It’s a place that Atlanta denizens want to love. It’s the type of place we should love. Ultimately, I’m not sure it’s a place that we do love. ENO restaurant in Midtown Atlanta has gotten a lot of attention in recent months. The majority of the hype has come on the heels of executive chef Eli Kirshtein’s recent trip to Las Vegas for season six of Top Chef. The restaurant got it’s second wind when word broke that Atlanta Hawks center Zaza Pachulia had come out of nowhere to purchase both ENO and the adjunct Barrelman Wine & Cheese Shop. Despite that potential boon to business, things haven’t really changed much recently.
That’s not to say that the restaurant as a whole has remained stagnate since its 1999 opening. Their days as a Mediterranean stomping ground are a thing of the past as the menu is now a cornucopia of highly conceptualized dishes that hint at the elements of molecular cooking. Though the menu is constantly in flux, the backbone of the experience is the wine. It is a constant point of pleasure for yours truly, and I’m not alone in that respect. [Amongst others, Atlanta wine blogger and current Murphy-Goode employee Hardy Wallace loves it!]
Still, this post is a little non-traditional as it is a balance between the singular experience of my most recent trip and the longstanding qualities that have been in place for the better part of the past few years. True to my modus operandi, I wasn’t totally sold on the experience. In fact, I walked away from the meal with one word on my mind: Interesting. Mind you, this isn’t to imply that ENO was a disaster, rather … it just didn’t snap together nice and tight.
While the restaurant deserved a visit on its own right, it was the recent attention that precipitated this recent visit. Joined by Laura [DON’T LEAVE US!!!], the two of us hit ENO for a little mid-week dinner. It just so happened that the restaurant was in the throws of Midtown Restaurant Week, so we had the chance to see what they could do with the full menu as well as with the prix fixe menu [note to a certain someone – not the same as price fix 🙂 ].
Par for the norm, the service was reasonable at best. All the menuistas I’ve come into contact come complete with a deep understanding of the wines. That’s key at a place where the drink plays such an important roll in the meal. However, the staff wasn’t able to put a bow on the experience. Glasses weren’t refilled, wine took a little too long to get to us, and at times, we felt a little unloved out on the small, street side patio. For a restaurant where the majority of the entrées run $25-$30, that’s unacceptable.
The menu for the day was filled with a number of “ooh laa laa” ingredients, thought provoking combinations, and complex preparations. This is perhaps ENO’s greatest draw and their greatest failure. The thought process involved in creating such intricate dishes on a near daily basis leaves the menu a little out of place, and absent of a central driving theme. The involved aspects of each individual dish seem to take away from the greater experience. When translated from thought to form, the aspirations of a transcendent meal fade away and are replaced with a muted curiosity.
Laura ate from the MRW menu. For $25, she was able to secure an order of melon soup with prosciutto foam, quail with walnut tartine and huckleberries, and an order of peach tatin. The melon soup was chilled and refreshing, but we felt something was missing. As we noticed a few minutes later, this was quite literally the case. A few other orders were dropped off at nearby tables and it was abundantly clear that there were some ingredients missing from our bowl. We have no idea what those ingredient(s) were, just that ours was absent of any floating item. As it turns out, this was a nice, refreshing bowl made from fresh melons with no hint of prosciutto (though that wasn’t the missing ingredient). While tasty, it wasn’t anything a mild-mannered superhero couldn’t put out of their own kitchen.
Next up was the quail with walnut tartine and huckleberries. The dish had a lot going on, and while the individual ingredients were well prepared, a bit didn’t come together as we had hoped. Though it was fun to eat the little bits of quail with our hands, we could not see where the dish was going. The walnut tartine seemed a bit disjointed, though you could see the potential for a connection in the underlying texture and sweetness of the sample. Individually, nothing was wrong with the dish … but nothing was right either.
While Laura snacked on her quail, I made a beeline for my lobster. For $31, I received two lobster claws, some fresh corn, a touch of truffle, and an ample portion of Chanterelle mushrooms [which, unless this is one of those offbeat oddities, were embarrassingly misspelled on the menu as Chantrelle]. This was easily the most frustrating dish of the entire night. Most importantly, the rationing of ingredients seemed all wrong. The lobster was in short supply, especially against the amount of corn and mushrooms included. Worst of all, the lobster was overcooked, robbing me of any chance to hang my hat on any particular aspect of the dish. The jus, when combined with the various vegetables, had a nice saltiness balanced by the natural sweetness of the vegetables, but it was not enough to save the entrée. Overcooked lobster aside, like clockwork, this dish’s message was lost on me.
Last up, the peach tatin did little to invoke thoughts of grandeur or evoke the deliciousness of some of the tart tatins I’ve sampled in my life. The ingredients were all there, but nothing came together succinctly.
Not surprisingly, the wine selection is outstanding and that was the saving grace for the experience (other than the great company!). The twenty available selections from the menu left me a little confused and the delivered plate left me hoping for more.
To perhaps beat a dead horse: there is a time and a place for art in our food. ENO seems to deliver artistically driven food; however, the flavors seem somewhat secondary to the oooh and ahhh list of ingredients relied upon. In this case, the art isn’t good enough to save the the food from itself.
It seems that ENO would benefit from a significant overhaul of the menu. While it is clear there is room for creativity in the Atlanta restaurant world, and the team at ENO may be suited to help bring that to the forefront, the incredible range of elements comes together to create a disconnect that was not lost on either of us. But I am neither chef, nor owner, nor manager, I am simply a patron. Thus, I am left to judge at what is at hand. A meal at ENO seems to fall far short of the lofty expectations set forth by reputation and presentation. The food is carefully thought out, painstakingly prepared, but just not that spectacular. Despite settling for the prix fixe, one entrée, and four middle of the road glasses of wine, we still blew way past a c-note, and that was before gratuity. It just wasn’t worth it.
Atlanta Foodies On ENO
- Dirty South Wine on ENO (12.31.08)