Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Restaurant Eugene

2277 Peachtree Rd. Atlanta http:/

Last night my friend Kelly and I had dinner at Restaurant Eugene. Kelly had recently devoted over eleven hours of her time to teach me to bake bread, and although she refused to allow me to properly compensate her for this service she finally agreed to let me treat her to dinner. I knew that if I simply asked Kelly where she wanted to dine she would end up choosing something cheap out of courtesy, so I bypassed a potentially awkward situation by sending her links to ten different upscale restaurants across the metro Atlanta area. Of these, she selected Restaurant Eugene.

As soon as I made our reservation I started getting really excited. Restaurant Eugene, which opened in 2006, is having a really hot year. The chef, Linton Hopkins, was named as one of Food & Wine magazine's Best New Chefs, and the restaurant itself has been nominated for the James Beard Awards (in the Southeast division, which includes GA, KY, NC, SC, TN, and WV). My gym buddy, David, is a big fan of the restaurant and thinks it's better than Bacchanalia, a bold statement. My friend Paul, a fellow foodie, confirmed this, although he thought the comparison with Bacchanalia was a little much.

Restaurant Eugene is located on Peachtree, a stone's throw away from the Peachtree Battle shopping center, home of Cafe Lapin (previously reviewed last week). They offer complimentary valet.

After making any lunch or dinner reservation I immediately access the restaurant's website so I may peruse the menu and make some tentative decisions. I did this a week prior to my dinner at Eugene's, and was surprised at the length and depth of the selections. Just as I was beginning to feel overwhelmed, I saw that the restaurant offers a 5 course and a 7 course chef's tasting menu. It has been awhile since I indulged in a tasting menu - I think the last time was in Charleston, SC in early 2007 - so I opted to go for it. Kelly agreed to join me.

The decor was warm, but not especially interesting. Although the restaurant was nearly full when we were there for dinner, the noise level was only moderate.

Before we placed our order, I inquired for more information about the 5 course menu. She informed us that we would be served the chef's selection of raw fish, cooked fish, protein and vegetable, cheese and dessert. Kelly and I felt this was a sufficient amount of food, so we consented. Next, our waitress asked if we had any food allergies, dietary restrictions or strong aversion to any particular foods. I told her that we were completely open to whatever the chef chose to serve us. She seemed very pleased about this, so I gather that the waitstaff is normally confronted with very picky diners.

Here's what I think about that: too bad for those people. Kelly and I enjoyed every one of our five courses. Beforehand we were presented with tiny white porcelain lionshead bowls of cold broccoli soup with chive oil, a very nice choice for a hot summer night.

The first course was a raw Alaskan white salmon accented with parsley oil, thinly sliced red onion, pickled fennel and tarragon. Fresh, unusual and tasty. Upon inquiry, the waitress informed us that the chef's specialty was pickling, and that his bread and butter pickles were especially good. I made note of this for future visits. Next we were served broiled snapper with Heirloom tomato risotto. The risotto was perfectly prepared, as far from gummy as the earth is from Neptune. It was topped with little sprigs of micro celery root, a nice and inventive touch. Our third course was a coursely salted beef filet with one appropriately crisp onion ring atop creamed Georgia greens. I think the greens were collards, but I neglected to get confirmation of this. Although I'm usually a big fan of greens, I felt that these were slightly undercooked. Our fourth course was a local Cow's milk cheese, accompanied by micro arugula, hazelnuts and a carrot-based pistou which was simply sublime. I had to keep myself from scraping the plate, so good was this pistou.

Kelly and I ordered coffee before the dessert and were pleased to see that it came with clumps of raw sugar in addition to the usual choices of refined white sugar and artificial sweeteners. We were given several minutes alone with our coffee before the dessert arrived. The reason I am mentioning this is because I felt that the timing of the meal was perfect throughout. At no point were we rushed, nor did we have to wait very long for the next course to arrive. I especially appreciated the time to allow my coffee to cool so I could sufficiently enjoy it with my dessert, as opposed to after completely consuming it.

Dessert, our fifth and final course, was a buttermilk panna cotta topped with raspberry sorbet. It was highlighted with raspberry and lemongrass sauces. Chef Hopkins apparently has no fear of pairing oils and sauces with every single dish on his tasting menus. I think this is a great trait in a chef. While I'm not a huge panna cotta fan (due to it's nearly Jello-like consistency) I did particularly enjoy this version, which I feel especially benefited from the fresh and tart flavors of raspberry and lemongrass.

Verdict: A thoroughly wonderful meal. Interesting combinations, beautiful presentation and warm service from the staff. Can't wait for an excuse to return and try some items from the regular menu.

1 comment:

  1. Let me begin by stating that I am more likely to try new restaurants for lunch. While I have had many delicious lunches in Atlanta I always ask to see the dinner menu. After reviewing most of these dinner menus I feel like I miss out on a chef’s selection, creativity and passion as they seem to really “let loose” for dinner.

    In this blog I leave all details of the appearance, atmosphere and the meal to my wonderful dinner companion, who was there on her triple mission of trying out a new restaurant with good food, adding Restaurant Eugene to her blogspot and to “compensate” me for happily spending some time with her in her pursuit of bread baking techniques.

    I felt very much at ease in the restaurant and could tell that I would be in a relaxed atmosphere. In other words, I was there for no other reason than to enjoy my meal. And happily, that is exactly what I did.

    I add my comments here:

    Our reservation was at 7:15 on a Tuesday. We were seated right after we walked in. The waitress was very knowledgeable and helpful as we did ask her a few questions about the tasting menu. My only complaint was that she was a little soft spoken (I’ll admit that I wear hearing aids and had them in that evening). However when most, if not all, of the explanation of a meal is in the spoken word, it is important that your audience hears you well. The tables were well enough spaced to accommodate just a touch more vocals.

    There is something to be said for a tasting menu. It relieves you of the anxiety of trying to pick the very best things on the menu - something I burden myself with when I go out to dinner. They know what works so let them do the thinking for you. That evening, Restaurant Eugene offered a very well rounded and delicious selection that showed the chef’s/kitchen’s capabilities. All courses were presented quite appealingly in their simplicity. Everything on each plate was delicious.

    My only criticism of the meal was the cheese course. While the pistou was excellent (and beautiful), I felt that the cheese was just sliced and put on the plate. It was a cheese course and we paid more attention to the pistou. I don’t know what you would do to present it any better. The cheese was of course delicious. Perhaps a plain cracker of some sort cracker or a petit pain placed between the pistou and cheese.

    Also, and very important to me, was that at the end of the meal it was the right quantity all together. I did not feel uncomfortable and stuffed. I feel there is something very satisfying about small and beautiful amounts of food and being able to “clean your plate”. For those with a larger appetite there is the 7 course tasting menu.

    I thoroughly enjoyed my meal and would enthusiastically recommend Restaurant Eugene’s tasting menu and as far as that goes, I would very much like to return and try some of the regular menu items.

    Going “dutch” of course!