Restaurant Review - The Cabin Room
Room to growThink about most Buckhead restaurants, and a standard set of images will leap to mind: flashy, cacophonous spaces. Eardrum-jangling clamor. SUVs lined up like matchbox cars at the valet stand. Swaggering suits plying nubile hotties with drinks whose flavors recall penny candy. Contemplate The Cabin Room, however, and the foremost vision in your head will be of ... antlers. Antlers and horns. They're everywhere. If the gnarly, bony growths aren't jutting from the noggins of mounted beasts, they've been wrapped around light fixtures for a disquieting Georgia O'Keefe-meets-Elmer Fudd effect. The avid hunter's look does not surprise me a whit. I've been whizzing by the low-profile location of this literal log cabin at the genesis of Buford Highway for years. The Cabin, as it was known prior to May, was one of those periphery restaurants I heard vaguely favorable reports on but never got around to investigating. New owners Jason Mullis and Paul Persichetti took over earlier this year, added the third word to the restaurant's moniker, and brought in chef Sam Buchanan, a CIA grad who spent time at the illustrious French Laundry in Napa. Buchanan reshaped the menu into "Bold Southern," a twist that got my attention: I'm always eager to explore any efforts toward Southern cooking in this transient town. But, as is commonplace in the food biz, Buchanan has already departed from his post there. He has been replaced by Atlanta native Nick Long, who was previously the executive chef at Red Chair and at Big Red Tomato before that. Long, thus far, has kept the new concept in tact, though during each visit our server informs us upfront that there are no specials because the menu is still in transition. It's inopportune that the restaurant must contend with a kitchen changeover so early in its new ownership. More unfortunate is that much of the food, as currently executed, is sloppy, unconfident and inappropriately busy. Oh, the selections certainly read beautifully. Steaks and seafood are paired with fun, down-home sides like succotash and tater tots and spoon bread. What is set in front of you, though, is often a head-scratching variant from what the menu advertises. It begins at the top of the meal. Among our starters is smoked ham hock ravioli, matched with tomato brunoise, garlic chives and rosemary cream sauce. Our server, a gentle soul with a Lisa Stansfield-like curl looping down his forehead, brings this dish out first. It takes exactly 1.5 seconds for the unmistakable stench of truffle oil to hit our olfactory senses. We can't even taste the ham hock. It would have been nice to mention that potent, incessantly overused ingredient in the description. I choose the quail entree for its accompaniments — spoon bread and collard greens. The meat on the two tiny, nekkid quail bodies is moist and pleasantly gamy, but the sides are atrocious. Adding sugar to collards does not enhance their flavor. And the spoon bread? Turns out to be a dry corn muffin. This is the kind of "transition" that diners definitely need to be informed about before they place an order. I wish those two dishes were anomalies rather than the norm. Smoked duck breast salad and wild rice salad looks fetching at first glance — a tight, concentric creation with duck pieces nesting in the center. But when I disassemble the packed round of mizuna greens, a jars worth of chewy, out-of-place sun-dried tomatoes scatter on the plate. Don't recall those being mentioned in the description either. And nary a whiff of smoke to the gray pieces of duck. You get the picture. Herb-crusted rainbow trout with spring succotash? Overcooked fish with nary an herb in sight. The succotash consists of carrots, celery and scallions — in essence, a preparation of soup base vegetables presented in unappetizing chunks. Speaking of soup, the lobster bisque has the chemical tang of commercial stock. A caramelized diver scallop and a drizzle of basil oil can do nothing to rescue it. Not everything disappoints. The salads — greens with pecan-crusted goat cheese and dried peaches, or spinach with a warm bacon vinaigrette — display someone's intuitive smarts for balanced flavors and textures. Steaks, a traditional highlight in the restaurant's former incarnation, have the requisite sanguine richness and are cooked as requested. Just quiz your server carefully about what really comes alongside your meat. If you've read this far in hopes of learning about a silver lining to this evolving eatery, I have one for you: the downstairs bar. Smokers and adulterers, welcome to your glory. After hours, the hyper-glossy bar with its wrap-around stone wall brims with off-duty office workers puffing away, glued to reruns of Will & Grace on flat screen TVs. I wanted to traipse through the back of the room with its deep, dark booths, but I felt compelled to give folks their privacy. The bar even has its own secret bat cave entrance off to the side. Antlers aside, the whole place has a sly, self-effacing wit to it that I find wholly refreshing. In the men's bathroom, there's a framed ad for Superstation TBS and CNN from 1982. It's a pic of Ted Turner holding a guitar, with a caption above his head saying, "I was cable when cable wasn't cool." Rock on, Ted. So don't write this place off just yet. Keep your ears open for word of improvement in the food department. If the kitchen gets itself together, The Cabin Room could become a breath of fresh country air for diners glitzed-out from Buckhead's overly citified restaurant scene.