C & S Seafood And Oyster Bar Restaurant Review – Vinings, Atlanta, GA [First Impressions]

c-s-logo At first glance, C&S Seafood and Oyster bar is another in the long list of Atlanta restaurants that under delivers and over charges.  As with all first impressions, it’s hard for any single diner, myself included, to ascertain the differences between systematic failure and the anomaly of a bad meal.  If I had to venture a guess, I would say that my experiences to date at C&S include some failures on both fronts.

Open a bit over two-years, C&S has been a divisive entry in the Atlanta dinning scene.  Owned and operated by restaurateurs Rich Clark and Jon Schwenk, this upscale Vinings restaurant has garnered praise from a number of media outlets.  In fact, Atlanta Magazine named them the best new seafood restaurant back in ‘07.  The following year, AM called them the best seafood restaurant in the city while the AJC put them in the Top 50 overall.  Meanwhile, a number of patrons have let it be known that things aren’t up to snuff.  It seems for every person that loves this place, another finds it a failure.

Though reports as to the nature of each owners résumé are muddled in the press, Schwenk did indeed serve as a chef at Brasserie Le Coze (now F.A.B. in Downtown).  Beyond that, there are references to Atlantic Seafood in Alpharetta and the Atlanta Fish Market for the duo.  Whatever the case, given that type of playground, it is therefore no surprise that C&S is a high-end take on the oyster bar experience.  What is a surprise is the location.  Oddly situated in strip mall anchored by Kroger, it would seem that C&S is primed for the Buckhead neighborhood.  I must admit, once inside, the parking lot quickly becomes a thing of the past.

c-s-interior

The rich browns, frequent use of leather, and a handful of off-white elements create an environment that reminds me of a seafood bar with hotel undertones.  The shotgun layout leaves the “drinking bar,” 5-seat oyster bar, and open kitchen on the right.  Meanwhile, an island of booths sit comfortably in the middle, while the free standing tables against a half-booth line the left-hand side of the restaurant.  My only true complaint with the layout and decor is towards the back.  Stacks of chairs are stored in plain view (on the way to the bathrooms) and the service portion of the kitchen is on full display.

Servers march around, somewhat haphazardly, dressed to the nines.  This lends itself more to a Morton’s Steakhouse than an ACME Oyster bar.  I’ve heard from others that the service is friendly, professional, and drifts toward overbearing.  My experiences so far lead me to believe that it’s friendly, loose around the edges, and drifts toward sporadic.  I’m not adverse to informal service, even at a price point like this one; however, the touch of informality I’ve seen is a bit misplaced.  On more than one visit, I’ve had my paper menu lifted from the table, only to have a plate placed down and the menu returned so that it is awkwardly resting on the tableware.  Not the type of thing that has any real impact on my feelings about the experience, but worth noting nonetheless.  That said, taken in its entirety, unusual service experiences like that one do draw my attention.

c-s-bar I haven’t spent any time exploring the wine menu or the drink specials, so I must defer those comments until a later time.  Meanwhile, the lunch menu and dinner menu have a great deal of overlap and some different elements.  Items from the raw bar, the seafood cocktails, the hors d’oeuvres, the soup and salads exist in duplicate.  Amongst those, only the hors d’oeuvres came at a reduced price during lunch.  In addition, there was some difference in both the price point and the selection of the entrées.  The biggest difference in the menus is that during lunch, a number of sandwiches and entrée style salads are available.  At night, those sections fall away, only to be replaced by a small selection of dry aged steaks and some options for seasonal crabs and lobsters.  In what is total conjecture on my part, it appears that lunch menu, or a portion thereof, is available at the bar during the evening.  This is somewhat frustrating to me.  I don’t mind separate menus, but given the lack of separation between the spaces, it seems silly to tell someone at a table they can’t order a burger at night.  I’m sure it’s an attempt to keep the average ticket at the tables nice and high for the servers – and they do a good job of that [Unfortunately].

The majority of the menu forgoes cutting-edge ingredients and techniques.  Instead, Schwenk relies on traditional elements and straightforward delivery.  I actually appreciate the attempt here.  If I felt they did a better job with the food, I would not think twice about that choice by the owners.  Still, the short stack of steak options seem obligatory, and it is a disappointment that there are not more vegetarian friendly options.

To date, my experience has been limited to the shellfish.  Part of that is due to my absolute love of oysters, shrimp, clams, lobster, and the like … the other part just being that there is only so much one can eat during any given meal.  I’ve heard good things about the soft fish that lines the menu, and I might be willing to go try them.  Only time will tell if that happens.

c-s-raw-bar Speaking to what I have experienced, we have a mixed bag.  I’ve sampled roughly two dozen oysters at C&S.  The vast majority of them have displayed the traditional qualities of the individual varietal.  I won’t elaborate on each experience, as oysters are like the wine of the sea.  They are a complicated and diverse species that are worthy of their own post (hmmm … good idea!).  Unfortunately, I know at least two oysters have caused violent reactions in one of my dining pals.  This past meal, when we politely informed our server that one of them was most definitely bad, she provided a half-cocked explanation that made it sound like we didn’t know what we were talking about.  We weren’t looking for sympathy or a freebie, we just wanted to let them know what was up.  I smelled the shell afterwards, it was skank.

The rest of what I’ve had at C&S comes across in a similar manner.  That is to say that nothing was absent of at least a problem or two.  In order to mix things up, we sampled the cru du jour: a fluke ceviche.  One of the more forward thinking dishes, this was a pretty distinct failure.  The dish included sliced radish, coconut milk, jalapeños, and a touch of other ingredients.  Ultimately, it did not come together well.  Served in a martini glass, C&S fell victim to the same reality that Livingston does.  If you are going to use a glass to serve a dish, don’t use an abundance of sliced lettuce to make of for the small portion.  Meanwhile, the fluke was bland, the sauce was bland, and when the waitress assured us that there was jalapeño, we did a double take.

Other samplings included the lobster tail (more on that in a bit), the lump crab cake, the New England clam chowder, and the Oysters Rockefeller, and sides of the truffle parmesan fries and the mushrooms.  The lump crab cake was easily the best item we sampled.  Don’t be too shocked, we had some pretty big issues with it.  The cake itself was heavy on the crab.  It’s nice to see a seafood joint use the crab as the predominant feature; I’ve seen the crab hidden behind crumbs and butter more than I care.  The softness of each bite was unfortunately marred by the presence of champagne butter.  Used liberally, the bites with the butter were unnervingly creamy and a tad too sweet.  The capers did little to balance that out and the tomatoes were simply just there.   If you managed to corral some crab without the extras – you ended up with a really well prepared crab cake.

Things spiraled downward from there.  The Oysters Rockefeller had a great deal of potential.  The balance between the bacon, spinach, crumbs, and fats was great.  The bacon wasn’t excessive, but had become a bit chewy.  More profoundly, the oysters were baked beyond any reasonable recognition and were thus … severely burned.  If they weren’t overcooked, I would have been pleased with them.  The clam chowder was pretty shameful.  Armed with slivers of bacon, diced potatoes, and thick on the cream, it wasn’t the most visually appealing rendition that I’d ever seen.  The “fishy” taste (somewhat spoiled that is) was far from absent.  I would suspect wet that the broth base was fish; perhaps there was some clam juice used as well.  Whatever it was, too many of the bites were soured.  The worst examples came when you found a clam.  They were tough, chewy, and definitely pungent.  Obviously not the freshest of clams, the fact that they were chewy leads me to believe that they were simply left in from the early stages.  Clams should be added late in the game – they don’t take long to cook.

Last but not least were the broiled lobster tails.  We opted for truffle parmesan fries and the confit mushrooms.  The shredded parmesan was generously added to string potatoes.  Unfortunately, the truffle oil seemed lost, and the flavor of the diced scallions really clashed with everything.  Still, you could easily shake off the toppings.  What you were left with was nothing more than a thinly sliced French fry.  Meanwhile, the mushrooms were a joke.  I have no idea why the word confit was used on the menu.  What showed up was a tub of chunked ‘shrooms where by the inhabitants had been tortured by the flame for far … far too long.  More importantly, the same can be said of the two skimpy lobster tails.  For $45 and roughly 3/4 lb of lobster – this one really didn’t float well with me.

Start with the fact that they ran out of lobsters.  Not unforgivable, but certainly worth noting in a restaurant that is almost entirely del mar AND that we were eating around 7:30.  Even worse was the execution.  The tails had been broiled for so long that the shell was charred beyond what was to be expected.  As it would follow, the lobster itself had been dried out and was heavily peppered.  Given the cost, the amount of food (roughly 4 bites/tail), and the two poorly executed sides, I have to say that this was a significant failure.

Except for that fluke ceviche, I have yet to venture outside of the shellfish options.  Their inability to execute even the simplest of dishes leaves me hesitant in that department.  One meal there ran around $200 before tip.  Granted, that included a half-bottle of Vueve and four liquor drinks.  Even removing those elements, the price point here screams for a better experience.

While all the elements for a successful meal are there, it is hard to tell if C&S really has the chutzpah to pull this one off.  I really want to love this place; but I think that might be a bit of a stretch.  Return visits for lunch are not completely out of the question; however, without someone else to foot the bill, I am not sure I’m ready to surrender such a large portion of my paycheck for another meal here.

It seems like they have a dead-eye for the Lobster Bar.  Despite some significant problems with some of recent problems at TLB, I feel like C&S has a long way to go before they find themselves on equal footing.

NOTE: The images used in this review come from the C&S Facebook Page

C&S Seafood And Oyster Bar Restaurant Address & Information

3240 Cobb Parkway, Atlanta, GA, 30339 // 770.272.0999 // C&S Online Reservations // C&S Website // C&S Menu
C&S Seafood And Oyster Bar on Urbanspoon

Related Posts with Thumbnails
  • Rebecca

    Whenever I’ve dined at C&S, I’ve had a good experience. I don’t feel this “first impression” is very fair. Readers, I recommend that you try it and make your own judgment.

    • http://www.foodiebuddha.com foodiebuddha

      You may not agree, but that doesn’t make it unfair. Trying to post multiple comments from the same computer under different names doesn’t exactly make me feel like your comments are unfettered. Still, per the policy – you say it – i’ll allow it so long as you don’t get offensive or attack other commentators.

  • Mike

    Wow, a little over the top. We’ve been to C&S so many times we’ve lost count but we always remember the wonderful evenings including food, service and when you get around to it my wife and I think you’ll truly love the organic infused liquors! Sometimes critics get so deep they can’t enjoy a meal. Hopefully you and your guests can relax and enjoy your meal.

    • http://www.foodiebuddha.com foodiebuddha

      Glad you enjoy it; as I said, there were some strong points to my experiences there. The only thing I would note is that I’m not a critic ;-) I’m just a dude who eats out a lot. I can understand where you are coming from with the “relax” comment. It makes sense. I think that part of the issue is that when I write about these experiences, I think it’s important to be detailed. I’m actually far less of a tyrant than I might appear ;-)

      Still, I stand behind what I said. I almost always enjoy my meals because I find myself in good company and I enjoy the experience of going out. That doesn’t mean that I am always pleased with the establishment. For the price point, C&S has a lot of work to do. Even on a good day, I don’t think I see them as anything better than a par for the course restaurant in a community where the competition is pretty lax (seafood that is).

  • Jerry

    Wow! I’ve been to C&S at least 30 times and haven’t had a single experience that you’ve described. Quite the opposite, in fact. Maybe the cloud of pessimism dangling over your head stems from not being nurtured as a child, hence the Debbie Downer undertones in EVERYTHING you say. Or may God is just doesn’t like you and therefore prohibits you from truly enjoying anything. It also be clinical depression. Lastly, if you’re spending a substantial portion of your paycheck to “eat” at C&S, maybe you should stick to Long John Silver. I hear Taco Bell now has fish tacos.

  • Foodie Atl

    This is a ridiculous write up. Smirking, lurking and wrong. I have dined at least twice a month at C&S and it’s a gift to foodies of this town. The location is a central location for residents of Sandy Springs, Dunwoody, Midtown, Marietta and Buckhead. Great location, service is always gracious and we feel special everytime we are there.

    Now for the food, from the bread to their chopped salad, amazing soups, sandwiches, fresh shellfish and aged filets (the best in Atlanta) we have not had even a marginal meal.

    As a matter of fact, my clients, VIP’s, friends and family all crave their return to C&S. This is not spin, this is fact. I have gotten thank you’s time and time again from all who dine with me at with C&S. For shame, trying to compare and portray them as striving for excellence they have achieved already. Not that going to higher levels is not on their horizon, it is good to learn, improve and develop.

    I have aced more deals and impressed more people with C&S than any other restaurant in this city. It’s my sure thing for clients and foodie friends.

    But you missed saying that as many dislike it as like it. I have not had 50% like and 50% at all… more like 99.99% YES to C&S. This write up chock full of spelling errors. I just do not get who you are and why you consider yourself an expert. Clearly, the write-ups to date with qualified accountable media have been stellar. Thank God for qualified media and bloggers out there. One with no one to answer to is proving to be a scary thing for hardworking, dedicated, knowledgeable and gifted restaurant owners such as Rich Clark and Chef Jon Schwenk.

    Go taste for yourself, no one tries harder, serves it up better time and time again.

  • Michele

    I read this commentary, and I cannot believe that it is regarding C&S Seafood and Oyster Bar! This restaurant is one of the best I have been to in Atlanta. The food is amazing, and they offer great presentation and wonderful service every time I have had the pleasure of dining there. They have a superb selection of seafood options and a wonderful new type of liquor that is organic. I have recommended them to my friends and family and all have thanked me for the recommendation. I just couldn’t believe some of the comments…it was like I was reading about a completely different place that I have never been to because C&S is first class all the way! I got the feeling that Foodie Buddha had a personal agenda against one of the owners…it was that detailed and so negative. How could one experience be that negative??

    I say try it for yourself and see…C&S will impress!!

  • jonnymack

    Hmm, I never thought I would be one to defend a negative review but I don’t know that FB is out of line here. I’ve been twice (lunch and dinner) and found the service to be interminably slow and the food to vary from really good to not so much. For this price point I expect better. They absolutely killed one of their fish specials for me at dinner. For a restaurant that prides itself on simple dishes, to overcook your fish is unforgivable. I would have sent it back but since it took a full eon to get to me, I relented. I live right by so I’ll be back because the better stuff that I’ve had here is really good but there have been enough problems with both visits that I’ve got reservations about the place. Love the space though so I would really, really, really love it if they can turn it around for me.

    • rebelliousrose

      I’m with jonnymack. The one time I ate there, the service was laughable (the waiter repeatedly tried to pour me wine from my friend’s carafe (and it was mediocre wine- my fault, I let the waiter suggest it instead of choosing my friend a nice half-bottle) even when he was clearly instructed that I wasn’t drinking, and finally when I took the glass out of his reach on around attempt #4 (this little bugger was PERSISTENT) he spilled the wine all over my silverware and the tablecloth, and never bothered to replace silver or napkin. Finally I flagged down an SA for a new napkin.

      It was pretty clear that in the first two minutes the waiter had decided that out of the SEVEN tables in the entire restaurant (Wed night, 7:30) we were the least worthy of attention and probably weren’t going to tip. Pity that, since I am a restaurant person and tip like a mad thing and so does my guest. We left the waiter 15%, which was more than he deserved- later he took my silver, never replaced it, and had to be looked for when the runner served my steak (another part of the saga) since I had nothing to eat it with.

      The food was, to be kind, mediocre. And before anyone tells me that I should be eating at Taco Bell, or Long John Silver, the restaurants I prefer in the ATL are; Holman and Finch, Woodfire Grill, Muss and Turner’s, Aria, and their peers.

      My oysters (they were out of the Kumomotos I ordered, and when I asked the waiter to suggest the most similar, he gave me the creamiest, milkiest ones they had, nothing like the tangy cucumber of a Kumo) were full of chips, not grit, but shell chips. The cocktail sauce (which I don’t use, I like the oyster plain, maybe with a touch of lemon) was the flavor equivalent of Heinz chile sauce.

      My friend’s salad was fine. The bread was adequate and the butter remained frozen throughout the meal.

      Which brings me to my steak. I ordered (I think, it was over a year ago) a sirloin cut with peppercorn sauce. The steak was overcooked. Which I could have told the waiter, but by time he finished getting me served and disappeared, leaving me with the ice cold sauce (which also had no acquaintance with a peppercorn, ever) I had pretty much given up. When I got up and went over to the bar to get someone to get me silverware, I mentioned to the bartender that I think I had the wrong sauce- so the waiter shows up, whisks it off the table, and returns it- hot, and in the same sauceboat as before, and tells me it’s a different sauce. My potatoes were burned on the bottom and half-cooked (an achievement all by itself).

      To be fair, my friend’s New York Strip was the highlight of the meal; tender, juicy, flavorful, and delicious.

      But we never went back, and never will- why bother? If I want expensive mediocrity and barely adequate food, I’ll go to a Buckhead Life or Tom Catherall restaurant.

  • http://www.canvasfoods.com Chris

    Only recently found this blog and haven’t had much of a chance to read any of your archive’s, with the exception of restaurants that you have typed about that my friends own, So I really can’t speak to your ability as a credible source, or whether you are just a guy who likes to write about food. Both my wife and I are chefs and granted I have only dined at C&S one time, but I must say I was really surprised to read this commentary because your experiences were exactly the opposite of the evening we experienced. We have both worked our way through some of the top kitchens in Atlanta, so we know what we like and what we don’t, so take it for what it is but I would encourage your readers to eat at C&S and experience the great meal and evening that we did.

  • Hugh J

    I’ve been to C&S twice – oysters are best I’ve had between Grand Central Oyster Bar in NYC and Acme in N’ Orleans. Appetizers, sea bass, trout, filet mignon, cocktails, and desserts were grade A in my book, but enough about what I think. When CNN cuts to ‘what viewers are saying’, I change the channel. Who cares what viewers are saying? I tune in for what experts are saying, same goes for dining reviews.

    Any schmuck can write a blog (and many do). Sometimes they uncover an interesting new place, which is useful. I prefer reading Cliff Bostock, John Kessler, Besha Rodell, et. al. – not because their opinions are any more valid than ‘a dude who likes to eat out a lot’, but because a) they’re full-time pros, b) they eat out constantly and c)they tend to possess the writing skills necessary to make interesting reading.

    I’m not knocking foodbuddha for trying, after all he’s got a #3 ranked blog! That said, it is notable that his ‘doesn’t like it’ list includes: C&S, RA Sushi, JCT Kitchen, La Violette and Apres Diem – while his ‘likes it’ list prefers: Roy’s Cheesesteaks, Woody’s Cheesesteaks, Carver’s Country Kitchen and the Crawfish Shack. And his ‘really likes it’ list? well, Ann’s Snack Bar and The Varsity for starters.

    Actually, I also like cheesesteaks, Varsity chili-dogs and ghetto burgers – but if you’re inviting me to dinner and letting me choose the place from that list, my first choice would be C&S, then RA Sushi, then JCT Kitchen… Of course I’m ‘just a dude who likes to eat out a lot’, so who really cares.

    • http://www.foodiebuddha.com foodiebuddha

      I can only imagine that you are simply scrolling down urban spoon and reading that little blurb which they amend to my posts. Perhaps a perusal of what I actually wrote would help. Make no mistake, just because I don’t get paid to do this, doesn’t mean I don’t know my way around a kitchen (professional or not).

  • RockinDiner

    I’ve got to go along with most of the posters here. We’ve done C&S multiple times and our experience has always been very good. Mind you we’ve only done fish and not shellfish but the overwhelming negativity of the review seems out of place.

%d bloggers like this: