A recent dining excursion took me to the ever bustling Miller Union, a Westside eatery that has become one of the “it places.” MU is a restaurant that showed up on the scene roughly two-months ago and is currently in the middle of a love fest not uncommon around these parts. Some heavy hitters love it and judging by the packed house we witnessed, so too do the lay folk.
Since my first trip, some minor tweaks have been made and the operation seems well-oiled. That annoying service station has been moved, the bar is fully packed (with people and liquid delights), and service was even better than the first time [I believe our servers name was Paul … and he was beyond excellent]. I won’t take the time to reiterate much of what was said previously; the short of the long is that I love the space.
When a restaurant creates a seamless experience of flawless interactions, one is left to the company. In many a case, that is the true sign of a hit. Still, the food does play an important role, and here is where Miller Union comes up just a notch or two left of center.
The union of constituent elements into a cohesive menu is not an easy task. When a menu fluctuates not only with the seasons, but also with the days, the assembled conglomerate becomes an even more daunting task. Executive chef Steven Satterfield meets this challenge head on. Even if you don’t love the offerings, it would be hard to say that there isn’t a great deal of care and attention to detail.
With so many aspects done so well, where then are the faults? Ultimately, it is in the value of the experience. When Satterfield delivers a well-executed dish (like the rabbit over grits), your mouth salivates at the deliciousness. However, when left to sample some of the more pedestrian bites from alternative selections, that achieved excellence makes the straightforward that much less impressive. The high price tag vs the restrained portions aren’t the easiest to swallow.
A revisit of the grit fritters left me yearning for a more complex flavor (as implied by the menu). The ham was not there and the batter was just too soft. Still, these were creamy and revered my Ms. Tar Heel. Meanwhile, the steamed clams and bacon, while not the most inventive of executions, showed promise but ultimately fell short. The broth was absolutely flawless. Salty and crisp, it was prime for some of the delicious Holeman & Finch bread that was devoured several times over. The bacon and clams were as overcome with chewiness as I think possible. Saving graces were extracted from the middle of the bowl, but those clams were few and far between.
Entrées of the evening included a seasonal risotto, wreck fish, and the aforementioned rabbit over grits. The risotto was a true disappointment with its lukewarm approach, mushy texture, and undercooked rice. The wreck fish went down silky smooth but the accents of crusted sweet potato “hash” and collards held this dish back from being more noteworthy. If not for the sure-thing that is the grits, I’d say a dish like this is certainly worth a try.
So yes, our penultimate experience of the night was the heavenly delivery of pulled rabbit over an au jus of mushrooms a top of pile of stone ground grits. The one true nuisance might be the price tag, but that aside … this is a dish of inspirational simplicity. Delicious in every aspect and texturally invigorating, the lack of portion is made up for by the top notch execution. In the spirit of baby bear’s porridge, it had just the right amount of savory and just the right amount of sweet. Bugs has finally met his match.
Heading out the door on the heels of the wonderfully playful trio of ice creams (rosemary, thyme, and sage), you can’t help but appreciate most everything about Miller Union. Though there are some notable misses, there is a lot to be happy about. The meal we had (two apps, three entrées, and a dessert + 1 bottle) ran $180 for tax, tag, and title. $101 of that was for the food alone (before tip and tax); I continue to feel that the food needs about a 15% reduction in cost.
Still, there is a lot to smile about here and MU is one of the restaurants moving Atlanta towards culinary excellence. That rabbit is a must, and for it alone … make the trip. Hopefully with time, the remaining elements of the menu will come together to match the excellence that this establishment displays elsewhere.