Wednesday, July 21, 2010
1198 Howell Mill Rd., Atlanta, GA www.starprovisions.com
On Saturday the 10th Kyle and I had dinner at Bacchanalia. This was actually at the second time I had dined at the restaurant, the first time being 10 years ago when it was still located in the charming restored home on Pharr Rd. Several years ago it relocated to Howell Mill Rd., in the same shopping center as Figo, Taqueria Del Sol and JCT Kitchen.
For those of you who aren’t aware how Bacchanalia works, it’s a fixed priced restaurant. Your dinner will cost $75, and it will include one appetizer, entrée, “cheese and contrast” (more on this later) and dessert. Your menu will give you about 7 or 8 choices for each course. There’s an optional salad course which will cost you an additional $10, and if you really want to blow your bank account you can allow the restaurant to present you with wine pairings for each dish. Don’t even ask what your dinner will cost if you decide to do this.
Between my meal and Kyle’s, there was too much food to comment on everything without making this post a mile long, so I’ll just comment on the highlights.
Our first amuse’ bouche was gougeres, those wonderful, buttery little balls of barely cooked dough. They were phenomenal. We could have eaten an entire tray of these.
Appetizer: Pushing aside any moral reservations I may have about the “preparation”, I ordered the foie gras. It came with a variety of very tiny items such as blueberry jam, fresh blueberries, shaved dehydrated buttermilk and buttermilk dots, along with small brioche toasts. It was ridiculously good, soft and mouth-watering. I was surprised at the large portion size. The best foie gras I’ve ever had to date.
Entrée: Kyle ordered the steak, and felt it was good but not the greatest. Upon the server’s recommendation I had the Georgia Mountain Trout with bacon and chanterelles. I’ve noticed that many good restaurants in Atlanta pair trout with bacon lately. It’s a good combination, but becoming too common. The fish was very fresh, but there weren’t enough mushrooms and the bacon was a tad undercooked.
Now for the cheese and contrast. Each special cheese on the menu was paired with a contrasting food meant to bring out the best in each item. I selected the Pierre Robert with poached blueberries. The Pierre Robert is an excellent, very creamy Brie-type cheese with a strong flavor, almost like a blue cheese. It was beautifully paired with the sweet and colorful poached blueberries. Kyle opted for the buffalo mozzarella with basil and tomatoes (effectively a Caprese’ salad). He enjoyed this, and felt the tomatoes were especially fresh.
Dessert: Kyle was disappointed with his chocolate cherry soufflé, commenting to me that the cherries were bitter and the souffle’ itself too light, almost inconsequential. My blueberry tart, however, was perfect. The brown-butter crust was beautiful and super buttery, and the blueberries were luscious. It was the perfect size and texture.
When the chefs at Bacchanalia decide want to use a particular seasonal ingredient, you’ll find that ingredient in lots of the featured dishes. For example, my appetizer, cheese and contrast and dessert courses all contained blueberries. Kyle read another review of the restaurant from a diner who said he had strawberries in each of his courses. While I’m all for eating/cooking seasonally, this is a little disappointing. $75 (pre-tax and pre-tip) is a lot of money to lay down for a single dinner. When I pay this much, I expect a little more variety.
Be forewarned that you can’t just decide that you want to dine at Bacchanalia on a Tuesday and expect to get reservations for the following Friday night. Kyle and I had to make reservations over a month in advance to avoid eating at 9pm. Once you arrive there, you can expect to be seated a foot away from the next table. This will not be a romantic dinner – Bacchanalia is very loud when full (and I assume its nearly always full), and you’ll have to raise your voice quite a bit to hear your date speaking. Our service was very good without being intrusive.
So how does Bacchanalia measure up to other Atlanta establishments in its price range? According to Kyle, it falls short. We dined at Woodfire Grill in January (see blog history for review) and he felt the food, atmosphere and the service were far superior.
I had to consider this for awhile. My experience at Bacchanalia a decade ago was so fantastic that it was hard for me to give another place top billing, but eventually I had to admit that I preferred both Woodfire Grill and Restaurant Eugene over Bacchanalia. At Eugene, you will receive 5 courses (compared to B’s 4) for $10 less. Woodfire makes the same effort to include organic, locally-grown, seasonal foods without overwhelming you with any one ingredient. At Woodfire our waitstaff made more of an effort to describe the dishes and all their special ingredients. Like at Eugene, Woodfire charges $65 for the 5 course tasting menu. Bacchanalia trumps both their competitors in price without providing a better dining experience.
Verdict: Very, very good, but not the best. Somewhat overpriced.