Saturday, October 8th, 2011
Hard to believe my only visit to ESS was for lunch shortly after it opened. Having gained notoriety in Athens, Georgia, Hugh Acheson’s Atlanta baby was born about the same time as a multitude of similarly styled restaurants, all boasting their locally inspired, organic, farm to table philosophy…blahblahblah.
Yes, we love Miller Union, and 4th & Swift, and all the little cousins with a Southern drawl, but after a while, the mere mention of a farm sent me squealing like a stuck pig. However, good food is…well, it’s just good!
So when AD said we were meeting friends there for dinner, I was excited to return. After nineteen months of travelling the world, she is back in the states, visiting friends and generally causing mayhem.
BG and his wife AR, AD’s former colleague BK, me and LC were all late, finally being seated around 8:45pm, each of us ravenous. But first, we needed something to calm our frazzled nerves….a bottle of Cote du Rhone perhaps? Vodka martinis for the guys were in miniature glasses that looked more appropriate for after dinner cordials….I guess that’s why they ended up having five each by the end of the night!
Not as evident in Executive Chef Ryan Smith’s lunch menu, what sets ESS apart from its Southern counterparts is the intensely creative, if not somewhat bizarre pairings. Shrimp with Benton’s ham, okra, crowder peas, and bourbon sour cherries?
BG suggested we start with the steak tartare, a perfect choice since it is AD’s favorite. Not usually a fan of raw beef, I chimed in with the pork belly starter to share. A plate of bread and rolls were served with fig butter that was grainy and utterly flavorless, a sad condiment for the fantastic crusty artisan bread.
The two appetizers arrived, promptly attacked by twelve hungry hands. Crisp pork belly was served atop a generous helping of creamed kimchi rice grits. A sprinkling of peanuts and pickled daikon completed the unexpected, yet perfectly balanced composition. And it was awesome, but not nearly as awesome as the steak tartare.
With an equally weird description containing preserved lemon-caper emulsion, crisp egg (what is that?) and cheese puffs (Frito Lay?), I found myself wishing we had ordered six of these and nothing else. Turns out the “cheese puff” was a white crispy thing that resembled chiccarones. The “crisp egg” was a breaded and deep fried quail egg that oozed its lovely golden goodness over the creamy, sensuous steak. Raw meat is kinda sexy.
In a remarkable twist of fate, (almost) each of us ordered a different entree….trout for AD and BG, chicken and dumplings for AR, prime New York strip for LC. It was a difficult choice for me….duck or pork? Since BK chose the duck and promised to let me try it, I went for the Riverview Farms pork loin.
We coerced the last drop of wine out of its bottle and proceeded to reds by the glass, carefully selected by award winning sommelier Steven Grubbs, which could have contributed to the blurriness of the entree photos, but I can’t be certain.
All meat dishes were presented thinly sliced, like my pork loin with its eggplant puree. I didn’t notice any butterbeans or maitake mushrooms….perhaps they added heft and flavor to the puree, which I don’t remember at all. I do recall the pork’s smoky flavor, paired perfectly with a sweet chow chow made with burgundy wine.
I sampled two other entrees. LC’s steak was underwhelming, mainly due to the flavorless parslied farroto that was served with it. However, the pickled ramp jam that reminded me of delicious caramelized onions redeemed the dish. The best plate of the evening was BK’s duck, wisely paired with apricot mostarda, celery root puree, pak choi, and the unusual hominy….again, cooking outside the box.
We went to Vanquish for liquid dessert, drama and debauchery.
999 Peachtree 404-541-1105