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Review: One Eared Stag

A shot of much needed originality in Inman Park

The restaurant industry, like the music and fashion industries, tends to fall into ruts. An idea emerges, and then gets beaten (or eaten) to death. It takes a chef with vision to break out of the rut.

We are currently in a New Southern, farm-to-table rut. It's a pleasant rut to be in. But it's also, most definitely, a rut. Almost every new restaurant has a familiar menu and philosophy. There will be trout, and lots of pork, some inventive veggie appetizers and possibly a cute take on the deviled egg. All of which is lovely, if not a little boring. Where's the excitement? Where's the newness?

At One Eared Stag, the new restaurant from Holy Taco's Robert Phalen, boredom is not a problem.

To Phalen, One Eared Stag must seem like somewhat of a homecoming. An alumni of Shaun's, Phalen has reclaimed that restaurant's space for his latest venture. It's somewhat eerie pulling up to this storied corner where Deacon Burton's, Son's Place and Shaun's have all come and gone, each leaving a gaping hole in the landscape of Atlanta dining. Son's Place still stands empty, despite rumors of a vegan bakery taking over the space. One Eared Stag has changed little in look and feel since the building's life as Shaun's — more taxidermy on the walls is the only discernible difference. The long communal table still takes up the center of the main dining room. It feels chic and airy, the perfect neighborhood corner restaurant. Phalen has even continued the Shaun's tradition of serving things at the bottom of huge glass bowls.

And what you'll find at the bottom of those bowls is unlike what you'll find anywhere else in town.

Phalen's brand of inventive cooking seemed like a revelation when he first unveiled it at Holy Taco, the East Atlanta Mexican restaurant where he is also the chef. Without relying on gimmicks or molecular techniques, Phalen managed to challenge perceptions and palates with ramped up flavors and unusual ingredient combinations. Creamed corn was served with shaved lardo on top. A side of potatoes came punctuated with smoked trout roe.

At One Eared Stag, that challenge continues, but without the distraction of tacos. Phalen's inspiration here is vaguely Spanish and heavily Mediterranean, but boldness of flavor wins out above all else. A rabbit loin and fried leg comes with a salad of capers, radish and parsley, and a lemon to zap through the crunch of the leg's breading. Surf and turf here means tender, deeply flavored braised short ribs accompanied by mussels.

Rather than opting for salmon or tuna or even flounder, Phalen goes for the kill with whole grilled sardines, stuffed with Meyer lemon, black garlic and arugula. Sardines are a criminally underused fish, so charged with flavor that Americans have typically shied away. But those who love them know that beyond the low-tide smell lies a sweet, rich flesh.

Roasted Vidalia onions take a wickedly delicious turn when topped by Cabrales, a pungent Spanish blue cheese. A slow-cooked duck egg is topped with homemade hot sauce and hackleback roe, basically a heady black caviar. Hanger steak comes over romesco, with almonds and Padrón peppers as garnish. The small charred green peppers provide vegetal charm with the occasional spicy bite.

The entire menu is an exercise in boldness, in defying cliché, in taking a flavor and presenting its opponent. If the tussle that ensues isn't always 100 percent successful, it's at least an interesting ride. That hanger steak was a touch tough, as hanger steak can be. One of three sardines was undercooked one night. There's unevenness to some of the cooking here — Phalen comes across as more of a creative force than a perfectionist. But any inconsistency is made up for by the sheer pleasure of newness.

Which isn't to say that this food is particularly bizarre. Most dishes rely on a base of tradition. One of the best things I've had all year is Phalen's clams cooked in cream with bacon, potatoes, fresh field peas and peppery arugula. Ranging from soft to bold to saline to sweet, the creamy mishmash of flavors is both soothing and exhilarating.

Apart from a touch of perfectionism on Phalen's part, what could be done to bring this restaurant into the ranks of the city's best? I've heard tales from other patrons of lapses in service, which I didn't experience, in part because the restaurant was fairly slow each time I visited, even on a weekend night. Another factor may be that I'm known to Phalen and his crew, and was well and truly busted as a critic.

The wine list could use some work. It's fine — succinct, and with few surprises. As such, it in no way matches the rollicking ambition of the menu. Cocktails, too, are completely passable — creative, seasonal, thoughtful — but it would be nice to see something more revolutionary here as well. If we're breaking out of a rut, let's break out on every front.

One Eared Stag is a true original. As such, I worry for its longevity. But it's restaurants like this we should rally around as a city. Anyone can cook pork chops; it takes gumption, talent and originality to successfully break away from the pack.



More By This Writer

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Article

Monday March 12, 2012 02:31 pm EDT

  • James Camp
  • Double Zero Napoletana

Fado Irish Pub & Restaurant Tue., March 13, 7 p.m. Bushmills Whiskey Tasting. Fadó and radio host Rich Sullivan of 92.9 davefm are hosting a whiskey tasting. $39.95 covers a tasting of five whiskeys and six dishes. Master of Whisky Kevin Mulcahy of Diageo will be on hand to lead guests through the tasting and explain each whiskey to attendees. 20...

| more...
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*wikimedia commons
*He stank
What most Tar Heel fans thought would be an easy passage to the ACC championship game proved a little more difficult on Saturday afternoon. With Carolina forward John Henson out with a sprained wrist and his replacement, James Michael McAdoo in foul trouble very early in the game, NC State looked poised to dash everyone's hopes for a Duke UNC ACC championship (if Duke beats FSU in the second semifinal game today, that is - at half time it's looking far from guaranteed with FSU up 33-31). State had a lead as large as 7 points early in the second half, but Carolina came back to tie it up. It stayed that way right down to the buzzer, with UNC up by 2 with 1.2 seconds left. State just couldn't pull off that miracle. UNC won 69-67 

See? I can write like a sportswriter. 

But just because I can write like a sportswriter doesn't mean I want to. What I really want to say is, GODDAMN THAT WAS A CLOSE AND EXCITING FUCKING GAME. Also, Ramses the Ram is very, very stinky. He did a lot of his dancing right beside me, seeing as I'm at the end of press row right next to the UNC band, and by the end of the game that ram stank. 

Here's the thing: for a team with national championship hype, NC State shouldn't have given UNC that much trouble, even with one of their star players out. On the up side, State's performance proves definitively to me that they deserve a place in the NCAA tournament, which their defeat of Virginia on Friday is widely thought to have earned them. 

UNC Coach Roy Williams agrees that NC State ought to be in the tournament. At the post-game press conference he said "If I was on the NCAA tournament committee I'd fight very hard for NC State to be in the tournament. There's no doubt in my mind they're one of the best 68 teams in the country." He also refused to answer any questions before his players, Kendall Marshall and Tyler Zeller, had been addressed. "We need to get them back in the shower," he said. "They smell bad up here."

I'd love to stick around and see the end of this Duke FSU game, but I've got beer to drink! See ya tomorrow for the championship game."
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What most Tar Heel fans thought would be an easy passage to the ACC championship game proved a little more difficult on Saturday afternoon. With Carolina forward John Henson out with a sprained wrist and his replacement, James Michael McAdoo in foul trouble very early in the game, NC State looked poised to dash everyone's hopes for a Duke UNC ACC championship (if Duke beats FSU in the second semifinal game today, that is - at half time it's looking far from guaranteed with FSU up 33-31). State had a lead as large as 7 points early in the second half, but Carolina came back to tie it up. It stayed that way right down to the buzzer, with UNC up by 2 with 1.2 seconds left. State just couldn't pull off that miracle. UNC won 69-67 

See? I can write like a sportswriter. 

But just because I can write like a sportswriter doesn't mean I want to. What I really want to say is, GODDAMN THAT WAS A CLOSE AND EXCITING FUCKING GAME. Also, Ramses the Ram is very, very stinky. He did a lot of his dancing right beside me, seeing as I'm at the end of press row right next to the UNC band, and by the end of the game that ram stank. 

Here's the thing: for a team with national championship hype, NC State shouldn't have given UNC that much trouble, even with one of their star players out. On the up side, State's performance proves definitively to me that they deserve a place in the NCAA tournament, which their defeat of Virginia on Friday is widely thought to have earned them. 

UNC Coach Roy Williams agrees that NC State ought to be in the tournament. At the post-game press conference he said "If I was on the [NCAA tournament] committee I'd fight very hard for NC State to be in the tournament. There's no doubt in my mind they're one of the best 68 teams in the country." He also refused to answer any questions before his players, Kendall Marshall and Tyler Zeller, had been addressed. "We need to get them back in the shower," he said. "They smell bad up here."

I'd love to stick around and see the end of this Duke FSU game, but [http://clatl.com/omnivore/archives/2012/03/06/win-tickets-to-sweetwaters-brew-your-cask-off-and-try-xl-cls-40th-anniversary-ale|I've got beer to drink]! See ya tomorrow for the championship game."
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What most Tar Heel fans thought would be an easy passage to the ACC championship game proved a little more difficult on Saturday afternoon. With Carolina forward John Henson out with a sprained wrist and his replacement, James Michael McAdoo in foul trouble very early in the game, NC State looked poised to dash everyone's hopes for a Duke UNC ACC championship (if Duke beats FSU in the second semifinal game today, that is - at half time it's looking far from guaranteed with FSU up 33-31). State had a lead as large as 7 points early in the second half, but Carolina came back to tie it up. It stayed that way right down to the buzzer, with UNC up by 2 with 1.2 seconds left. State just couldn't pull off that miracle. UNC won 69-67 

See? I can write like a sportswriter. 

But just because I can write like a sportswriter doesn't mean I want to. What I really want to say is, GODDAMN THAT WAS A CLOSE AND EXCITING FUCKING GAME. Also, Ramses the Ram is very, very stinky. He did a lot of his dancing right beside me, seeing as I'm at the end of press row right next to the UNC band, and by the end of the game that ram stank. 

Here's the thing: for a team with national championship hype, NC State shouldn't have given UNC that much trouble, even with one of their star players out. On the up side, State's performance proves definitively to me that they deserve a place in the NCAA tournament, which their defeat of Virginia on Friday is widely thought to have earned them. 

UNC Coach Roy Williams agrees that NC State ought to be in the tournament. At the post-game press conference he said "If I was on the NCAA tournament committee I'd fight very hard for NC State to be in the tournament. There's no doubt in my mind they're one of the best 68 teams in the country." He also refused to answer any questions before his players, Kendall Marshall and Tyler Zeller, had been addressed. "We need to get them back in the shower," he said. "They smell bad up here."

I'd love to stick around and see the end of this Duke FSU game, but I've got beer to drink! See ya tomorrow for the championship game.             13066795 4986952                          ACC Tournament semifinals: UNC stinks (no really...they smell bad) "
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Saturday March 10, 2012 04:24 pm EST

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What most Tar Heel fans thought would be an easy passage to the ACC championship game proved a little more difficult on Saturday afternoon. With Carolina forward John Henson out with a sprained wrist and his replacement, James Michael McAdoo in foul trouble very early in the game, NC State looked poised to dash everyone's hopes for a Duke UNC ACC championship (if...

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Article

Thursday March 8, 2012 11:36 pm EST
NC State ended their first half against Boston College with a 3-pointer and then finished the game with TWO 3-pointers in a row to soundly beat BC 57-78. This made me happy. I've never understood what Boston College is doing in this conference in the first place. Also, NC State is such a great scrappy underdog team, I've always loved them. Here's how it works: NC State hates UNC and thinks... | more...
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On Tuesday, I asked folks to tell us what they'd like to see from CL over the next 40 years for a chance to win tickets to this weekend's Brew Your Cask Off event at Sweetwater. I got a ton of great responses, some hilarious and some thoughtful. But my favorite was this, by Steve Luxenberg:

Since newsprint is so passe, and the interwebs are dying, I'd like to see Creative Loafing be presented in a town-crier format, where the news, local restaurant reviews and "Are you Shaved?" are read aloud in public squares by folks sentenced for misdemeanors in Fulton and DeKalb.

Congrats, Steve! 

The runner up, who doesn't win anything but my undying love, is Nicole Wójcik, who sent an entry that included this:

In five years, will CL have a homepage compatible with my internet-ready Acuvue Konnectd contact lenses?
 
Later in life, will CL ensure that I'll be able to connect to Omnivore by simply gazing into my infant's eyes during a feeding?

That is so awesome."
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On Tuesday, [http://clatl.com/omnivore/archives/2012/03/06/win-tickets-to-sweetwaters-brew-your-cask-off-and-try-xl-cls-40th-anniversary-ale|I asked folks to tell us what they'd like to see from CL over the next 40 years for a chance to win tickets to this weekend's Brew Your Cask Off event at Sweetwater]. I got a ton of great responses, some hilarious and some thoughtful. But my favorite was this, by Steve Luxenberg:

Since newsprint is so passe, and the interwebs are dying, I'd like to see Creative Loafing be presented in a town-crier format, where the news, local restaurant reviews and "Are you Shaved?" are read aloud in public squares by folks sentenced for misdemeanors in Fulton and DeKalb.

Congrats, Steve! 

The runner up, who doesn't win anything but my undying love, is Nicole Wójcik, who sent an entry that included this:

In five years, will CL have a homepage compatible with my internet-ready Acuvue Konnectd contact lenses?
 
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That is so awesome."
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On Tuesday, I asked folks to tell us what they'd like to see from CL over the next 40 years for a chance to win tickets to this weekend's Brew Your Cask Off event at Sweetwater. I got a ton of great responses, some hilarious and some thoughtful. But my favorite was this, by Steve Luxenberg:

Since newsprint is so passe, and the interwebs are dying, I'd like to see Creative Loafing be presented in a town-crier format, where the news, local restaurant reviews and "Are you Shaved?" are read aloud in public squares by folks sentenced for misdemeanors in Fulton and DeKalb.

Congrats, Steve! 

The runner up, who doesn't win anything but my undying love, is Nicole Wójcik, who sent an entry that included this:

In five years, will CL have a homepage compatible with my internet-ready Acuvue Konnectd contact lenses?
 
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That is so awesome.             13066763 4974292                          Omnivore - Brew Your Cask Off ticket winners "
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Article

Thursday March 8, 2012 04:21 pm EST

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On Tuesday, I asked folks to tell us what they'd like to see from CL over the next 40 years for a chance to win tickets to this weekend's Brew Your Cask Off event at Sweetwater. I got a ton of great responses, some hilarious and some thoughtful. But my favorite was this, by Steve Luxenberg:

Since newsprint is so passe, and the interwebs are dying, I'd like to see Creative...

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Also, I'm at the ACC Tournament. Woo-hoo!!"
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Also, [http://clatl.com/freshloaf/archives/2012/03/08/acc-tournament-gets-going-at-phillips-arenaam-i-the-only-person-in-atlanta-who-cares|I'm at the ACC Tournament]. Woo-hoo!!"
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Also, I'm at the ACC Tournament. Woo-hoo!!             13066758 4973971                          Omnivore - Fresh Loaf has some stuff on it: Atlanta food deserts, me blabbing about basketball "
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Article

Thursday March 8, 2012 02:59 pm EST

A couple of things of note over on Fresh Loaf: Thomas Wheatley has a post up about the frightening U.S. Department of Agriculture's map of Atlanta's food deserts. That's deserts, not desserts, don't get your hopes up.

Also, I'm at the ACC Tournament. Woo-hoo!!

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