Tuesday, March 17, 2009

One (Midtown Kitchen) More Time at Craft Atlanta

I am the type of person who is always up for a challenge and up to be challenged. When I reviewed Craft Atlanta, I got challenged a bunch on my posting because I had reviewed the restaurant after only eating there once and during its first week of opening. I didn't say don't go there, I simply said that here is the experience you are possibly in for. I also challenged the universe to change my mind. I was not going to go back to Craft and spend MY money, but if someone (knowing full well what my experience was the first time) wanted to change my mind and take me to dinner there, I would be game. Well, my opportunity came just over a week ago.

I was in Atlanta for a grueling two weeks of work and my dad (who's girlfriend it was that I took to Craft the first time) was keen to try Craft ESPECIALLY knowing my previous review of the place. That made him more curious. He wanted to see if they had risen to the challenge or if they had not taken any steps towards improvement or even worse, gotten worse. We made reservations for Sunday night and I looked forward to hopefully having my mind changed. I mean who doesn't want a restaurant that is going to put you out $$$$ to be good?

But what emerged was the perfect setup for my evening at Craft. A throwdown. My coworked and friend Lauren whom I was staying with wanted to take me to her favorite restaurant and see if this foodie would agree with her opinion. In short, she wanted to impress me. We made reservations for Saturday night at One Midtown Kitchen and I looked forward to it greatly. She touted that they had the best calamari anywhere to which I mentally responded, I don't like calamari so it will be interesting to see what "good" calamari tastes like.

From the moment we walked into One Midtown Kitchen, I felt that sense of what I have harped on time and time again, that good service & attention can make or break the experience. We were greeted at the door and were asked our names and had a fun discussion with the two hosts, one of which (Bob) was so friendly and jovial, that you couldn't help but feel you were at your neighborhood joint where everyone knows you name. One is definitely not that kind of place, but it was interesting that that feeling could be pulled off in a super hip chic setting. I have heard that One if prone to being a meat-market on the weekends, but it seemed to strike a balanced cross section of couples, gussied up groups, people my parents age and friends of all ages getting together for a great meal. Bob told us if there was anything we needed we just holler and he'd come running. Even if his behaviour was completely contrived, he was convincing and so he achieved his goal of making us feel welcomed, relaxed and happy to be there. Our waiter was quickly around, Christo, I believe his name was and he followed Bob's lead of being thoughtful, attentive and on point. We ordered our drinks (I took a suggestion from him and went with the amazing Mint Julep ) and tucked in to our menus to see what caught our fancy. Lauren was insistent upon the calamari, so I decided to humor her and "try it again for the first time" we also got the pork and lamb stuffed cabbage rolls. By 8pm when our appetizers arrived and we were merrily sipping on our drinks, the place was pretty hopping but we were able to easily carry on our conversation without being drown out by a loud din.

From the moment the runner set the plate of calamari down on the table, I knew it was different. Instead of the anorexic looking fried bits that are usually passed off as calamari, these were meaty and thick, perfectly breaded with a spicy sauce. Upon first bite, my opinion changed about calamari. Or more, my opinion feel right in with Lauren's that this was the best calamari I have ever had. And possibly will ever have. The standard set with the plate in front of me was enough to make me never want to eat calamari anywhere ever again. And I probably won't, except when I come back to One (which I will be doing). The cabbage rolls were less successful than the calamari, but still delicious. We agreed that they were good, but they were missing an element. There were good layers of flavor, but it needed a kick to make the whole thing come together. The cabbage rolls got that when I dipped them in the sauce for the calamari. They were so close with the flavor profile, that all it needs is a minor adjustment to tip it over the edge from ho-hum to damn that was an amazing bite.

For our mains, Lauren ordered the Steak Frites and I went with the Smoked Brisket. It usually comes with grits on the side, but I am not a big fan of grits, polenta, ok most grains in general most of the time and so I asked to have those swapped out for the Brussel Sprouts with Bacon and Thyme Butter. Christo was picking up what I was putting down on that one and said I was one smart girl for making the swap since the Brussel Sprouts are amazing. I was looking forward to some Memphis BBQ style brisket and the vinegar coleslaw and could hardly contain myself with excitement. The runner brought out our dishes and before my plate landed in front of me, I knew they had mixed it up. The coleslaw had been omitted (noooooooo!) and the grits left. The brussel sprouts were there (phew) but I still had no intention of eating the grits. Lauren started on her steak and fries (which were both up to standard for a pretty standard fine dining offering) and I contemplated what to do. Before I had to muster up a complaint, Christo was back at the table asking how our meals were. He addressed Lauren first before looking to me. I didn't even have say anything before he snatched my plate up and said, "well that is just not right! Back in a flash". It was nice to see that he knew what was wrong without mention. That is some serious attention to detail in a restaurant that is serving a good deal of customers. The plate was back before I knew it and it was amazing. The brisket was expertly cooked and flavored, the coleslaw was vinegary just like I like it. The Brussel Sprouts popped with flavor but were not heavy. I was delighted. We capped off the evening with some Caramel Baileys Coffees and went home extremely satisfied. When I finally pulled my head up long enough to survey the scene at the restaurant, I realized how busy the place really was. But that impressed me even more. They had managed to make us feel attended to and special in an environment that is not conducive to that. Top that off with dinner costing us less than $60 apiece and I have to give this restaurant my full approval. I will go back and try it again for sure and hope it continues to impress and delight me. One threw down a serious challenge for Craft the following evening.

Sunday rolled around all too quickly and I headed out for the morning to run on the AT with my friend Christian. After a fun grueling run, I was ready for a delicious and hearty meal. I was still dreaming of my brisket from the night before and had specifically not had the new lamb special at One since I knew that Craft had lamb, which we were likely to try.

In short, I wish I could say that my opinion of Craft has changed. But it hasn't. In fact, we didn't just spend $250 on an average meal, we spent $500 and got smaller portions and less attentive service. We tried 3 different salads, had good cocktails. We got the lamb for the table (at $85), accompanied by jerusalem artichokes, baby carrots, brussel sprouts and sweet potato gratin. My dad and Fran had dessert of Pear Crisp and Chocolate Cake. We drank an expensive bottle of wine. The restaurant was sparsely occupied and despite that the service felt cold and impersonal. I write this so in brief because it almost feels like a waste of precious energy. The food wasn't bad, it just wasn't profound. It wasn't even particularly interesting. I prepare vegetables on a daily basis that are more interesting and flavorful (and to add insult to injury they made their vegetable sides smaller, which precipitated me ordering the carrots after the fact since I was darn hungry!). As I said before, it was not bad, it just was not $500 worth it. If there was anything redeeming in the experience, I might say "ok, maybe, maybe on a special occasion", but it just seemed average all the way around for the price. If I am going to eat a small portion of lamb for $85, I want it to be stepping up the plate with a legitimate shot of hitting it out of the park and being the best thing I ever tasted. This didn't even go down swinging.

In the end, One Midtown Kitchen wins the duel and I once again get reminded that I can trust my own judgment and palate at a restaurant. I was right on from the start about Craft (insert people jumping on me for only going there twice now....well, whatever.) and was more disappointed because I really had hoped that their missteps when I went the first time were really first week issues. Alas, they were not. The food was not bad, it just wasn't $500 good. If I am going to spend that kind of money, the food should be that kind of good. I would have rather kept the $500 and gone to One Midtown Kitchen 4 or 5 times instead. I concede that I am glad I went another time to get a better idea of the food, I am now even more glad that I don't ever have to consider or wonder about going there again.

One Midtown Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Craft Atlanta on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

  1. this is shocking to me, I have been to one several times and never thought the food was anything but above average. My one and only experience at Craft blew me away. What I liked most was the way the food was prepared, not a lot of heavy sauces and cheese and such, the true flavor of the food shine through. Definitely big bucks, and for me that means Craft is a special occassion spot. The brussel sprouts slayed me.

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