I’ve long maintained that a review, no matter how many times a critic visits a restaurant, is a snapshot in time. Things can change overnight. There are exceptions, of course. Fine-dining restaurants often maintain quality despite changes in ownership and kitchen staff.
An example of the latter is the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead, where Guenter Seeger began his career in Atlanta, then moved on to open Seeger’s. Woodfire Grill, opened by owner/chef Michael Tuohy, has maintained the same quality since Tuohy’s departure for California. Ditto, or largely so, for Joël after the departure of Joël Antunes for New York.
But smaller restaurants can easily be derailed by the same kinds of changes that big-monied venues take in stride. Then, too, there’s the problem of getting a thorough experience of a restaurant’s menu. This is especially difficult for me, since I’m usually writing first impressions or investigating a particular classification of food.
For example, last May, while I was eating pizza all over town, I visited a hole in the wall named Skewerz Pizza K (543 10th St., 404-885-1120). This restaurant, with four tables, is popular with students at nearby Georgia Tech.
Wayne and I ordered two of the pizzas and I was underwhelmed, to say the least – and mystified since another critic in town had written favorably about the place. Last week, one of the owners wrote to complain that I had not tried what he regards as the restaurant’s real strength, its Indian dishes.
So we returned on a Saturday night, finding the place hosting a DJ out front who played house music alternating with flamenco. A group of students had moved the four tables outside, but fortunately left before our meal was ready.
This time we did stick with the Indian dishes and ate very well. First caution: While the chalkboard menu does include a few Indian dishes, like chicken 65 and kabobs (along with Greek items, too), you have to look for the curries on a separate printed menu. Second caution: Unless you enjoy eating off flimsy paper plates and Styrofoam with flimsy plastic forks, you’ll want to take the food home, like most of the Georgia Tech students seem to do.
Both of us focused on the restaurant’s house-made paneer, the tofu-like white cheese that figures in a lot of Indian food. Skewerz’s paneer is served in chunks huge by comparison to most Indian restaurants. I ordered classic matar paneer – cubes of the cheese in a spicy curry with peas and green peppers. Paneer is unique, by the way, in that it doesn’t melt. Thus it can even be cooked as kabobs. Wayne ordered it cooked this way and then placed on a folded piece of buttery naan bread with green and red peppers. Both dishes were delicious. And you’ll love the prices, both well under $10.
We also ordered chicken dishes. I ordered chicken 65, the popular dish of fried chunks of chicken typically spiced with cayenne pepper, ginger and mustard powder. Frankly, mine was served kind of tepid, so I wondered if it had been made too long in advance. The flavor was appealing – milder than other versions I’ve had – but the chicken itself was rather dry.
Wayne ordered classic chicken tandoori with rice. A huge portion at $6.99, it was as good as the average around town.
So, by all means give the place a try. Besides the good Indian food, you’ll dig the eccentric ambiance. Just don’t use the bathroom. The light didn’t work and there were no paper towels Saturday night.
Another example of a post-review change at a restaurant occurred recently at Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q (1238 DeKalb Ave., 404-577-4030). I fell in unhealthy love with its “burger” of barbecued brisket, pimento cheese and bacon when I first tried it. But subsequent visits found it much less satisfying and I swore it off.
Then, a few weeks ago, I read an interview with the restaurant’s owners in which they mentioned that my complaint had led them to work on the dish’s assembly. I revisited and – hurrah! – it’s once again a delicious provocation of heart failure.
A third example belongs to the first category of problems I mentioned above: the way changes in a kitchen can render a review almost immediately meaningless. Case in point: the Glenwood (1263 Glenwood Ave., 404-622-6066).
When this gastropub hired chef Ryan Stewart two years ago, it produced remarkable food. The only thing that kept me from eating there constantly was learning that Stewart is married to Besha Rodell, our Food & Drink editor. But, believe me, his cooking was unique in our city – not only for its attention to local ingredients but the imagination behind his dishes. I especially liked that he called on German culinary influences that remain almost completely absent in our city.
Stewart left and was succeeded by Angel Sutor, a longtime Atlanta chef with considerable talent. Her menu was a bit more conventional. My impression was that the pub’s owners wanted to cut costs by going in more conventional directions.
Now, Sutor has left and Stewart, although not back in the kitchen, is consulting there. Much of his menu is back in place. We had a good meal, but I’m afraid this is also an example of how a consulting chef’s talents don’t necessarily get transferred to a kitchen staff that seems not to have much direction. Case in point: When I asked about a strange-looking ingredient in a dish of scalloped sweet potatoes, the staff had to pull out the recipe.
I ordered the evening’s specials, starting with reuben egg rolls filled with sauerkraut and chopped corned beef, served with Russian dressing. I love it when a dish makes me laugh and tastes good, too. My entrée was duck schnitzel with grilled asparagus and the strange sweet potatoes. I have mixed feelings about the schnitzel. It was served with a pretty tasteless cream gravy. I’d almost prefer something fruity, as duck is wont to crave.
Wayne ordered the reprised bento box with cold soba noodles in dashi broth, wakami (seaweed salad) and salmon cured in green tea and drizzled with crème fraîche. Like my egg rolls, this was a large portion — enough for two — and we could not finish our entrees.
Wayne ordered the menu’s most expensive entrée ($23), a steak grilled medium rare and stuffed with three fat fried oysters, then topped with a Tabasco-tinged Hollandaise. There’s nothing not to like there and it would probably give the Fox Bros. burger competition in the race to coronary failure.
Were there sliders?
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