This is a first impression if there ever was one. Thursday, May 21, 2009: the laptop closed, the door slammed, and I bustled my hustle over to Abattoir Chophouse just as soon as I could wrap up my 9-5. I’m such a restaurant whore! Thankfully, I had a little detour on the way over to the Westside of Midtown … I had to grab my dinner buds!
Abattoir is yet another in a long line of highly anticipated Atlanta restaurants looking to buck the economic trend. A down economy? Apparently, not here and not now. Abattoir, which derives from Francais, means Slaughterhouse. Sounds a lot more appealing, does it not?
The restaurant is backed by Anne Quatrano and the family that brought us Bacchanalia, Star Provisions, and Floataway Cafe. It seems to follow logic that the restaurant will be under the watchful eye of Atlanta gastronomes early and often. So, my little trio set off down the road, curious for what the night had in store. BTW, that horrendously obtrusive picture over yonder is a shot of the POS screen at the restaurant. It caught my attention from our table and I had to get a picture!
This is a bit long, even for me. Consequently, I’ve broken the review into two parts. If you just want to hear about the food – page down a bit.
a little background
For me, there are “essentially” two types of restaurant openings. On the one hand, you have those joints that open en masse and have no true buzz; rather, they come sort of fresh faced and wide eyed to the scene (think Verde Taqueria). I try to do a little research on those spots before I throw myself to the wolves.
On the other hand, you have the blockbuster movie. These are restaurants backed by some combination of super star chef, high profile owner, and/or media darling employee. Those aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. These are the places that I walk into without too much research. Since they almost always come from experienced industry folk, I like to give them a “blank canvas” so to speak. To put it another way … if I weren’t writing this – I wouldn’t be reading it until after I sampled the food. Ahh, but you are here for the goods … so let’s chat
For me, Abattoir is an ensemble cast. Part gastro pub, part farm to table, part tapas … the pieces fit well. Stylistically, the restaurant has a fresh feel with comforting undertones. As Mrs. H pronounced: “It has a fresh barn smell.” Don’t worry – no horsy butts here … this was a good thing. While my mother could easily dispense with the stylistic influences of this place, the interior design bug never fell to me. Instead, I’ll opt for the usual safety words: clean lines, understated decor, a mix of soft greens, browns and whites. Meanwhile, something distinctly country seemed to creep in. I am very much a fan.
To execute on the concept, which I’ll get to momentarily, Quatrano has brought in Josh Hopkins to be executive chef and Taylor English to serve as the understudy. Hopkins, who recently appeared in Jezebel, has been promoted from within. In addition to serving as the chief chef, Hopkins has taken a piece of the action. Little information is out there on Taylor, but I hear from the grapevine that she too has been in the family.
The environment here is a bit of a departure for the restaurateurs. This is easily their most affordable and casual restaurant to date. Still, Abattoir has an element of trendy-casual. A freestanding square bar sits by the entrance, followed by a 150-seat dining area and an exterior patio. We spotted a fireplace out back … nice touch.
The menu is centered around “whole-animal cuisine.” The idea is that meats are all freshly butchered and done so on-site. Ultimately, I consider this to be loosely based on contemporary Southern cuisine. While the idea is that no part of the animal will be wasted, let’s be honest … some of it is gonna get tossed. That’s not necessarily bad, it’s just an observation.
The menu, while explorative and thought provoking (lamb liver fritters), was too diverse for complete utilization of every “ingredient.” All that aside, I like where this is going. To put it another way: What Holeman & Finch is to the English Pub, Abattoir is to the contemporary Southern restaurant. I actually snagged a copy of the menu (which doubled as a placemat). While I was going to scan it, I had a momentary lapse of cognizant thought as it was folded and ended up in my pocket. Still, if you have any specific questions, hit up the comments section and I’ll be glad to answer any questions.
We pulled up to the restaurant pleasantly surprised that there was no valet. When I’m highfalutin, I’ll take the pomp. Outside of that, it’s just another unneeded service. Maybe it will show up later and/or perhaps it was on the other side of the building; but, I hope that’s not the case.
Abattoir is housed in the newly renovated White Provisions complex. Appropriately, this neck of the woods used to be Atlanta’s meatpacking district. Up a flight of stairs, Mrs. H. spotted a window covered with a diagram of a moo cow and it’s meat cuts. Good for a chuckle. Up the stairs we went, we were pleasantly greeted and promptly shown to our table. Soon after, a fresh baguette arrived. It was nice and hot with a perfectly crunchy exterior and a soft interior. Ah, the Goldilocks Principle rears its head … not too hard and not too soft.
You gotta start off the night with an apéritif, right? The dudes both selected the Moscow Mule. At $10 a pop, it’s a pricy concoction; however, the bartender showed well. Yeah, I know … the pc term is Mixologist … but come on now. Anywho, heavy on the liquor, this mixture of vodka, ginger beer, and lemon rocked. Mrs. H’s bee’s knees was sweet and tasty: gin, honey syrup, and lemon juice. All the specialty cocktails ring up between $10 and $12, a bit more than a good number of menu options. If you’re looking to get out of here for under $25 (which is easily possible), just watch the beverage orders. If hard liquor isn’t your thing, a handful of everyman beers (PBR in a can) come in under $5. The PBR rings up a deuce and a half for a 16 oz tin while the Miller Lite is a dollar twenty-five Bishop Nelson. [Warning: perhaps the most offensive audio clip I could link to – Adam Sandler and definitely NSFW]
So as we knocked back a few, it came time to order some starters. Divided into nine sections [Snacks, Salted|Cured, Food In A Jar, Local Produce, From the Wood Grill, Offal, Plates|Bowls], Cheese, Sweet], it’s pretty clear that the menu offers a mixture of sharable items and every man for himself (or woman as the case may be).
First up was the house salted cod with oven roasted tomatoes and capers. Served in a light broth that relied upon a seafood stock, this was my first bite of the evening. I went bat shit nuts. It’s not that this was the end all be all of dishes; rather, it seems that most every restaurant I’ve hit up inside of 2 days from opening has been really rough around the edges. If anything, I would say that Abattoir they were at worst rough around the fringes ;-). The broth was light yet flavorful and the cod was executed to the nth degree. I wish we had done a better job protecting the bowl while we waited for some more bread. Instead, our kind waitress appropriately removed the dish from the table at the exact moment all three of us turned away!
At the same time they served up the cod, she place a large salad bowl on the table. As a kind gesture to at least a few of the patrons, Hopkins served up the Summer Crisp as an amuse-bouche on steroids. The fresh greens came with a poached farm egg, brioche croutons, and a hint of EVOO (at least we think that’s what it was). Simple and straightforward, this was delish. The greens themselves were a bit tart on their own and the touch of oil worked very well with the egg, once it was broken and mixed in. When Adam cut the egg, the yolk oozed out and my grin turned shit eating. That’s how it’s supposed to go. Meanwhile, the brioche croutons gave a small hint of decadence. Damn fine on the execution.
The other starter of choice was the potted chicken liver. However, what showed up was the fried chicken livers topped with sweet pickled onion relish. It comes from the offal menu and the result was a friendly argument between patron and server as to whom was at fault. We were sure it was on us for not being specific, she said she typed it in wrong. Hmmm … I think it’s on us. Still, we kept the dish and were glad for the extra food. Of course, by the end of the meal, we were all rolling over because of the two added dishes.
The liver was top notch on both fronts. We suppose that the protein was soaked in milk for some time prior to preparation. Even if that isn’t the case, the resulting effect lends itself well to that theory. Usually, chicken liver has a very pronounced flavor. Here, that taste was reeled in just a bit. In the case of the fried chicken livers, that mildly pungent flavor played perfectly with the batter. Crisped as good as I would have expected, the sweet pickled relish rounded out the dish.
Meanwhile, the potted chicken liver was a curious case of yum. Mixed with foie gras and distinctly creamy (though not as much as the stuff at Paces 88), the concoction was nothing short of stellar. The foie gras helped balance a pate normally prone to a thick liver flavor. The sweet Armagnac was like delicious icing and the side of stone ground mustard was a welcomed accompaniment. It helped bring out the acids without muting the sugar. To help get the goods into our chompers, we all broke off bites from the table served baguettes. That they come from Star Provisions gives Abattoir an unfair advantage over many of its culinary “competitors.”
We were in a sampling kinda mood, so we came to a group consensus on our individual orders, intent to give each other ample opportunity to taste everything. I took the Kobe coulotte, Mr. H took the tripe stew, and Madame H went with the slow roasted pork. Adam and I couldn’t resist the idea of getting a burger… so that came too!
Since we were sharing, I acquiesced with regards to cooking temperature. I’m a medium-rare kinda guy – the folk are medium. So that’s the way we went. As the first bites hit my tongue, I gave an internal fist pump! Though I still would have elected the road less cooked, I was pleased. That Hopkins understands the difference between the various cooking temperatures AND knows when to pull meat off the grill so as to maintain proper composer should not be overlooked. What should be a basic skill seems to be a hard to find treat. Far too many chefs have failed in this department.
Though I’ve never cooked it myself, I have to assume Tripe is a chefs worst nightmare. It’s incredibly difficult to utilize without overcooking it. The stew was reminiscent of the one from the cod. The gentleman who dropped it off gave us an overview of the preparation. By that time, I was a few drinks in and my mental notation device was impaired.
If memory serves me, I believe they start off by brining the tripe. This takes a very long time. When that’s finished, they braise it for yet another extended period of time. Whatever the methodology, the dish was a hit (well … except for the lady – she thinks stomach is icky).
Adam and I were shocked. Again, not because we didn’t think they could do it … but because so many have tried and so many have failed. Still, tripe isn’t for the faint of heart … if you have someone with you who doesn’t know what it is – you might as well hand it over to them and make something up ;-) Adam didn’t do that … busted!
The slow roasted pork was my least favorite dish of the evening. I choose my words carefully. Notice I said least favorite and not worst. The dish was very good … just a little too “one note” for me. While Adam agreed, the Mrs. really dug it. Served over noodles and in a brodo, the pork almost disintegrated at the slightest touch. It was incredibly moist. Through some barbeque sauce on it and local pit monitors will have another serious competitor to deal with. Meanwhile, another farm egg showed up unexpectedly. A nice touch, but overall, the flavor here just didn’t move me. Still, executed well – someone else will come along and love this.
And we’re still not done, not by a long shot. Now for the Kobe coulotte (explain it a bit more). I’ve visited every major steakhouse/chophouse in the city. If the dish holds up over time, than this is easily the best value, with respect to a cut of meat, at any of those other places. While much of that is attributed to the cut, a much bigger player is the execution.
Coulotte (aka knuckle) is the cap muscle off a sirloin. It’s sans gristle and tendons, so it is tender. From a flavor perspective, it is unfortunately lean. Further to the point, only a competent grillmeister can do this. The lack of natural fat means it doesn’t take long to cook.
While neither of Adam nor myself would steak [sic] our reputation on it, we’d bet this sucker was moved from the grill to the oven. The crust was crisped and the flavors intense. The moistness of the meat, the flavor of the au jus, and the garlic cloves on top made this an absolute winner. I’m intentionally being non-descript here. I want to let others experience this in a manner similar to mine. That is – clean and unfiltered.
Last but not least was the burger. I get the feeling people will immediately compare this gourmet burger to its buddy over at H&F. Working off that “assumption”, and assumption is the mother of all f*ck ups, I think that is unfair and unfounded. While both are a somewhat “elevated” approach to the burger, they are really different beasts. I see H&F as a high brow, high value take on traditional methodology. Abattoir is working more along the lines of Flip. Granted it’s not as adventurous as those little buns o’ creativity, but the mixture is half beef and half pork. Regardless of what comparison(s) this evokes, one thing is certain – at least in our book: this was one damn fine burger. Cooked perfectly medium, my one notation is that it comes without condiments. Fine by me! Like it’s H&F brotha, I don’t think this meat needs or wants anything added … extrapolate a bit more. If you’re looking for a fatty, gut busting burger, this won’t hit the spot. However, if you are looking for a taste slightly left of center, check it out. At $10 and backed by some solid fries, this is a great deal. Again, ambiguity has it’s purposes (wink)!
Though I didn’t spend a great deal of time talking about the service, I don’t think I need to. I kept my eye on the servers all night. Clearly, there were a few misses; however, they seemed few and far between. Pacing was great, they gave us time to eat our starters and then properly digest what we had just guzzled down. If that was intended, it was well received. Others may like things a little more bang bang.
It seems that a reservation is in order. Though the hostess did squeeze in one walk-in party, they were very smart and did not seat to capacity. Nice to see a restaurant walking first.
In retrospect, I can gladly say that my biggest problem was with some of the other patrons and their obnoxious dining habits. While I’ll leave most of the details for the side orders, I’ll just ask one thing: please take off your baseball caps.
Price wise, our meal at Abattoir was extremely reasonable. Though a few dishes push upwards of $25, our three entrées totaled $45. All in, the bill was about $210 or so (aka $70 per person). Considering how much we drank and how much we ate, that’s damn good. A person can easily dine here for $25 dollars with one dish and a libation.
Though ultimately very different, something about this experience reminds me ever so much of the beloved H&F. However, while Holeman and Finch is more of a pub, this place is most certainly a full scale restaurant. For all their wonder, I am still bound to my mantra and my most burning question: Can they do this night in and night out? Inclined to say “more often than not,” I suspect this place will settle in do well, and justifiably so.
And to wrap things up, how about some more pics set to Ray?