.

For example, the classic and addictive house-made chips slathered in a lumpy blue cheese sauce ($8) remain on the menu with one change. Bloom has tweaked this item, making it gluten-free by using real blue cheese rather than an instant packet containing modified food starch.

You may not realize that most items are made in-house, like Bloom’s signature pickled onions that often garnish dishes or the sweet and sour tomato jam. On the salmon dish ($22), this vinegary tomato and onion relish contrasts the oily-rich notes of the salmon and smoky bacon grits. I only object to it being served cold on top of the warm fish.

Ahi tuna tacos (All photos by Becky Stein)

Ahi tuna tacos

Try an original Bloom dish with the Ahi tacos ($12). Miniature taco shells burst with crunchy strips of cucumber and radish dressed with avocado aioli. Sriracha adds a touch of heat to the seasoned veggies layered with thick slices of fresh tuna. The tacos top my list of favorites here, although a little more acid might pull it all together.

After a little investigation, Bloom’s influence becomes more evident. While it may happen at a snail’s pace, Bloom continues to push the boundaries of a menu rooted in the restaurant group’s history and a clientele who expects to eat the same dishes they ate at prom. But, as Bloom notes, she has to tread carefully as she earns customers’ trust. “The whole thing could still take another year or more.”

RAY’S ON THE CREEK
1700 Mansell Road, Alpharetta. 770-649-0064
2stars5Food: contemporary American with steak and seafood options
Service: servers meet needs well while working in teams
Best dishes: Ahi tacos, salmon with tomato jam and bacon grits
Vegetarian selections: salads and sides
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Price range: $$-$$$
Credit cards: all major credit cards
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sundays, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays
Children: fine
Parking: yes
Reservations: yes
Wheelchair access: yes
Smoking: no
Noise level: moderate
Patio: yes
Takeout: yes
ratings_key_febUSE

13 comments Add your comment

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

Matt

March 21st, 2013
9:37 am

What I found most interesting about this story is that this purportedly high-end restaurant was using instant grits and packet cheese sauce. Who woulda thunk it?

Bill Price

March 21st, 2013
10:12 am

If they used packet sauces and instant grits I guess they probably use farmed seafood – rather than wild. A “no-no” for any decent restaurant.

Edward

March 21st, 2013
12:25 pm

I hope you two do realize that the new chef introduced REAL grits and REAL cheese instead of the previously-used instant and powdered stuff.

Matt321

March 21st, 2013
12:47 pm

Geez. After seeing how pricy the entrees were (15 bucks for shrimp and grits, 30 bucks for steak or fish, 10 bucks for an appetizer), I looked the AJC rating and saw that it was only $$-$$$. That’s on a scale of five $’s!

I don’t know how anybody affords anything.

On a related note, I appreciate the vegetarian selections part, but you’d do one better if you did vegan selections. This would also cover people with dairy or egg allergies/intolerances.

PJ

March 21st, 2013
1:12 pm

I’m glad to hear they are starting to let her expand. I have also experienced her creativity in the kitchen & know what she can do. If they let her loose, I would be there every chance I could get – it is so close to me!

esa

March 21st, 2013
2:38 pm

Matt can’t pay $15 for an entree or $10 for an appetizer but he wants the menu to be vegetarian, vegan, dairy and egg free. He marvels that such a restaurant is rated $$ – $$$.

If an appetizer is $10 and an entree is $30 that’s $$$ on the AJC price scale.

Matt, people can afford things because they learn to read and do something other than complain and spew unreasonable epectations.

Robert

March 21st, 2013
2:47 pm

I don’t know what they were thinking when they painted all that pretty stone on the outside of the building. It just looks like they’re half-finished with the job….not that that has anything to do with the food. It’s just a shame to ruin what was once a pretty good looking building. Maybe they should talk to an architect next time.

Nan

March 21st, 2013
7:35 pm

Too expensive for such unimpressive food. And I agree with Robert. It was a good-looking building, and now it looks like the painters stopped after one coat of primer. By the way, Bloom’s condescending opinion of her customers taste goes a long way toward explaining why this restaurant is so deathly boring.

Ann

March 22nd, 2013
12:48 am

“A clientele who expects to eat the same dishes they ate at prom”. Really? I am not sure if this comment is from the author of chef. As a North Fulton suburbanite for 9 years, after previously living in Midtown for 10, I don’t even recall what I ate at “prom”. I certainly don’t expert restaurants I go to now, as a middle aged person, to have the same entrees as 20 or 30 years ago. There are a lot of folks in North Fulton who seek out non genetically modified, organic and gluten free foods. Why do you think a store like The Natural Marketplace expanded to several locations in the area. Maybe I want places like the Varsity to serve the same traditional foods as several decades ago, for a bit of nostalgia on a visit once every few years. But. more upscale places need to wow me and be innovative. This chef sounds like she has the potential to do that and I hope she experiments more. If her food is good enough, the local clientele will appreciate it.

Melinda

March 22nd, 2013
7:38 pm

I’m excited to hear that they’re allowing the chef to use her creativity. I’ve had her specials, and they’re always dynamic. The suburbs need innovation, too!

[...] Atlanta revisit: Ray’s on the Creek restaurant review, Alpharetta [...]

Hello

March 25th, 2013
12:02 am

That prom comment was…ouch!