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30 Restaurants in 30 Days: White Oak Kitchen & Cocktails

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Grouper with summer squash, beans and broccoli puree

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:

IMG_7594See 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.

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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.

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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.

Fried chiken with pickled vegetables

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

25 comments Add your comment

theoriginaltruth

July 15th, 2013
3:18 pm

YUK………..

workingdowntown

July 15th, 2013
3:26 pm

I want to love this restaurant… I really do. If you are going to have a downtown restaurant – serving lunch – then, you have got to get the food out sooner. Most people take an hour for lunch (give or take). If your food comes out 45 minutes after you order well, then…

JB

July 15th, 2013
3:27 pm

looks like over priced tasteless art……… Go find something good to eat…. Start off with the meat and three special at the Hickory House in Dunwoody for petes sake. Some good food man.

Paul from Milton

July 15th, 2013
3:39 pm

Ate at Old Hickory House a couple of weeks ago. It completely sucked. Nothing to satisfy the taste buds like dry BBQ and watery, tasteless stew. JB, perhaps you can tell us when they will finally get the grease off the floor so the customers don’t go sliding around the restaurant.

As for the White Oak, I think the review is spot on and reflects our experience there. The service was inconsistent and whomever is running the front of the house needs to step it up or a new front end manager should be brought in as well.

Surelyyou jest...

July 15th, 2013
4:07 pm

…$28 for lunch?

Darin

July 15th, 2013
4:20 pm

Never been for lunch, but we’ve been at night several times to site at the bar for cocktails (or beer) and plate sharing. I’ve always liked this place. The interior is nice and the window view, particularly in the evening, is pretty. The cocktails I’ve had have all been good (I recommend the 1882).

But the service is hot or miss. I seldom see familiar faces in the service staff, even among the bartenders there seems to be a lot of turnover. And yeah, the prices are high. It’s Peachtree Street, though, so that’s kind of expected.

crackbaby

July 15th, 2013
4:39 pm

Thanks for the write-up, JK.

For those of us who don’t frequent downtown but have the need for occasional business lunches there, specific location info would help. I clicked the link and see they are across from the Hyatt on PTree – that was helpful.

Am I the only person who feels that placing cooked protein (meat, poultry and especially fish) on wet veggies / greens / starch is SOOOOO wrong. Seriously, doesn’t the moisture just ruin the crispy surface of the “master course in pan searing”? Who wants nice crisp fried chicken skin turned into a soggy mashed and gravy “wet band aid”. Bleh…

Sherry

July 15th, 2013
4:52 pm

Finally! Someone who knows how to write a proper review of a restaurant! Thank you. This is what sets the AJC apart from some of the smaller publications in the outskirts of the city. The difference between Monopoly and Candy Land. Oh, how I have suffered through their dime-store sentimental romance reviews of local places. I had a food blog a while ago and set it aside to pursue other interests, but now I am thinking of taking it up again. You have given me the encouragement to start again.

K-Ster

July 15th, 2013
5:16 pm

Wow…easiest way to land FREE FOOD for a month. “I’ll just write reviews as a story…they’ll surely comp my meals”.

Jess

July 15th, 2013
5:25 pm

I went to White Oak with a friend for lunch during the week. It took a long to be seated (there was no line), and the food took a long time to come out. The portions were unusually small and yet quite expensive. The atmosphere was nice though…

GSU Men's BB Fan

July 15th, 2013
5:46 pm

I hope he doesn’t ruin the chicken at Empire State South like he has apparently done at White Oak.

Baltisraul.....

July 16th, 2013
9:04 am

Paul from Milton…..Hate to hear that about the Old Hickory. Their stew used to be great.

If I want to pay $28.00 for lunch, I will go to Zaxby’s.

Grasshopper

July 16th, 2013
12:18 pm

I ate there about a year ago. Unfortunately it was very forgettable. I vaguely remember the fish (salmon maybe) sandwich was just that. Nothing else. Nothing else on the plate either. It was time-consuming and service was indifferent. Atmosphere was light and clean though.

I’ll have to give it another shot. Now that you’ve reminded me about it.

Ned Ludd

July 16th, 2013
2:38 pm

Been twice to White Oak with business associates. Both times for lunch. Great food but inconsistent service. Someone needs to let them know how important customer service is. General attitude was that this is our restaurant, have a seat, and we will serve you when and how we want. Works great if you were the only spot in town but there are plenty of options very close by.

Last good meal I had at Old Hickory House was on Piedmont.

JIMMYTOWN

July 16th, 2013
2:46 pm

Ryan Smith is the Executive Chef at Empire State South, not the chef de cuisine.

Daddy Daughter Dining

July 16th, 2013
2:57 pm

Baltisraul – I do not know what happened to Paul from Milton, but do not fret. The stew at the Old Hickory House is as good and thick as ever – and I consider it the best stew that I have ever had, anywhere, period. As for Mr Ludd, I do not know what he is talking about. The Black’s, who owned the original Old Hickory House chain, never had a restaurant on Piedmont. The original was on Northside Drive just south of I-75 and the Buckhead location was on Pharr Road, where the Fish Market now stands.

JK – While I do not always agree with you, on the whole I think that you do a great job and enjoy your work – and have found it particularly informative and useful. I think the 30 in 30 idea, with a wide spectrum of restaurants is a great idea. Thanks

Michael Colford

July 16th, 2013
3:17 pm

I recall a Hickory House location on Piedmont Avenue in the 70s, right where Cowtippers is located right now. While most Hickory House locations are all but gone now, I sure do miss them. Breakfast with BBQ was a special kind of treat!

Ned Ludd

July 16th, 2013
3:34 pm

Hmmmmmm—must have imagined the twenty years of eating at the Old Hickory House on Piedmont. Of course it could also be the fact that when Cowtippers opened they kept the old ‘menu mural’ painted on the wall. It displayed painted pictures of the menu and various items offered. May still be there—have not been to Cowtippers in some time. Difficult to believe one could attempt to discourse knowledgeably on this subject and not be aware of this very historic location.

Jessica

July 16th, 2013
4:06 pm

White Oak Kitchen’s food looks good (except that rock hard looking chicken). I’d be willing to give it a try on someone else’s dime (too expensive for me)!

By the way, Old Hickory House in Dunwoody is horrible!

Art

July 17th, 2013
8:43 am

JK, thanks for the review as always. Thanks as well for keeping this blog post, and I presume the other 29, outside the “pay-per-view” wall. As much as many have bashed the AJC’s decision to make money, I think it’s worth applauding the decision to offer your fine work for FREE.

Don Abernethy

July 17th, 2013
2:45 pm

Nothing is as good as the food you cook at home. All of these fancy places to eat is a waste of money. Get in the kitchen and learn to cook.

Steve

July 17th, 2013
3:07 pm

JB nailed it perfectly.

It looks like over-priced tasteless art. Though I would say it does probably have a taste, but probably nothing I would care to pay anything extra to taste. It’s like that guy getting all the rave for creating a ‘cronut’ in NY or whatever … who cares?

It’s bad enough we have beer and wine snobs .. now we have salad snobs. So sad.

GSU Men's BB Fan

July 17th, 2013
3:56 pm

@JIMMYTOWN,

Good maybe he can learn how to make better fried chicken.

Baltisraul......

July 17th, 2013
4:55 pm

JIMMYTOWN…….I am with GSU Men’s. In the South you must have not good but great fried chicken. An Ex Chef should have nailed this by now, don’t you think?

Rockerbabe

July 18th, 2013
12:33 pm

$28 is way too much money for too little food. There is nothing good about spending that amount of money and going back to work or home, hungry. So much pretense, so little delivery. But then again, I rarely go into Atlanta or Fulton County as I live and work in Dekalb and Rockdale. These restaurant critics seem to think the only establishments worth while visiting are on Peachtree Street and surrounding areas. Oh, but they do miss a lot! So this critic can keep is hype going; I will keep my money, sanity and good eats to myself.