Downtown French, uptown Chinese
Updates on Peasant Bistro and Chef Liu
When the Peasant Bistro opened four years ago across from Centennial Park, I wasn't expecting much more than a fancy-schmancy tourist trap. Instead, I had a <a href="http://clatl.com/atlanta/peasant-bistro-a-pleasant-surprise/Content?oid=1272478"http://clatl.com/atlanta/peasant-bistro-a-pleasant-surprise/Content?oid=1272478">terrific meal prepared by Chef Shane Devereux, a young newcomer from Philadelphia with a passion for French cooking.
His brandade, maybe my favorite substance on earth, was as evocative and sensual as any I've eaten anywhere.
It wasn't long before Devereux left the Peasant to join the guys opening the hip TOP FLR, which spawned the Sound Table and the Lawrence. He held the title of executive chef at all three restaurants. Now, although retaining partnership in the Lawrence and still cooking there most nights, he has returned to the Peasant as executive chef. His sous chef at the Lawrence, E. B. Brown, has joined him as chef de cuisine.
It's a kind of strange arrangement, eh? I'll leave gossip about the internal politics that provoked Devereux's departure to the rumor mill. I was just glad to have the opportunity Tuesday night to drop by for dinner alone. Devereux has cut the lengthy former menu in half and it's almost all French classics. My dinner:
Starter: Duck leg confit. Crispy and juicy, served with a compact fig mille-feuille and a peppery frisée salad with bits of pickled onion in a vinaigrette. The many-layered mille-feuille tasted almost like a blazingly-fresh Fig Newton. (That's a compliment.) Balsamic vinegar dotted the plate.
Entrée: Lamb cassoulet. At $30, it's the second-most expensive item on the menu, but it intrigued me because of its deconstructed style, new to me. The two chops, grilled medium rare, were served on the plate, separate from the casserole, that contained merguez sausage, along with the customary white beans and bread-crumb top (that most restaurants in town leave off the dish). Honestly, I'd prefer a straightforward lamb cassoulet or one made with the duck that was my first course. But I have no complaints about flavors whatsoever.
Dessert: Pecan sticky bread pudding. This dessert has been on the menu since day one and the name is pretty precise. The pudding, topped with vanilla ice cream is surrounded by a circle of caramel dotted with pecan chunks. It's plenty for two or just right for one with the appetite of two.
Service at the restaurant is flawless, seriously. Ask for Daniel.
I've been dragging a group of friends to restaurants every Friday night for over a year with the objective of educating their palates out of their long-established LongHorn habit. Mostly they've been positive in their reactions, although they do have an uncanny knack for going through the pages of Asian menus and unearthing the most prosaic dishes.
Last week, seven of us went to Chef Liu. This restaurant opened initially in something like a pre-fab shack in the middle of Pinetree Plaza. Foodies discovered its dumplings — especially the Shanghai soup buns (xiao long bao) — and went berserk. Eventually, though, people started looking up from their plates and noticed that the walls did not exhibit a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.
But never mind. That's why God made Wet Wipes you can carry in your glove compartment. Then, about two years ago, Chef Liu moved from the shack to the current location and foodies observed a sudden decline in quality of some of the several dozen varieties of dumplings. There were rumors of Shanghai boil-n-bags! (But were they authentic?) Then everything returned to slightly grimy paradise.
We ate a broad selection of the dumplings, including the juicy pork- and broth-filled xiao long bao, still my fave, but I also liked the lamb dumplings and the fennel with pork very much this trip. You might want to take some time to make sure you get an assortment of fried and steamed dumplings. It's easy to overdo the pork here, so mix up the fillings, too.
I ordered my usual leek pie — just try it — and, for the first time, the cumin lamb. Skip it. The shreds of lamb were completely overwhelmed by a mountain of sautéed onions. I had Peter Chang's mouth-morphing version of the dish in mind and got baby food instead.
As usual, most of my friends sought out the familiar — chicken-fried rice, sweet and sour soup, won ton soup, chicken and broccoli, Ambien, and Lunesta. It was all many times better than the Chinese-American clichés, and I have to say that the Kung Pao beef was flat-out memorable. But come on, people. Your mouths aren't six-years-old anymore. Wake up and taste the wine-braised chicken feet.