When my buddy and I first stepped through the emblazed upon glass door at Inman Park’s One Eared Stag, I must say that it was not without both cat-like curiosity and tentative trepidation. I try not to clutter my mind with lots of advanced research. In this case, the most important odd and end is that Holy Taco’s Robert Phalen serves as executive chef at One Eared Stag, joined by his HT partners Robert McDonald and Zoë Cernut on the business side of things.
In its early days, One Eared Stag seems on the precipice of being one of, if not the, neighborhood anchor. As is the case with many restaurants, I think framing it against similar endeavors in more notable food cities would be a mistake. Still, By the time the meal wrapped, I was perhaps most curious to hear what others had to say rather than motivated to rush home and pen this full-fledged recap of my single malt visit.
So How Does It Look?
Many of you might have heard of Phalen during his time at 1029 Edgewood’s previous tenant Shaun’s. Maybe that allegiance, or perhaps the designer’s apathy, has led to a complete stagnation in the personality department. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as the One Eared Stag is kind of hip inside; but, taxidermy is out in full-force and is the one noticeable difference that you’ll see. Deer heads and antlers provide the restaurant’s jacket with a form fitting appeal, just not for the vegetarians of the world. Sound dampening is non-existent and consequently, Krog Boy and I were forced to shout a good bit.
Without a reservation in hand, we were willing and able to get a seat based on availability. Though the whole process took less than four-minutes, getting seated wasn’t easy. There’s an oddly placed stool that acts as a hosting stand; not knowing that ahead of time caused me to peer into every corner looking for a seating sergeant, not a good initial interaction.
We first took up residence at one of the barroom tables while our destination table was prepped. I was pretty baffled to find the wall seats an issue. I found myself a good 5-feet off the ground (perhaps even more). If you aren’t 6’10” or posted near the few and far between supports, then you’re left swinging in the wind like your mom just stuck you back in a high chair.
While we waited, I perused the cocktail menu. A little uninspiring against the elsewhere ongoing enthusiasm for the drink, the selection is nothing to be ashamed of. My one sampling of liquid poison (a Pimm’s Cup) was quite refreshing and reasonably priced. I do forget the specific cost of that cocktail, but as we continued our wait with a dozen oysters, it wasn’t a concern to me.
I’m a whore! A straight up, corner of Boulevard and Ponce, street walking hooker of epic proportions. My dual purposed john and pimp is the oyster. I love these things like no other and I’ve dedicated more research time to oysters than to any other single aspect of the food system, the world of dining, and whatever other concept you can throw in. Stand on Puget sound, whiff the cool breeze of the Pacific and smell the air. Pull a fresh oyster straight from the water, plunge your shucking knife into its seductive neckline, pop the case and enjoy the pearl of your labor. What you will taste and what you will texturally process will in fact taste like its terroir in a way no other product, not even a wine, can do.
While I know a few wine folks with noses like hounds that can, seemingly instantaneously, provide you with all the localized facts about a wine simply by sipping or smelling it. But if you were to walk up to that vineyard, you just wouldn’t get that vineyard. Wine is processed after all. With oysters, they simply and truly taste like their country smells.
Fanny Bay oysters are visually striking. Their shells are predictably fluted (ruffled) on account of their origins in trays and I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad one of these. The ones from One Eared Stag were perfectly harvested, culled, and ultimately shucked. Fanny Bay oysters have a meaty presence with a plump belly that pops when you stick it in your mouth. These were no exception. However, ultimately, I was disappointed with what One Eared Stag did.
What I’ve just done in the past couple of paragraphs is spend an unreasonable amount of time “dressing” the oysters from that night. Adding an unnecessary amount of text to this post was no accident. Sure, some background helps – but I bet by now you are kind of like “So what’s the fucking point?” Fair question, so here goes.
Our shells were floating in a hybrid mignonette sauce (which the waiter called meunière). While many people like to dress and douse their oysters to their hearts content, most oyster aficionados, myself included, will shy away from that. So to have the oysters pervasively dominated by a sauce is not in 1ES best interest. Further to the point, the addition of capers to the sauce was odd and ultimately, our Fanny Bay tasted less like fanny bay (smooth and cucumbery) and more like the sauce. Too bad, my Pimm’s cup would have been a great pairing for these particular oysters.
The Food At Hand
Moved soon to a nearby table, our two-top seemed too large … more than once I found myself lost and having to ask Krog Boy to repeat himself. Service was admittedly excellent, albeit improperly informed in the case of the oysters. Dude remained as attentive as one could expect in an almost full restaurant. I of course, soft balled a couple of questions – most of which were answered correctly.
It’s a comfortable feeling when you realize that the staff does indeed give a shit about what they are doing, or as the worst case scenario might have it: are simply good at faking it. Others have reported less than favorable experiences in the service arena, and one visit doesn’t give me a lot of framework for that. Good news is that at least one of the people running around has his head on straight.
There was (and still is) no menu available on the One Eared Stag website and what cursory information I had been privy to told me that executive chef Robert Phalen’s menu offered up a semi-frequently rotated series of dishes infused with an eclectic number of cultural influences. So it was no surprise on that front to find the odd assortment of options.
Our table was soon topped with an idiotically priced ($10) but nice to see heirloom tomato dish. With a few touches of herbs and some oil, everything was in place for wonderful simplicity. Salt killed that dream real quick, a problem we were repeatedly subjected to. We also had an order of the trotter fritters ($8). Joined by a fried egg on top and blue lake bean salad, this dish was fun more so than anything else. With a perfectly fried egg on top – I had no qualms about the soft, porky offalesk delicacy; eggs, particularly those of the fried and poached/boiled varieties, are becoming very tiresome as a dish accent.
The entrées of choice, selected from a sea of ‘ununified’ offerings, were a special hanger steak (price forgotten) and the torfie pasta ($16). Before diving in, Phalen’s menu rotation goes by a month-to-month schedule. Dishes that include kimchi have been known to pop-up, and while this creates a slightly edgy excitement to the place, I suspect Phalen’s food might benefit if the menu portrayed a more unified consistency as it changes. Perhaps spending one month with Asian influences and another on Mediterranean will bring things together more. Here is where the slippery edges really show where the restaurant falls off.
From what I hear, hanger steak seems to make a repeat performance as a special. Though I generally avoid specials for reasons I hope you can figure out on your own, I try not to dictate what my gals and pals snack on when they join me. Most, if not all, oblige with a meal heavy on the sharing. This rendition: mustard potato purée with Padrón peppers and as you guessed it: waaaaay too much salt. I actually like significant amounts of salt; but, I’m also aware of the fact that when dishes have exorbitant amounts of salt, it’s a sign that something was awry back in the kitchen. The kick of the mustard ‘taters and peppers was fabulous, but the excessive amount of those accents and the placement of the steak amongst them served as a bit of a downer.
The torfie pasta was an exercise in oversight. The sauce base (a mixture of manchengo cheese and pesto trapanese (why trapanese isn’t green) was used liberally and provided the pasta with a thick winter coat. The torfie itself (a spiral type of pasta) was cooked until to soft but as we might have guessed, was subjected to greater faults on account of the crisp speck. The crisp speck (a hind-leg on the bone cured version of ham), flaked like an elegant bacon but drove through my tongue like a salty stake. Had I not known better, I’d have thought someone designed a menu around salt and then decided to bitch slap his guests with crystalized pow!
So What Does It All Mean?
Stag’s shortcomings, at least those evident during my single and solitary visit, weren’t necessarily in your face fuck ups of monumental proportion. Instead, there was a roughness around the edges that held back potentially delicious food and left us satisfied and happy to be there … but not blown away.
I don’t doubt that if life allowed for multiple universes, someone else in another dimension might rave about the totality of the experience our meal provided. In fact, it wouldn’t shock me in the slightest to hear that someone felt that meal established the One Eared Stag as one of the pre-eminent restaurants in the city of Atlanta. They may actually have a point there, though I would probably point out that the point was more an indictment of our restaurant scene than it was about Stag’s excellence.
By the time I left the Stag, we were knee deep in a night long joy ride. One Eared Stag certainly didn’t deter us from those efforts, but it also did little to make the night a particularly memorable one. Thankfully, we were in for a bevy of cock jokes [nothing to make a man date all the more interesting than the hilarious ramblings of a gay comedian]. I did of course catch site of two twaddle worthy chicks before departing the Stag; but, they had their arm candy, so we left no better off in that department.