A long overdue visit to Serpas immediately reminded me of what sets apart a good restaurant from a great one.
There are only a couple of foods that I would categorize as disgusting….chicken livers and cucumbers. Then there are a few that I can eat, but generally choose not to, such as tuna, broccoli, and beets.
It is a rare restaurant that can make me want to eat tuna. Top Flr is one, Serpas is the other.
My first experience with Scott Serpas’ tuna tartar was at the opening media dinner. I would not have ordered it, however, our big table of food writers received a chef’s tasting of practically half the menu.
Many of the tastes were fantastic, but I was particularly enthralled with the chef’s tuna tartar, its tiny cubes of fresh ahi tossed with diced onion and green apple in a sweet and spicy sesame dressing. He served housemade potato chips alongside for scooping up the tartar, providing a slightly salty crunch that complimented the silky sweet tuna.
On a subsequent visit with B and our sad excuse for boyfriends at the time, we ordered several appetizers to share before our entrees. That is when I met the Serpas house salad. Butter lettuce, candied pecans, goat cheese, and his signature blistered grape vinaigrette. It’s just a salad, right? Not quite. Like the dressing on his tuna tartar, Serpas has a knack for sauces and such that is unrivaled. This salad makes me salivate.
A few other appetizers remain on the menu from those opening months like the delicious eggplant hushpuppies and savory crispy duck rolls. The chef’s Louisiana heritage is evident in dishes like chicken-andouille gumbo and flash fried oysters, both dishes he introduced during his long stint at Two Urban Licks. It is easy to make a meal of starters at Serpas.
After being snowed in for days, LC and I ventured out for a meal of modern comfort food. Chef Serpas’ approach remains unpretentious, stearing clear of silly trends, although I did see he added an appetizer of pork rillette.
The space is industrial chic with a dose of Southern charm. A mural that looks like billowing orange clouds at first glance is actually a photo of cotton. An open kitchen allows diners to see Serpas in action. There is a marked lack of chaos as he expedites orders.
Both of us were having a hard time deciding on drinks so we ended up trying a specialty cocktail made with tequila, pear compote and bitters. I considered a temperanillo or pinot noir but ended up ordering a Brooklyn Chocolate Stout. Well, they were out of the beer so my next choice was another specialty cocktail with gin and fig jam, a better choice than his. LC tried a Dixie ale later that he really enjoyed.
Thankfully, LC likes to share so we started out with the tried and true tuna tartar and the fried green tomato and crab stack. The tuna was as amazing as ever with just a hint of sweetness and a dose of heat that creeps up on your palate.
My history with fried green tomatoes is lengthy, having grown up in the South eating my Grandma’s, sliced thin with a scant cornmeal and flour coating. I often have issues with fried green tomatoes being served as an appetizer since they are really just like any other vegetable side, to be eaten with your protein. No matter, here they were, as an appetizer, all gussied up with crab and avocado, both of which I love. I had to have it.
The stack was comprised of two slices of fried green tomatoes layered with crab salad. One of the tomato slices was perfectly thin and tender, although a bit heavy on the breading, while the other was sliced too thick and therefore hard to cut. I didn’t find the avocado until the end, when a bit of it made an appearance, perhaps going unnoticed due to its hue being identical to that of the tomatoes, or it could be that the kitchen accidently went light on it. That’s a shame because I love avocado and it might have swayed my overall opinion of the dish. It was good, not great.
We decided to split the duck breast for our main course, along with the house salad. Again, I can’t even explain how perfect that salad is. The duck, cooked to medium, was stuffed with pecans and cranberries, then rolled and wrapped in bacon. Good Lord! Three pieces were placed on a creamy bed of pureed sweet potatoes with a hint of chili. I swear, there couldn’t be a dish with more bells and whistles for me than this one. It didn’t just sound or look pretty, it tasted gorgeous. And that’s coming from a chick that likes a crispy skin on her duck breast. I didn’t miss it.
Despite the duck being an obvious choice for me, I still had difficulty not ordering the jumbo sea scallops with Serpas’ rich and fragrant panang curry. LC considered the braised beef short ribs before I trumped him with the duck. A diner seated next to us had the gigantic veal porterhouse….I swear it must have weighed five pounds!
In an unexpected turn of events, we skipped dessert. On our way out I said hello to Scott. He’s such a genuinely great guy and knows by best friend B quite well. My next visit will undoubtedly be with her for brunch.
Three out of four dishes were stellar. Days later, I am still reliving the salad, the duck, the tuna. So, if I didn’t mention it before, that is what sets the good apart from the great and why Serpas is in my Top Ten list of Atlanta restaurants!
659 Auburn Avenue, suite 501 404-688-0040