I’ve had a few watershed traffic days in my soon to be 12-months of blogging. One of those days came from a little blurb about the devastating flood damage to Canoe, that effervescent contemporary American restaurant which sits on the banks of the not-so-mighty ‘Hooch. While the restaurant may or may not be in your daily dialect, it is almost always mentioned as one of the elite Atlanta restaurants. Further to the point, after roughly 14-years, Canoe has the longest legs in the notoriety department of any restaurant in the Vinings/Smyrna area.
Sure enough, there was a big outcry when word spread that the restaurant was forced to close because of ridiculously high waters (yes … that’s the absurdly high waterline). If there was ever any doubt as to its status in the “pantheon” of the ATL dining-scape, the public support that followed, which was swift AND substantial, would quell most any doubts.
Some two-months later, riding the hardworking backs of executive chef Carvel Grant Gould, special events manager Laurie Vance, and the rest of the team, Canoe is back. The excitement was pronounced enough to draw John Kessler’s attention, he returned to wax-foodetic in his last post of the awesomeness that was 30 restaurants, 30 days series. It’s a great read. Though I didn’t check it out until post meal, I noticed some subtle differences in the mutual dishes.
Anywho, when Papa Buddha and I headed over there for lunch a few days ago, something happened to me. I got all giddy like a school girl. You should consider just how disturbing that statement is … remember, I’m a straight dude. But back on point, regardless of the culinary experience that was immanent, I just got all warm and fuzzy inside. I wouldn’t be surprised if the same would happen for most any “culinarian” with Canoe on their schedule. That alone may make a trip there worthwhile.
Before we get too far deep into this, I should note that this was my first real foray into the food of chef Gould. Being that my last trip to Canoe must have been at least five years prior, Gary Mennie was running the show then. Gould was there, but in a supporting role. So new interior, new chef, and a long absence makes this a first impression. This calls for a …
Despite its cantankerous relationship with the surrounding area, Canoe has one of the best locations in all of the city. When the river waters aren’t creeping up the steps, diners have the opportunity to view one of the more tranquil views offered by any restaurant in the city. Meanwhile, the restaurant itself, while essentially the same as before, is slightly modified in tone and texture. Dark woods, heavy on the brick walls, and stone floors are reminiscent of the upscale feel that is Houston’s Restaurant. The interior dinning room still maintains its “open intimacy” and an exposed kitchen is always fun.
Just beyond the x-mas tree and bar is a windowed dinning area. It is where we were seated and a request worthy area of the restaurant. The view of the river is where all the cool people sit! This tweaked ambiance gives Canoe a bit more of a high-end feel where casual elegance is the norm. Nicely dressed ladies sporting well kept jeans were in full effect during our lunch.
My memory of what the food was is foggy at best, so comparative analysis just isn’t possible. What we have now is a contemporary American menu sporting touches of non-traditional dishes and high quality ingredients. At lunch time, the portion controlled entrées and apps are joined in the middle with a bevy of $10-$15 sandwiches. Though nothing on the in-season menu immediately struck me as ground breaking, several nice “well that’s interesting” were in place. The most notable of these for me was the duck pot pie.
An oyster whore if there ever was one, we were immediately drawn to the fresh oysters. The non-adventurous but über tasty choices were Malpeques and Wellfleets. You are welcome to order in any combination you’d like, but we stuck with the split dozen ($33). Laid out on an ice bed reminiscent of Superman’s Ice Palace and split by a dramatic piece of in house lavash, the presentation was spot on.
The menu mentioned cucumber-champagne mignotte (vinegar sauce) and fresh horseradish. What it didn’t mention was that the mignotte was already distributed over the oysters. Our order was also absent horseradish, not that it would have played nicely with the mignotte anyway. Some mention that oysters were dressed is a necessary fix. Something like that should always be noted on something traditionally served naked. Visually speaking, the rich but thinned out green tint help catch the eye.
The sauce itself was a modified version of what JK had (his was cucumber and pink peppercorn). No word on if this was a planned rotation, experimentation, or something else. I found our mixture to be both prominently intriguing yet somewhat overpowering. Precisely executed, the vinegar base was accented wonderfully by the bite of the diced cucumbers. Hints of champagne helped make a taste an eye-popper. However, by the end of my half-doz, I found myself scraping the oysters before I sucked them from the half-shell. Sure, the oysters themselves were not properly shucked, but not to a level that would (or should) offend.
At the end of the day, the oysters were some of the freshest and highest quality samplings I’ve had in this sub-Appalachian city. The bites were exquisite, and Wellfleets and Malpeques are usually agreeable to even the most sensitive of oyster eaters. The Malpeques were light-bodied and clean on the finish while the Wellfleets were a tad saltier, as they should have been. A more contrasting oyster might have been ultimately better if these were not dressed; but that aside, these oysters were excellent. I don’t mind kitchen dressed executions, but this was too heavy. Definitely order worthy.
Also on the table was a gorgeous plate of shrimp spring rolls ($7). Joined by a moat of a cilantro yuzu and served over a bed of house slaw, this was another sampling of hit and miss. The sweet sauce worked excellently against the oily wonderfulness of the spring roll. However, after each bite, I had an eery flashback to the days of store bought frozen stir fry. Somewhere in the bite, something just threw me off. Culinary explosion? No … but tasty and smile worthy … sure thang.
Entrées for us were the crispy rock shrimp ($15) and duck pot pie ($16). The plate of battered shrimp contained an army of the pawn of the shrimp family. The little suckers were fried properly, scooped of all poop, and somewhat muted in seasoning. The fresh slaw made this salad really bite well. However, I suspect the remoulade was in place to provide the flavor vehicle. Unfortunately, it was almost nowhere to be found. Still, when you did come across it, you were given a fresh and tasty bite … but one that lacked adventure.
The duck pot pie came in a wonderfully backed and crusty bread bowl. In it, you had duck with a gorgonzola and dried fruit frisée salad. The duck itself was perfectly cooked. Soft and tender, the meat simply collapsed at the bite. This softness was artfully offset by the bread. A thick and hearty dish, the sauce was a bit too much for the long haul. While individual bites showed well, there was a tad too much sugar and a texture that struck me just like it did Kessler: “ a little on the pastily-reduced-cream side.” Pappa Buddha liked the intrigue of the duck, but had a similar take away. Like the oysters before, the sauce was just too much in large quantities.
For dessert, we decided to take down an order of the famed lemongrass Mussels ($11). Our server Jim really earned his strips with this one. Without even the hint of sharing on my tongue, he wisely picked up on our communal dining habits. When served just a few minutes later, Jim had the kitchen split the order in half … hell of a move and that type of attention to detail REALLY MUST BE NOTED!
True to form, the mussels did a lot right, but also some wrong. A few too many of them were spoiled (didn’t open), and the flavor of the sauce was overbearing. During most every encounter with a mussel in broth, I find myself spooning the liquid into the shell to drive home the flavor as the mussel is delivered to my mouth. When dipped, my eyes popped in an adverse sort of way. Still, bites without any additional dipping went down fairly well (though still a little much on the lemongrass). The mussels themselves were cooked with a delicate hand. Each one that did find its way into my belly succumbed to textural perfection on my tongue, soft and yet buoyant.
It is most certainly notable that chef Gould was not in the kitchen for our lunch. This deserves a great deal more discussion than the tacking on its getting here. However, that information can be taken in a number of ways. Good, bad, or otherwise, our obscenely high priced lunch was a consequence of the massive ordering of high quality ingredients. The restaurant definitely requires a heavy bet, but the prices are not out of whack. A lunch here will probably run you around $20-$25 all in … it could easily go less and definitely go more.
Despite minor nuances, the menu plays it a bit too safe to really turn heads. While it may not be a show stopper, the ingredients are all super high-quality, and I could easily see meals here being exquisite. Did I love the food? No. I found the quality of the food to be pleasantly acceptable with a much higher ceiling.
All that said, the spectacular environment, the warmness and adept nature of the staff, and the very good showing from the food makes this a meal worthy of my time and money. The hard work that went into the backend should not be overlooked. The feeling you get from dinning at such a restaurant is enough to get me back, even if the food doesn’t light my fire.
Atlanta Foodies On Canoe
- Food & More on Canoe (11.30.09)
- The Quick & Dirty Dirty on Canoe (10.08.09)
- Blog Soup on Canoe (09.29.09)
- Dirty South Wine on Canoe (12.29.08)