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Baby One More Time

Checking in on One Midtown Kitchen, Plus a Last Look at Sundown

When my friend Jane, who lives in Washington, D.C., visited last weekend, I wanted to take her one place trendy and another exotic. The latter was easy - you can read about that next week - but trendy was a more difficult decision. After all, the moment something earns public description as trendy, it's no longer really trendy. By that time, the fanatical D&G bleached-teeth set has usually moved on and, if the restaurant is lucky, it settles into ordinary popularity.

That is what seems to have happened at One Midtown Kitchen (599 Dutch Valley Road, 404-892-4111, www.onemidtownkitchen.com). I was curious to return a couple of years after its opening to see if it had been affected by the opening of sister restaurant Two Urban Licks, reviewed this week by Food Editor Bill Addison. Both restaurants are owned by Bob Amick, who was a partner in the original Peasant chain here. Those restaurants were famous for appealing first to trendy intowners and then to a broad cross-section of Atlantans.

One, I'm happy to say, has retained its glamour, its great service and the mainly excellent cooking of Joey Masi. Indeed, the food is more consistent than the extremely variable fare at Two. My only serious complaint is about the noise level, but that's obviously intentional. You even hear chatter when you open the restaurant's website.

In our meal, the standout dish was Jane's grilled rack of lamb - she called it the best she'd ever had - served with wild mushroom risotto and a porcini demi glace. I should mention that the $22 price was the second highest on the menu and, for the quantity, any lamb lover would call that cheap. The entire menu remains quite affordable.

My own entree, a bowl of wood-roasted shellfish in smoked-chile lobster broth with andouille sausage and yellow rice, was perfect - except for the lobster pieces, which were on the mealy side. Wayne ordered the grilled hanger steak over parmesan-herb fries with a red wine shallot sauce and blue cheese. It's one of my favorite dishes here, even though the steak amounts to a garnish atop the towering mound of fries.

Among starters, my fave was goat cheese oozing out of griddled sourdough bread, served over sauteed wild mushrooms spiked with white truffle oil. A baby arugula salad - mixed with watercress and tossed with red gapes, walnuts and ricotta - pleased fussy Jane, who ranted five minutes about restaurant overuse of baby field greens. Wayne's salad was a take on your mama's - three wedges of different lettuces with buttermilk dressing, smoked bacon and blue cheese.

Desserts, surprisingly, were less impressive. Apple-cinnamon bread pudding needed a heavy shot of bourbon sauce; it was far too dry, even with its diminutive scoop of butter pecan ice cream. Wayne's tartufo - amaretto ice cream with a chocolate-truffle center, rolled in bits of chocolate - was the better choice.

The restaurant has a weird reservations policy as far as I can determine. I could not get a reservation on the phone, but when we stopped by - on the way to another restaurant on a Sunday night - we were immediately given a table. Seating at the bar was completely empty.

El finIt's been 13 years since Sundown Cafe (2165 Cheshire Bridge Road, 404-321-1118) opened and wowed Atlantans with the kinky Southwestern/Mexican cuisine of chef Eddie Hernandez. Only Nava has ever approached the quality of Sundown. But I've always preferred Hernandez's cuisine, at once edgier and homier than Nava's.

Even when Hernandez retired from full-time cooking at Sundown to supervise the kitchen there and at the restaurant's two Taqueria del Sol locations, the food has always remained unique because of chefs like the current one, David Waller.

This Sat., Feb. 26, is your last opportunity to eat at Sundown as a full-service restaurant. Declining business at the restaurant convinced the owners to convert it to the same kind of operation as the taquerias - tacos and burritos ordered at the counter, with a few specials - which have boomed since the day they opened.

It was hard to see much evidence of a decline in business when we visited last Wednesday night. The place was packed and manager George Trusler, aka "the Taco Nazi," explained that the restaurant has been swamped every night since announcing the change a few weeks ago.

We ate as well as always, though the menu has long been abbreviated. I started with a crispy-fried chile relleno filled with white cheese that oozed from its pepper into a pool of tomato frita sauce. Wayne picked a salad special - spinach with squashes and bell peppers in a roasted tomato vinaigrette with slices of roasted avocado topping the plate.

For my entree, I chose two big tamales stuffed with pork, one in a green sauce made of New Mexico chiles, the other in a red sauce made from mature chiles of the same type. It's one of my favorite dishes, sometimes available at lunch, which will continue to be served. Wayne chose a special burrito stuffed with beef tenderloin and two varieties of mushrooms with ranchero sauce. Black beans and rice rounded out the plate.

We felt nostalgic during dinner. It's hard to believe, but 13 years ago, it was still difficult to find authentic Southwestern and Mexican food in Atlanta. Now it's everywhere. What is less available without heading to Buford Highway, though, are authentic and creative tacos. We can't blame Sundown for making the shift, but we sure hate being reminded how rapidly we're aging!

More nostalgiaJane and I hit Anis in Buckhead for lunch last week. It was my first daytime visit to the restaurant in maybe a year. Our server, Bruce, coincidentally, worked at Sundown years ago, where he was designated "Best Waitron" in at least one "Best of Atlanta" issue.

Lunch is still delightful here. The hanger steak with fries features a more balanced presentation than One's, but this trip I ordered the French equivalent of chicken pot pie - a vol au vent with slices of roasted chicken, wild mushrooms and sautéed spinach. Jane had olive oil-poached salmon with ratatouille.

Follow your meal here with the restaurant's excellent espresso.

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



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