Note: Every day for the next month, lead dining writer John Kessler will blog about a restaurant somewhere in metro Atlanta. It might be locally grown or a branch of a big chain, a favorite that deserves all the attention it can get, or a place he’s driven by for the past 15 years without ever venturing inside. Expect some surprises, some finds and advice on how to spend your dining dollars. This is his first report.
It says something about Atlanta’s progress that tourists and conventioneers can walk into a big, obvious restaurant on Peachtree Street downtown and get a good salad. This is what it looks like:
See those furled, crenulated leaves of Little Gem lettuce and those local cherry tomatoes? There are also some slivers of local radish, asparagus and Hakurei turnips to be found, all of it consorting in a bright vinaigrette.
Think about the last time you ordered a salad in a big downtown restaurant on a business trip. It was limp mixed greens from a bag with a cloying balsamic dressing, right?
White Oak Kitchen & Cocktails made a smart move in hiring Josh Hopkins to helm the kitchen. The former chef of Abattoir and STG Trattoria purchases the kind of ingredients you notice — which is exactly what should happen in a restaurant that bills itself as Southern farm to table.
Potted shrimp with tasso ham and green onion butter is, as you can see a perfect fat delivery system. Those dry toasts sit and beg for saturation.
Watermelon salad with pickled watermelon rind, cukes and ricotta-stuffed squash blossoms is a lively dance of fresh, rich and tangy flavors. The pan-seared grouper, above, teaches a master course in pan searing, though some might balk at the maybe-six-ounces-of-fish:$28-price-tag ratio.
The only miss is this bone-dry fried chicken wearing a rock-hard helmet of batter. It’s like the chicken version of that melted gold crown scene from “Game of Thrones. But, all told, the menu brings mostly good news.
So here’s the bad news: Hopkins will move on later this summer to Empire State South (where he’ll replace departing chef de cuisine Ryan Smith). I hope that owners Alan and Cindy Leblanc (who also run Max Lager’s Wood-Fired Grill & Brewery up the street) replace Hopkins with a chef who also demands good, local ingredients.
White Oak might work on training the service staff a bit better. Our server, a nice guy, couldn’t answer basic questions about the menu. He forgot to bring one of our desserts, which we pointed out when we were nearly done with the others. The dessert appeared just as we were about to ask for the check. I’m not one to angle for freebies, but I think he should’ve either offered to let us cancel the order or offer it outright.
I’m also not so sure about the “cocktails” part of the program. The signature “Atlantan” — a kind of cherry-flavored Manhattan on ice — would’ve tasted a lot better if it had been properly mixed. Better to focus on the good selection of Southern craft beers.
- by John Kessler for the Food & More blog