Review: Repast - Ingredients for success 

Repast focuses on freshness and creativity

If there's one thing I'd like to see more of in Atlanta, it's smaller, more chef-driven restaurants with better ingredients. So I was pleased to hear about the opening of Repast. Owned and operated by a husband-and-wife team, Repast offers the kind of personal touches that you just can't get at larger, glitzier places. Chef and owner Joe Truex is often out in the dining room speaking to customers, and when he's not, you can see him and his crew (and sometimes his wife and co-chef, Mihoko Obunai) toiling in the open kitchen for your dining pleasure.

Another plus at Repast is that the chefs obviously care about their ingredients. Many items on their menu are sourced, such as cheeses from Sweetgrass Dairy for the cheese plate and organic pork from Riverview Farms. A lot of thought is going into the food here, both in planning and in execution.

The dining room would seem intimate if it weren't for the soaring ceilings, which give the space an airy, modern feel. But at 54 seats in the main room, with a loft that can accommodate 20 more, this is no huge operation. There is also an outdoor area, populated by comfortable armchairs for lounging. This seems like exactly the type of place I've been pining for; a neighborhood restaurant with a little Atlanta slickness, offset by a lot of caring and personality.

In some areas, Repast hits the highs it is capable of. The Sweetwater 420 mussels appetizer has a broth so tasty it could be served as a soup. The large, plump mussels and broth are dotted with globs of goat cheese, making for a briny, creamy, beery delight. The house-cured duck ham was some of the best cured duck I have had. Duck fat is delicious, but it sometimes gets too musky and funky when it's cured. But here, the duck is sliced very thin, and the fat is delicately savory. We asked our waitress if the other meats on the charcuterie plate were house-cured as well, and she seemed a little uncertain but said yes. If so, then Repast is making some of the best chorizo around, heavy with real, smoky Spanish paprika.

A dish that is advertised as oyster soup with sherry cream should rightfully be called sherry soup with oysters. I like sherry, and the oysters floating in the soup were cooked to perfection and absolutely delicious. But the broth had no oyster flavor at all, and the sherry was overpowering. Just a hint more of the briny oyster flavor in the broth and this would be another favorite on my list.

The organic pork chop entree with kabocha squash dumplings and wild mushroom fricassee sounded inventive and exciting. The dumplings were dreamy pillows of sweet and salty, but I am disappointed to report that the pork chop was way overcooked for my taste. I know this is the South and people are wary of underdone pork, but I wish Repast wouldn't assume that all patrons want their meat uniformly brown. Many of us, especially when enjoying a lovely organic pork chop, would like to see some pink.

I found that to be a theme with the entrees. Merluza, a white fish more commonly known as hake, was served wrapped in Serrano and not nearly as moist as I would have liked. Even scallops, skewered with sugarcane and served with green papaya salsa and coconut rice (also a little dry), were cooked beyond that perfect point of plump juiciness that gives scallops their appeal. They weren't tough, but they weren't that moist, either.

Desserts are a high point, particularly the Japanese-style soufflé cheesecake. It's a light, fluffy round of cheesecake, almost like a mousse, but with a texture and weight all its own. I love the option on the menu to have a tasting of three or four desserts to be shared. It's that kind of playfulness and originality that brings back my confidence in Repast.

I get the feeling that some of the waiters are recent transplants from the turn-and-burn school of waiting tables. They have been taught the formal stance of fine dining, but not the subtleties. Each time our waitress arrived at the table, she stood stiffly and then loudly declared whatever she was there to say, usually cutting one of us off in mid-sentence. After we had been at the table for less than a minute, we were asked if we were ready to order and when we weren't, we were pushed to order appetizers.

When my entree plate was cleared a mere 45 minutes after we'd arrived, I tried to keep from feeling rushed, but the illusion was broken when the check was dropped in the middle of dessert. "Whenever you're ready," the waitress said, but I was not ready and did not want to look at my check staring at me -- reminding me that I was paying $150 for an hour-long meal -- when lingering would have been my preference. Let me reveal one of my pet peeves here: In fine dining, the check should not be dropped unless the customer asks for it. It should never be dropped while they are still eating. You might as well yell, "Get out!"

I got better service at the bar. The bartender was less intrusive and more laid-back while remaining polished. The manager seems eager to please, but laying some serious point of service ground rules goes a lot further than pure enthusiasm.

Repast has the potential to be many things -- a neighborhood restaurant, a place with character, a purveyor of thoughtful and fun food, that wonderful mix of fine dining and casual atmosphere so many of us look for. On all of these fronts Repast has a little way to go, but I'm confident it will get there.

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