When I was a little girl, I used to play a game with my best friend called "Poshy Ladies." The idea was that we'd dress up in fancy clothes and our mothers' heels and basically pretend to be rich. Of course, this was the first thought that came to my mind when I heard the name of Tom Catherall's restaurant in the spot Seeger's recently vacated. I couldn't help but think of Catherall all dressed up in Seeger's restaurant.
On the one hand, it seems gratuitous and obvious and way too easy to compare these two restaurants, which are actually beyond compare. Seeger's was one of the most exciting, frustrating and lauded restaurants in the country. Posh is the rich person's restaurant equivalent of the music played there: '80s easy listening. So why even bother comparing it with Seeger's?
Because it's impossible not to. So little has changed about the house on West Paces Ferry Road. If you've ever been to Seeger's, you'll notice immediately that almost everything at Posh, from the antique credenza at the entrance to the couches in the lounge area, have not changed. The only thing that has changed are the chairs in the dining room, which have gone from large baroque-looking love seats to more sensible black dining-room chairs. But there's no denying that the ghost of Seeger lingers here, and the quick opening of Posh and utter lack of change in decor make me think Catherall is inviting the comparison.
This haunting probably will turn out to be both a blessing and a curse for Posh. On the one hand, the air of exclusivity and of existing in a space so fraught with passion and luxury must have been part of the draw for Catherall. On the other hand, being constantly compared with one of the most acclaimed chefs in the country is a high price to pay.
Catherall has made a name and a bunch of money for himself with his Here To Serve restaurant group, a collection of popular monosyllabic establishments (Prime, Strip, Twist, Shout, etc.) that are vibrant and fun, if sometimes lacking in the critical-acclaim department. He apparently jumped at the chance to take over the Seeger's location after Guenter Seeger finally threw in the towel late last year after a succession of financial crises and threats to close. Catherall even claimed that the "Rolls Royce" of a kitchen had inspired him to get back behind the burner himself, after years of leaving the cooking up to others in favor of running the business. The menu at Posh includes some of Catherall's signature dishes that he's been serving up since he arrived in Atlanta in 1983. Ian Winslade, the former chef at Bluepointe, is named as the executive chef at Posh, but I can attest to the fact that Catherall can be seen in his chef whites at the restaurant from time to time.
What Catherall and Winslade are turning out of that million-dollar kitchen is standard, up-market food that is inoffensive and vaguely uninspired. Catherall once said the wine lists in his restaurants were driven by "sellers not cellars." That's true here, not just of the wine list (read: lots of California chardonnays and cabs) but of the menu as well. Crab cakes come with asparagus and lemon dressing, are well-seasoned, but not quite worth their $14 appetizer price tag. A BLT salad with fried oysters offers up only two small oysters and has a decent flavor for lettuce, bacon and tomato – but there's nothing thrilling here.
The most exciting thing on the appetizer list is a terrine of ham knuckle and foie gras with pea puree and walnut oil. The gnarly, chewy knuckle has a distinct smoky flavor, but I'm not sure it goes with the creamy texture of the foie gras center. The combination had me thinking of potted meat. But this is an innovative and quirky dish, and a nice break from its safe menu companions.
Much of the entree menu reads like it's stuck in the '80s – bacon-wrapped duck stuffed with apples and chestnuts, fish over sesame-noodle salad – and all of them work nicely, with nothing to complain about and nothing to titillate. Catherall's signature lamb loin over spiced lentils offers some top-quality lamb over lentils that lack subtlety. The cinnamon and cloves move away from their savory intentions and veer into sweeter territory. Lentils should never remind us of pumpkin pie.
Lunch at Posh is a good deal, perfect for Buckhead ladies who lunch, at $20 for two courses and $25 for three. Croque monsieur loses its decadent French roots and becomes a grilled ham and cheese with – is that cream cheese? – a creamy condiment added. Trout over root veggies and greens is good but unremarkable. That seems to be the theme here.
Desserts fare a little better. The sticky toffee pudding, which apparently is Catherall's mother's recipe, is a gooey satisfaction, the butterscotch notes playing just right. The almond basket with honey ice cream and fresh berries can be lovely when it's done right – on one visit, the ice cream had a truly rancid aftertaste, which I guess had gone unnoticed in the kitchen. But the following week the spoiled taste was gone, and the crunchy almond and generous honey worked wonders together.
Service at the restaurant is friendly and relaxed, and this also had me thinking about Seeger's. The group of waiters standing in the dining room laughing and gossiping brought to mind the stiff, scared and silent staff that used to hover in the room, and I was grateful for a respite from that chilliness. But when my check was dropped along with my dessert, I longed for a restaurant that had strict points of service. You might be uncomfortable when eating at Seeger's, but you would never be offended or rushed.
And I couldn't help but feeling that Paul McCartney filling the room with silly love songs was a little blasphemous, which is ironic because one of my greatest complaints about Seeger's was the silence in the restaurant. Able to overhear every conversation at every table in the small dining room, I once heard a woman ask one of the servers whether there was ever any music played. "Chef Seeger wants total silence," the waitress replied, "like a sanctuary." More like a mausoleum, I remember thinking. I desperately wanted music to alleviate the awkwardness of eating at Seeger's, but having to listen to Don Henley seems like a cruel joke played on us complainers.
We complained that Seeger's was too expensive, too esoteric, too weird, too formal. Posh is none of those things (except maybe too expensive, although certainly not compared with the mortgage-payment cost of a meal at Seeger's). Posh is straightforward, normal, comfortable and a little boring. I'm sure it'll do very well.
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