Bistro Niko Restaurant Review – Buckhead, Atlanta, GA [First Impressions]

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It appears that Bistro Niko, the newest venture from the Buckhead Life Restaurant Group, is a place to see and be seen.  Even inside of a few days, the restaurant is dotted with 40-something Buckhead Bettys, dapperly dressed 60-something business men, Francophiles, and a few other odd and end type clientele.  Somewhere in this mix, three yutes made their way over for an introductory meal.

The steady crowd is no doubt the result of a lauded reputation, some TV and press clippings (included in the notes), and a good bit of word of mouth traffic.  Powered by father son duo Niko and Pano Karatassos as well as executive chef Gary Donlick, the restaurant has set forth some lofty, yet approachable expectations.

Per the BLG name, the restaurant is nestled in the ground floor of the freshly polished Sovereign Building.  Buckhead at its best, the restaurant comes complete with large windows and a deep red awning that overlooks Peachtree.  It is clear that this restaurant isn’t for the casual diner, though the Karatassos’ are doing everything in their power to make the restaurant accessible in these difficult times.

bistro niko - more of the scene by foodiebuddha bistro niko - the scene by foodiebuddha bistro niko - the sky by foodiebuddha

The decor is soaked in bustling elegance.  On your way to the hostess station, you’ll walk through the wine storage and then catch an eyeful of the glass cased kitchen.  Inside what equates to a large, white tile, high tech holding cell, a battalion of chefs, servers, and expediters busily prepare the food.  Meanwhile, you’ll see a number of hanging meat sticks on display.  To my delight, these were complimented by a quadruplet of fresh oysters standing proudly at attention.  Rotate yourself 180° to find a couple of smoking hot, well dressed hostesses tasked with leading you through the maze of red booths and tables. 

On your way to the table, you’ll see sconces from French brasseries, snapshots of the owners during their international travels, chalkboard menus, and colorful artwork.  It truly screams Parisian styling, and so begins the start of a carefully thought out process.

The menu, which is scheduled to change with the seasons, reads like that of a contemporary French bistro.  Price wise, starters hover around the $7-9 range while entrées run just shy of the $20 price tag.  In comparison to F.A.B., that disappointing reincarnation of Brasserie Le Coze, prices are essentially the same.  However, there a higher concentration of more expensive options at the latter.

bistro niko - faux gras terrine by foodiebuddhaTactfully laid out on a single page, the menu runs the gambit of traditional French delicacies (rillettes, escargot, beef bourguignon, veal osso bucco) all the way to some small twists.  In that respect, you’ll find a ratatouille sandwich and a scary, yet intriguing “faux” gras.  Last but not least, you’ll find the requisite high dollar steak options and an always available prix fixe menu.  All this preparation sets the stage for the crucial aspect of the dining experience: the meal itself. 

Milling through the selections at hand, I immediately jumped on a complete selection of the oysters.  For $22, we took down some Hood Canal, Malpeque, Blue Point, & Conaway Cups.  The lovely presentation came to us complete with a red wine vinegar sauce bistro niko - oysteres up by foodiebuddhaand some fresh cocktail/horseradish sauce.  Time and space prevent me from diving into the intricacies of each; however, two things were readily apparent.  Number 1: these were fantastically fresh and had every opportunity to be stunning.  2: Did they simply pull the first person off the street and task them with shucking?  Nine of the dozen ordered were filled with shells and/or grit.  This was amateur night at its best.  Shucking isn’t an easy job, and they need to put someone in place who is up to the task.  For those of you who are oyster neophytes, to get one oyster in a dozen that has shells would be considered an off night at any oyster bar worth its weight.  Still, the price point and freshness help to put places like Fontaine’s to shame.  Fix the shucking issue and you have a fantastic success.  It’s also worth bistro niko - escargot en croûte by foodiebuddhanoting that the four varietals did not match up with the listings available on the menu.

For our two other starters, we ordered the escargot “en croûte” and the aforementioned “faux” gras terrine.  The escargot was a traditional serving of shelled European brown snails lathered in parsley garlic butter.  Presented in a traditional escargot tray, each of our half dozen slippery slimy guys was crowned with a puff pastry (en croûte).  While all the ingredients were there, this dish ultimately fell a little flat for me.  Touched off with some Pernod, an type of absinthe, the dish carried an aromatic aura.  And while the snails themselves had been properly cleansed through a forced fasting, somewhere in the cooking process they were robbed a bit of their flavor.  All in, enjoyable … but I’ve had better here in the city.

I’m not sure why what we ordered was labeled a “faux gras” terrine.  It was explained in the details that you were getting a chicken liver mousse.  There may or may not be some confusion with regards to “is this a pâté or not?”  Let’s just leave that where it is.  Perhaps an attempt at humor, don’t get too hung up on the title … so long as you know what to expect.  What showed up was ceramic serving with a deep aspic-like berry jelly that hid the mousse.  The sweet against the savory wasn’t as pronounced as it could have been, but the mousse itself was well executed.  It was highly creamed and yet carried with it that touch of grit that one finds in chicken liver.  Neither a gold medalist, nor something to be sent shamefully to the Island of Forgotten Dishes, I wouldn’t fault anyone for an order.

The one aspect of the faux gras that was truly disappointing was the bread.  It was a problem we had throughout the night.  The slabs of toasted grain were difficult to eat to say the least.  Moreover, the tableside bread was as inconsistent as I’ve ever seen.  Not only did it seem to change in flavor and consistency, but there seemed to be no rhyme or reason.  I can only wonder how this extends to the sandwich portion of the menu.  For now, I can say that the bread seems to need some refinement before it can stand up to the baked goodness of elsewhere.

bistro niko - boeuf bourguignon by foodiebuddha bistro niko - sole barigoule by foodiebuddha

For our entrées we took down the boeuf bourguignon, the lamb shank (not pictured), and the sole barigoule.  The lamb shank was the clear winner of the group.  Though it failed to light my culinary desires, it seems that this dish has already reached its apex.  The meat was so tender that it simply collapsed at the slightest forking.  Sandwiched between sliced apples, currants, and prunes on top and couscous on the bottom, all the while resting in a touch of jus, the dish clearly tries to play on the sweet and savory.  Though there wasn’t a thing “wrong” with it, it seemed distinctly underwhelming given the pomp of the environment.

I didn’t have enough time with the bourguignon to properly recap what was on the table.  It’s worth noting that Kobe beef cheeks were predictably tender and the flavors were pronounced.  Immediate impressions were that it wasn’t as lofty as the shank, but not a failure by any stretch of the word.

What was a failure, and most epically so, was the sole barigoule.  “God no, it smells like, like a used diaper… filled with… [baby] food.” [Yeah who’s with me?]  Not without its avid supporters, this dish tasted worse than it looked.  Rumors of roasted sole fillets were lost on me.  Then there was the purée with a deep orange hue and lopped in vegetables (‘chokes, carrots, onions).  It seriously looked and tasted like something put out of Gerber’s kitchen.  Still, the fish could have been properly cooked (it wasn’t – bland, mushy, dry) … and the purée could have had some life to it.  Move past this one post haste because unless they totally rework the dish, even an ideal piece of fish can’t save it.

bistro niko - pomme frites by foodiebuddhaSideline items included an order of pommes frites that got lost in the wilderness.  Rendered in duck fat and cooked 2x (1st @325° in duck fat then @375° in peanut oil).  The taste was nothing short of excellent.  If they are delivered on time, they have a chance to be as transcendent as a fried tater can be.  Oh yeah, there was a dessert … ask someone else, I’m not equipped.

Speaking of the delay o’ fries, service throughout the night remained a constant thorn in our side.  Pretty disappointing to see a restaurant of this ilk, with a legion of idle waiters in the dining room, fail this bad.  Our server was clearly under water with responsibility, and though he came with a smile and a great effort, his management team did not allow him the support he so desperately needed.  A little tweaking will go a long way.

Our wine for the night was a cab/merlot blend of Château Haut-Beausejour Saint-Estephe 2005.  Not a wow bottle by any means, it seemed to mimic the rest of our meal.  It was light on the tanins (that can drive some people crazy), mild in taste, and a bit lighter than expected.  However, the strong hints of non-acidic fruits blended well with our meat heavy meal.  A failure? Hell no.  But certainly not earth shattering.

Château Haut-Beausejour Saint-Estephe 2005

So where does this all leave us?  Well, there were some heavily flawed aspects to our meal (oysters, sole, service, crowd), and some successes (lamb, decor, cough… hostesses … cough [Hey, I’m a dude with a pulse after all!]).  Based on that one meal, the failures are more dramatic failures than the successes are winners.  If you follow, then you’ll be inclined to check it out for what it seems to be.  While I’m pretty stunned by some of the oversights, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.  After all, the good elements of the meal already surpassed what I’ve had at FAB since their change.  If you’ve got money to burn, then go take Bistro Niko for a spin (I’d recommend making a reservation).  In the meantime, we’ll just have to wait and see how this all shakes out.

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Atlanta Foodies On Bistro Niko

Bistro Niko Restaurant Address & Information

3344 Peachtree Rd NE, Atlanta, GA 30326 // Bistro Niko Reservations// Bistro Niko website // Bistro Niko Menu // twitter
Bistro Niko on Urbanspoon

6 comments Write a comment

  1. smoke and mirrors Buddah, smoke and mirrors. I here theres nothing but well heeled CEOs of you name it Atlanta Corps stuffing their faces there everynight already. Makes me sick. Its like how hard is it to open a place like this. Whatever. They should call it Big Bucks Life Restaurant Group. What a joke. I probablly wouldnt make it past the first mercedes in the valet before I’d puke. Its like the capatalist dream spot. A place like htis needed to go out with the Bush Administration. Keep it up Buddah. Your our voice!!

    • Apparently, BHL corporate had their wives, brother-in-laws, and best friends write their own reviews praising Bistro Niko. BHL needs to realize that they are NOT infallible, and sometimes they should take any criticism seriously because there’s always room for improvement. On the other hand, maybe we shouldn’t offer them any constructive criticism and just let them fail miserably, and maybe then consumers will wise up and not give them any money. I’ve noticed that BHL tends to hire employees who possess the same arrogant attitude that they have -that they KNOW EVERYTHING and that they can do no wrong. Well, I’m telling you that this simply isn’t the case. BHL can do PLENTY WRONG! And for the person who said that it’s a homegrown chain, I’d like to respond by saying just that: yeah, it’s a chain, alright -more like a “HOMEGROWN” MONOPOLY! Well, I could care less about where they are from. I’m only interested in great food at reasonable prices AND good service from people who truly APPRECIATE my patronage -those are the businesses that deserve my money and patronage. I hate arrogance (one thinking that he or she is BETTER than everyone else), phonies and liars. I hope the general public will wise up one day. Another thing that’s amusing is that the folks who wrote comments praising Bistro Niko and BHL just don’t get the criticism and general negativity towards Bistro Niko and BHL. Maybe BHL needs to reevaluate the way they treat the general public, but they never will. They simply feel that they are gods and we are lowly mortals (peons). They seem to have a general disdain for us but are still willing to take our money.

  2. Dear Jimmy,

    First of all, don’t loathe someone because they have money… Yes, some wealthy people may be snobs but some less fortunate people can be jerks too. Secondly, this restaurant is actually relatively affordable considering its class. I pray that the future will bring a more well rounded demeanor to your disposition. Cheers!

  3. Seriously Buddah?! You missed the most obvious failure of this wanna be bistro…since your disdain for FAB is apparent, it is no shock then that you didn’t like the food at Niko..do your research. Their menu is comprised of mostly stolen signature dishes created by the original owners and chefs of Brasserie Le Coze (think Chef Holly now conveniently the chef of the Atlanta Fish Market)…hello truffle white bean soup, or how about the skate wing that is identical to the one I order from Brasserie down to the presentation! And how pray tell did they manage to do this? Well for one who was once a regular at Brasserie Le Coze, it was quite enlightening to see half of their old staff in the kitchen and roaming the floors. I’m sorry, but I find this truely distasteful. Unfortunately, I do not get down to FAB that often due to the location, but you can imagine my shock when I saw more than half of their menu now on Niko’s.

    My favorite part of the review though, is that even though Pano did everything in his power to recreate the essence of the old Brasserie Le Coze, it would seem that his kitchen and staff fall short of the original.

  4. I went there on Monday night and was supremely disappointed. The noise level was off the charts. I understand the dining room was full and everyone still had holiday cheer, but I couldn’t hear my date half the time and had to keep screaming “WHAT DID YOU SAY?” We split the mushroom and truffle oil flat bread pizza that was heavily pushed onto us by our waiter, half a dozen oysters (3 different types, can’t remember), duck fois gras terrine, and kobe beef cheeks. Of these, only the terrine was a success. The beef cheeks were dry, flavorless, and the spaetzle-like pasta that came w/it looked like meal worms and tasted dry and tough. The service was amateur as well. Even though we were seated at a booth not too far from the bar, it took a good 10-15 minutes to receive our glasses of wine. The staff also never cleared out the crumbs in between courses. The meal was overpriced, underflavored, and overhyped. I will not be going again.

    I knew I should have stayed in Midtown and not made the hike to Buckhead:)

  5. We were taken there Sat. evening for our anniversary by friends. I had heard how lovely it was, how good the food was AND how noisy it was. We have NEVER experienced such “painful” noise at any restaurant. Something should be done to “soften” it!
    We would NEVER, NEVER step foot in that place again. There were just four of us at our table, and we could not carry on a conversation. As good as the food and the service were, I could not wait to leave……..

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