Review: Abattoir

A love letter, of sorts

Dear Abattoir,

I’m so sad our time together is over. These past few weeks, seeing you every few days, taking the time to really get to know you, have been magical. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t come to love you, just a little. Maybe more than a little.

I’ll never forget that first time we met. I didn’t know what to expect, what with your name — so violent, so evocative! But when I walked into your dining room and saw the way you’d managed to take your ugliness and turn it into something beautiful, I was floored. Elements of slaughter — meat hooks adorning bar lights — wrapped into the comfort of farmhouse chic … there’s humor in that combination, as well as a deft intelligence that your family of restaurants alone possesses in this city.

People were shocked when they first heard your name. “Abattoir? What kind of a sick joke of a restaurant name is that?” they asked. But I always loved it, the boldness, the honesty.

And then your menu! Long (some say too long), varied, rife with everything that’s good about eating in the South. The vegetables, the food in a jar, the meaty, meaty meat. Two kinds of sweetbreads on one night, kidneys, tripe, liver! But also straightforward steaks and simply grilled fish.

And the wine! And beer! Miller Lite for $1.25? Rosé from Provence for $15 a bottle? How incredibly cool — the lowbrow answer to your upscale siblings. (You know I love your older brothers, Bacchanalia and Floataway Café, but I often feel too downscale to hang with them. Or at least my wallet does.)

I remember that first night, a giddy and slightly tipsy me confessing to my friend in the restroom as we adjusted our lipgloss in the mirror, “I think this is the restaurant I’ve been waiting for. I think this is the one.”

There are moments from that night I’ll always hold close in my heart, no matter what becomes of you and me.

That confit of mushrooms scattered over grilled sourdough — the musky, earthy, fungal essence ramped up and cooked down with salt and butter and richness. The snap and sog of the grilled bread — I could happily eat that dish for breakfast every morning.

The presentation of appetizers — fat, puckery pickled shrimp in a jar; perfect potted chicken liver and foie gras — made me want to get to know you better. All served with such thought on a wooden tray, every aesthetic detail attended to.

I’ll never forget your lamb sweetbreads, the organ's source unmistakable — lamby, creamy, and humming with sour plum and rosemary. It made for a foresty, almost Asian vibe on the palate.

You’re so clever sometimes, especially with vegetables. I adore how you leave the collards in crunchy strips to accompany the shrimp and citrus stew set off with chunks of smoky chorizo.

And later, after I’d gotten comfortable with you, I was happy to spend time doing quieter, simpler things. Grilled swordfish, cooked just so, with nothing but the bright red of grilled tomatoes and the bright green of fresh arugula to embellish the fish. It takes confidence to pull that off. Or your beet salad with housemade ricotta (although I could use a dose or three more of the ricotta than the stingy smidge you offer — the sweet and utterly perfect beets deserve it).

Now, this is hard, and I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but I have to be honest. I think there are places where you’re just not living up to your potential. (I know, I hate that phrase, too, but it applies here.) Those meringue and ice cream sundaes? I'm sorry, they're just too sweet. And that vinaigrette of local leeks? I never figured out how to eat it, the leeks were so stringy. I was left chewing and chewing for minutes on end. It’s just kind of inconsiderate.

And speaking of inconsiderate, while most of your waiters are super smart and eager, they’re apt to get flustered and neglect the most basic things, like filling up my wine glass. (Dang, I’d be happy if they just brought the bottle and left it on the table. Wine, oh wiiiine, where are you?) And, by the time I’m eating those fabulous maple bacon beignets for dessert, I don’t want to be looking at the scattered remnants of the mushrooms I was eating an hour and a half earlier. Can a girl get a table wiped around here?

Perhaps you just need to mature a bit more. Or perhaps you’ll always be you — a little rough around the edges, not as composed as I might like, but still the best damn restaurant in town at this price point. I hate to be so businesslike about it, but that might be what it comes down to. On the value scale, you win, my friend.

We are friends, aren’t we? I hope so. We have an undeniable chemistry, and I’ll always think of you fondly. Thanks for the memories. I hope one day we can make a few more. And if you ever decide to grow up, just a little, maybe we can take this relationship to the next level. I’ll be waiting, hoping for that day to come. And if not, I’ll always love you, just a little, for exactly who you are, right now.