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Bonfire of the Vanities

Richard Blais reappears at One Midtown Kitchen

Friends of mine recently ate at One Midtown Kitchen (559 Dutch Valley Road, 404-892-4111), where Richard Blais - who has crashed and burned at two restaurants in the last year or so - is now chef. The two mentioned to him that they are friends of mine and, putting aside the chilling effect of their announcement, Blais allowed that he had not met me but was aware that I take "copious notes" when dining on his cuisine.

Well, yeah. I'll never be much on stringing adjectives together to describe my palate's experience of "good" or "bad" taste, but I do notice details and Blais' cuisine is about mastery of detail. It goes beyond the new preoccupation with local and organic ingredients. Its genius is truly aesthetic. Blais discloses the nature of the ingredients by playing with their forms in new, alchemical ways. At the same time, flavors are also rearranged, causing them to gain unusual clarity. In that respect, his so-called molecular cuisine, inspired by a stint at El Bulli in Spain, is thoroughly post-modern. That was on extreme display at his namesake restaurant, Blais, where countless courses of oddities - like the famous foie gras milkshake - were served.

I found the food amusing but I did not share other critics' wide-mouthed awe. I blame it on my generally dubious attitude toward the post-modern. I still want a center - something to hold a meal together that is more substantial than playfulness and novelty. And I knew Blais could do that because I had eaten often at his first venue here, Fishbone, which, since its closing several years ago, has yet to be equaled by any seafood venue in the city.

At Fishbone, Blais prepared fish with classic, flawless style and then added idiosyncratic touches. He seemed to be returning to that after Blais closed and he landed briefly at Bazzaar, but the menu there never took off with the flair and competency that both Fishbone and Blais had exhibited. Now, to everyone's surprise, Blais has become executive chef at One. To my taste, he is on the verge of accomplishing, if in an understated way, the kind of fusion of classic cuisine and molecular quirkiness that I found Ludovic Lefebvre cooking at Bastide in Los Angeles last fall.

One retains some of its standard main dishes. Brush them aside and go to the nightly specials and small plates, most of which are Blais designs. Pay special attention to fish dishes, since those are his specialty. Don't hesitate to grill your server about any dish. Our server, Hart Armstrong - Waitron of the Week - knew every detail of each dish. Another server told us that Blais is giving the staff a "completely new education." It's a good thing because, although there are a few dishes on the old menu I like, One has fallen behind its successor, Two Urban Licks, in terms of creativity.

We started with shrimp ceviche - a misnomer, really, for a dish that is a typical Blais deconstruction, if not an outright fantasy. It was three grilled shrimp over sweet watermelon and a few bits of avocado. A ribbon of creamed horseradish topped it. Have I ever tasted this combination before? No. And it works deliciously.

Another starter, tuna carpaccio, gives a classic new life. The thinly sliced tuna, rectangular in shape, was striped with wasabi cream and scattered with intensely flavored soy jellies and, um, rice krispies. Occasional bits of ginger added zing. In other words: deconstructed, extra-large sushi or sashimi.

Three specials were offered the night of our visit - an ivory salmon "BLT," corned duck and beef short ribs. The salmon was Blais at his best, witty and nostalgic without any compromise of the deliciously cooked salmon. The fish was topped with fried pancetta and buttered lettuce, served over whole-wheat couscous.

The corned duck was equally amazing. The kitchen arranges slices of the duck over spaetzel and bits of bok choy. It is sweetened with a dab of peach marmalade, but here's the kicker: Every now and then, amid the spaetzel, I encountered salty clumps of something like Pommery mustard that, a server told us, had been infused with squid ink. I tire of cloying duck dishes and, as far as I'm concerned, Blais has managed to temper the predictable sweetness brilliantly with this odd addition.

For dessert, we shared chevre cheesecake spiked with mint leaves and surrounded by glossy peach slices.

I hope that Blais continues to experiment and expand the menu at One. He and Bob Amick, the owner, seem a bit of an odd couple but, so far, they are making great music together. One's quirky but almost romantic dining room seems ideal for Blais' best cooking. At sunset, the big windows overlooking the greenspace of the neighboring water treatment facility look almost like Impressionist paintings. But I encourage you to eat at the bar where you can watch Blais and his staff perform their alchemy.

News

Gregg Herndon has joined Agave as chef. Owner Jack Sobel and Herndon worked together earlier as partners of the old Tiburon Grille. Agave will debut a new menu Sun., July 5. Examples: lump crab timbale in a mustard and basil oil, served over a tomatillo-cucumber gazpacho; a fresh veal, chorizo and green chile meatloaf with a mushroom demi-glace. ...

Shout checks in: "Every Sunday night, we will be offering all-you-can-eat pizzas and salad along with $1 sushi all night long. We open at 4 p.m. every Sunday. And on Mondays, at Twist and Shout, all bottles of wine or champagne are half-price." ...

West Egg Cafe chef Patric Bell is planning some interesting brunch dishes for July. Leading the pack of oddities is "barbecue pork Benedict" - pulled pork barbecue and poached eggs on crackling corn bread. An heirloom tomato and queso fresco omelet sounds tasty. I'll skip the pina colada french toast. ...

I'm pissed that Las Palmeras, maybe our city's best purveyor of home-style Cuban cooking, has closed. But I'm happy to report that Lucy Alvarez and Hilton Joseph have reincarnated the defunct Mambo as Mojito at the Wyndham Midtown Atlanta.

Leave Cliff Bostock a voicemail at 404-688-5623, ext. 1010, or e-mail him at cliff.bostock@creativeloafing.com.??



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