One singularly loud sensation: Chewing the scenery at One Midtown Kitchen
Do you ever get the sense that some restaurants orchestrate an intentionally frustrating experience just to psychologically warp you into feeling more grateful when you do ultimately snag a table? Consider the stages I went through recently at One Midtown Kitchen, Atlanta's most swankedelic hotspot du jour.
Step One: Calling the restaurant. The hostess on the other end of the line informs me that One does not take reservations after 7 p.m., but that I can call at 7 p.m. and get on the wait-list, which doesn't guarantee me a table when I get there, but puts me perhaps a bit further up the ladder than the poor saps who just show up without any prior contact.
Step Two: Arriving at the restaurant. After lingering in a long valet lineup, I traipse by the hypnotic partition of purple neon, swing open the heavy doors, part the curtains and enter what can best be described as a non-musical rendering of Phil Spector's Wall of Sound. Bloody hell, it's loud in here. I report in (having dutifully phoned at 7 p.m.) and am told the wait will be about an hour. Give or take 15 minutes. Oy. I'm hungry.
Step Three: Purgatory. As I am ushered to the bar, I take in the scene: Chefs cooking furiously in the curvaceous open kitchen, wide windows sporting a quickly dimming Midtown skyline and a tidy row of wheatgrass in the center of the room to lighten the dark floors and walls. Thin light fixtures dangling overhead bring to mind that glow-in-the-dark condom scene in Blake Edward's Skin Deep. I wriggle through the confluence of would-be diners and grab a wine list, which is admittedly spectacular and helps the time scurry by. Each of the 70-some wines -- in four pricing tiers -- is available by the half-glass, glass and bottle. I try several and am particularly enamored with a blackberry-chocolatey Dashe Cellars Zinfandel ($5.50 for a half-glass/$10 for a glass). One complaint: The white wines are served way too cold.
After one-and-a-half hours and three trips back to the hostess stand to gaze at our place in the pecking order, my party is finally instructed to close our bar tab. Our friggin' table is, at last, ready.One's menu seems perfectly suited to folks half-drunk and famished: Small plates for sharing are where this kitchen most excels. A savory French toast concoction with goat cheese oozing from its center rests on a bed of earthy, seductive mushrooms ($9).
Calamari fries get a lift from the doldrums with a zippy side of romesco, a Spanish sauce of pureed tomatoes, red peppers and almonds ($8). The blood orange broth in which mussels rest is so complex and tingly, it warrants requests for spoons ($7). There's also a side of saffron aioli with the mussels, which doubles as a sumptuous dip for addictive Parmesan fries ($4).
An ever-changing selection of oysters ($1.75 each/half-dozen for $9) is lovely, served with delightfully puckery sauces on a large platter that servers timorously carry to the table with both hands like a birthday cake. Even the lettuce wedges salad -- romaine, bibb and radicchio retrofitted with bacon, buttermilk dressing and blue cheese ($6) -- has character.
Three From the Garden ($9), a witty vegetable dish that earned raves when the restaurant opened eight months ago, has lost some of its clout. A slinky clump of spaghetti squash in garlic butter is tasty, but broccolini and an out-of-season zucchini/summer squash saute need more spark. The kitchen may also want to rethink the tomato bisque ($7). The sage is overpowering and reminds me of expensive soap. Waiter, there's aromatherapy in my soup!
Main dishes often don't generate the same heat as their smaller counterparts. Bland chunks of tuna get little flavor support in a muted tomato broth with shavings of fennel ($18). Grilled duck ($19) is poised appealingly atop a mound of warm sliced potatoes with arugula and little shards of bacon, but the whole thing lacks punch. More salt, more acid, more juxtaposition. If you're hungry, go for the manly hanger steak ($16), strewn over an enormous pile of those Parmesan fries.
Joey Masi, who rescued La Tavola in Virginia-Highland several years back with his focus on bold yet simple flavors, just took over One's kitchen at the beginning of March. His Italian POV can be gleaned from a juicy piece of swordfish ($18) topped with a balsamic onion compote, sprinkled with pine nuts and paired with comfy-cozy polenta. Let's pray he whips those other entrees into shape.
Are the servers given vocal training and lessons in diaphragmatic breathing so they don't lose their voices shouting above the din? I'm surprised at how hospitable they are, how willing they are to retrieve a taste of a wine, and how well they can sell a dessert. Best among the sweets are the Americanized tartufo, a chocolate-coated Italian ice cream number with dabs of dried cherry compote to elevate it from Carvel status, and a moist spiced brown-butter cake with sauteed apples (both $5).
Nourished at last, I look around and can't help but notice that every damn person in this joint looks like they're honestly enjoying themselves. They don't seem to mind the noise or begrudge the wait. It's then I notice that even I am not feeling quite so bitter anymore. Whadya know? For a place that's all about buzz, One can cast quite a spell over its diners.
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