A restaurant review from the airport? Yup yup! My return flight landed just after 8:00 in the Post Meridian; the ideal time to go grab a bite. So I took the opportunity to check out One Flew South, the newly opened “fine dining” experience over in the E Terminal. Damn Delta for landing me in the A Terminal; alas, some exercise was in order. I tossed on my headphones, picked up my bags, and made the trek out to Hartsfield’s newest terminal.
Fine dining in an airport is hardly a novel concept. Why it took the world’s busiest airport this long to open a high end eatery is a question that remains unanswered. With a dearth of solid alternatives, a menu from chefs Duane Nutter and Todd Richards [his cool blog], and one heck of a friendly staff, this restaurant has the underlying elements of a successful endeavor. Though not without problems, this was easily one of the most thought provoking meals I’ve had in some time. While that internal dialogue may have been more about the circumstances than the food, I like a place that makes you think … whatever the reason.
The interior confirms what the name and sign tells you. One Flew South attempts to bring a touch of Pan-Asian flair to the south. The terminal side wall is nothing more than wood slats. Simple, clean, and bright, they allow passer’s bye the opportunity to eaves drop on your experience. It could possibly become a frustration for a nearby dinner as I saw more than a few people stop and peer through the openings during my meal. However, those oglers remained at bay and the diners continued their meals without interruption. One the surface, it’s a great way to intrigue the vast amount of foot traffic this spot sees.
As your eyes scan the restaurant, you can’t help but think you are walking into some sleek and secret little Tokyo jewel. The space is dominated by white and wood, sans the forest painted wall. White on white tables line the floor while a full bar (heavy on the wood) and marble covered sushi bar sit comfortably apart. Still, something about the decor seemed disingenuous. Maybe it’s just my knack for being a hard ass. I think they were trying to be too much like Wasabi while playing more upscale. I don’t quite get the “fine dining” feel everyone keeps talking about; but, I like the space and appreciate its statement of simplicity.
I was flying solo, so off to the sushi bar. Though her name eludes me, I was soon approached by a delightful server who remained attentive throughout the night. In addition, one of the sushi chefs was extremely approachable and very knowledgeable. We had some good chats!
My home was just a MARTA ride and a short walk away – thus – some booze was a necessity. I glanced at One Flew South’s liquors and spirits. I settled in on some Junmai Nigori / “Snow Maiden” sake. No hot sake here, which is just as well – I wanted a refreshing, unfiltered libation. That stuff hit the spot. While there were fruity undertones, the sake maintained a predominantly dry taste.
The name screams deep South; but, the decor and sign say otherwise. As I began to glance at the full menu, this playful relationship between two cultures seemed quite appropriate. At the same time, some elements seemed perfect for the time and place; while other elements (the sushi), seemed liked forced additions that made me go hmmmm.
Since the opportunity to return here will be anything but a spontaneous decision, I ordered an appetizer, some sushi, and an entrée. Gotta fill the hump while you can.
First up was the much discussed BBQ scallop. The order arrived with two ample scallops beautifully plated amongst a bevy subtle colors and ingredients. The corn was executed to perfection. It retained the naturally sweet flavor while the kernels maintained that textural pop I’ve come to love in my corn. The Sweet Water beer foam helped mute the sweetness of the aforementioned corn and BBQ sauce. This way, the sugars did not over power.
All in, everything played nicely in the sandbox. The scallops cut easily and carried with them that smoked barbeque flavor that I had hoped for. Ultimately, the scallops were slightly (and I do mean slightly) overdone. Not so much that it seemed overly dry; however, I felt the amount of sauce on the dish and not the protein itself carried the juicy experience. As a quick aside, rumor has it there was andouille sausage in there. I would have appreciated a stronger showing from it.
Next up was my sushi order. When I looked at the sushi menu (pdf), I was both intrigued and disappointed. I’m a sashimi guy thru and thru; that said, I do appreciate a good roll. The way the rolls were described on the menu seemed inspiring [Crunch Roll: rice wine poached shrimp, English cucumber puffed rice, bourbon eel sauce]. However, the delivery was made the description seem … well … a bit off. Though I would guess it vastly superior to anything those little sushi stands at HJ puts out, it showed up looking, and tasting, like Whole Foods sushi. What they call poached shrimp – I call steamed shrimp. The roll was far from bad, but even farther from the transcendent experience the menu alluded to. Though it might sound like I’m being unfairly harsh … I think this will all make sense at the end.
For the main course, I went with the braised pork and parpadelle. The dish came topped with pearl onions, pumpkin, capers, golden raisins, and spinach. The plate showed up, and while not quite as visually appealing as my scallops, it was definitely a “hey look at me dish.” The plate was filled with a golden cream sauce, topped with the parpadelle, and then the rest of the ingredients. Everything was cooked properly, I felt the portions, in relation to one and other, could have used some work. The pumpkin was used sparingly, yet the raisins were frequent visitors to my tongue. The dish continued down the path of sweetness. If you are looking to mix it up, I suggest you stick to either the scallop or the parpadelle, but not both. Again, that’s just a personal preference.
The pork came out tasting more like beef brisket than like slow cooked pork … an oddity if you ask me. Having been sufficiently spoiled by the parpadelle at La Pietra Cucina, I was hopping for some freshly made pasta that was al dente. This was neither, though still flavorful and pretty good by the time I realized what this restaurant really is (at least based on this one trip) … a victim of circumstance.
Here we get to the crux of the review; and unfortunately, an assumption plays a key role in my thoughts. As they say assumption is the mother of all f___ ups, so this thinking leaves me ideally exposed to the possibility that I’m putting my foot in my mouth. It really came to me as I perused the sushi menu. The proteins they use are like the five tenants of the “everyman” American sushi bar: crab, eel, tuna, salmon, shrimp. Where are the exotic selections? Well, if I had to guess: I’d say they are nothing more than pipe dreams of One Flew South.
Supposition in full effect, I thought a high brow restaurant located at the airport would have an easy time getting the best ingredients. The more I think about it – the less likely I think that is. I know chef Richards (not personally – just in the culinary sense). These guys know what they are doing, they care about what they are doing, and they want to do the best they came.
It would appear that their are limited by their environment. On the one hand, I want to get on them for being so aggressive with the menu despite a possible restriction on sourcing. They are not what they say they are. They should have known this from the start. But then I step back and realize that much of the pomp surrounding the restaurant is just your usual PR bulldunky. They are a victim of their own talents and desires; yet, so much better than anything near by. I’d love to see what these guys could do with farm fresh veggies and some high quality seafood.
The meal ran me about $70.00 before tip. Given that this is the airport, that doesn’t bother me in the slightest. Temper your expectations, and make sure to give yourself enough time to catch your flight. Better yet, do it like me and hit them up on the way back. The food is light years better than anything else at the airport, the people there are fantastic, and you can have an acceptable meal in a fun environment – if you don’t expect greatness.
just a note: restrooms are in the terminal and not the restaurant
ATLANTA BLOGGERS ON ONE FLEW SOUTH: