Not Great Food and Horrible Service

Our recent visit to Valenza in Brookhaven was disappointing. The food was fair, while the service is in desperate need of a major facelift. We arrived for our 700 reservation and decided on a table on the deck. It was a beautiful June night, with the temperatures in the mid-70s.

The server approached and filled our water glasses and directed us to the wine list. It was a good ten minutes before he returned, not an extraordinary timeframe, just a precursor of what was ahead. We asked for his recommendation for a white wine (similar to a Chablis, since we were not familiar with the Italian and New Zealand offerings on the menu). He brought a taste of an Italian, which was not to our liking; we were looking for a little fruitier. He said the two NZ wines were more aligned with that desire and we asked for a taste. This obviously rustled his feathers as he just stared at us, I guess one taste is all a customer can request. We ordered one of the NZ wines, not especially pleased with the server’s attitude, c’est la vie. The wine was delivered 15 minutes later, not exactly what we were looking for, but reasonable enough.

And now the real wait started. It was probably another 30 minutes before we saw him again. When he returned, the first words were, “Are you ready to order?” We asked if there were any specials. He again seemed irritated and rattled off, “We have tuna tartare, a fish and a veal chop.” No other explanation. We asked about the tuna tartare. “It is an appetizer dish and it is a normal preparation, but no avocado.” Service was now borderline rude and unacceptable. Three people ordered the tuna and I ordered the octopus for appetizers.

The tuna tartare was not anywhere close to a “normal preparation,” more a crudo than a tartare. Large slices were served in a bowl with halved olives with an olive oil. While we were surprised at the presentation, it was delicious. I would definitely order this again, but they should change the description. I would give this a 9, and the highlight of the food.

The octopus was not as good, it was very salty, seemingly prepared in a salty brine and very spongy. It was accompanied by chick peas, thinly sliced onions, olive oil and a touch of chili oil, which added a nice little zip. There were two tentacles and then some slices. The saltiness was much too distracting and I was not a fan of the texture and would give this a 4.

For my entrée, I ordered the squid ink pasta with Georgia shrimp white wine, oven dried tomatoes, Calabrian chili, and basil. The pasta was perfectly al dente, and that is the only positive I could state. The shrimp still had their tails attached so the first 5 minutes was me removing each of the tails. While eating, additional tails which were hidden crunched as I ate them, a very bad feeling. The sauce was good, nothing special and if there were oven dried tomatoes in the dish, they were indistinguishable. Other than the texture of the pasta, the dish was underwhelming. I am being generous again with a 5.

A friend ordered the spaghettini with meatballs in a San Marzano tomato sauce and my wife ordered the capellini (substituting penne) which was described on the menu served with fresh tomato, basil, and parmesan. The spaghettini was engulfed in sauce; it has been a while since I have seen that much sauce smothering pasta. My wife “fresh tomato” was not as described since it did not include fresh tomatoes; it was also engulfed in the San Marzano tomato sauce. We would have retuned at least two of the dishes, but it was getting late and we just decided to avoid another prolonged wait. I did not taste their pastas, so I cannot give either a number rating, but my guess it would be close to mine.

We shared a chocolate pudding for dessert. It was served in a bowl topped with whipped cream and hazelnuts. The dish was 70% whipped cream and a dollop of chocolate pudding underneath. This probably deserves less, but I will give it a 4.

We did have a great time with friends, but the food really needs an uptick, and the service needs a complete overhaul.

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MF Sushi (Inman Park) – Why Do I Keep Going?

I sometimes question why we keep returning to restaurants. Is it the food…the service…the panache? Or just a relentless desire to prove they can do better. MF Sushi is one of those restaurants that you know can do better, yet they cannot seem to get out of their own way in one or aspects of each visit.

The latest two issues were the host(ess) and the size of the nigiri. On the last visit we were punished with the rear room and they told us we needed to request the sushi bar room when we reserve. This time I did, not only specifying the room, but also stating I did NOT want the back room. When we arrived, they immediately took us to the rear room, while the front room had only one table occupied. We politely asked to be seated in the room we requested.

The server this time was top notch. She knew the menu, was polite, the food arrived as expected and she was pleasant throughout. The food was very good, but the size of the nigiri was minuscule, borderline embarrassing. The scant amount of wasabi confirmed the chef was punishing us for something. Was this the result of our desire to eat in the room as requested? Do not know.

While the food was excellent, the overall experience is making it difficult to return.

St. Cecelia (Buckhead) – Reaffirmed as Fantastic

Our latest visit to St. Cecelia confirmed my earlier opinion that it is one of the best restaurants in Atlanta and our last visit was an anomaly. The meal and service were fantastic.

Let’s start with the space, one of the prettiest around, with 25-foot ceilings, romantic lighting, banquettes, tables and a private room on the second floor. You can choose from two dining areas, either near or away from the bar and open kitchen.

We started the meal with a Large Salumi and Cheese platter, which included Prosciutto di San Danielle, Cacciatorini and Calabrese meats, plus Manchego and Thomasville Tomme cheeses. Included on the platter were honeycomb, fig mostarda, and gnocco fritto. The large was true to its name with three piles of meats and enough cheese segments to pair with the meats. The cured meats ranged from the mild prosciutto to the spicy calabrese and addind a bit of the honeycomb created a delightful sweet-spicy combination. I would have liked little more honeycomb, it was really good.

BurattaWe followed the meats with the Burrata, served with strawberries, atop crumbled pistachios and two thin slices of sourdough bread. While the meat-cheese platter was abundant, the burrata dish was scant. It was more the burrata was one of three components versus the center-staged star. The three items together created a wonderful flavor-texture delight.

Pasta w SeafoodFor my entrée I ordered the Squid Ink Mafaldini with Calabrian chilies, charred calamari, clams, and shrimp. Mafaldini is best described as the curly edges of the lasagna noodle. The dish was delicious and the amount of seafood was focused on the calamari and shrimp with a few clams added, which I was fine with. The pasta did have a bit of a zip to it from the chilies, which I really enjoyed.

My wife ordered the Spaghetti Grosso, a simple pasta with San Marzano tomatoes, basil, and smoked ricotta salata. While the pasta was great and the sauce rich in flavor, it was a little on the salty side.

ArtichokesFor side dishes we enjoyed both the Asparagus with almonds and the Artichokes with salsa verde, the latter being our favorite.

Service was spot on from beginning to end.

I am back to recommending St. Cecelia as a great restaurant in Buckhead.

ABCV (NYC) – Vegan Nirvana

ABCV is a Jean George vegan restaurant attached to ABC Kitchen. With a few communal tables in the front, a long bar on one side and a smattering of tables in the rear, securing a reservation is tough and having people leave at a socially responsible time is even more difficult. We waited over 45 minutes past our reservation time as the campers at our assigned table refused to leave.

Once seated we ordered most of the menu and enjoyed all of the dishes. I would never have guessed that I would write a review of the food at a vegan restaurant with such superlatives, but it was one of the best meals of my life, the flavors and textures exploded on the palate and the creativity of the kitchen was overwhelming.

Dishes are designed for sharing, so you can experience the vast varieties of culinary creativity. Some of the dishes I would recommend are:

Lasagnette

The lasagnette with ramp pesto, asparagus, oyster mushrooms, ricotta was our favorite. The earthiness of the mushrooms and ramps and the sweetness of the asparagus were softened with the richness of the ricotta. Fantastic

The group also loved the fire roasted white yam, coconut yogurt, tamarind, tandoori masala. I never would have guessed this combination would be so sweet, and the balance from the tamarind and tandoori masala was great.

Morel wontons, lemon broth, green peppercorn, fava beans, spring garlic. This simple presentation was mild and delightful.

For some rich, deep flavors, order the dosa with smoky eggplant, tomato chutney, coconut yogurt, cilantro.

Salad

A refreshing option was the strawberries, sugar snap peas, avocado, ice wine vinaigrette, basil. It was an example that the chef was fully capable of creating a pleasant, versus bold combination.

Cauliflower

The Roasted cauliflower with turmeric-tahini and pistachios was another surprise. The cauliflower offered a moistness I have not experienced from roasting this vegetable and it was elevated with the coating of the turmeric-tahini.

Lettuce Cups

The most fun dish was the avocado lettuce cups, with toasted cumin, serrano and lime, and peppitas. The challenge was to use your hands or use a fork and knife. I opted for the former and it was a challenge with bites number two and three. We all loved the variety of freshness and spice.

While the evening started very rough with our wait for the table, management finally understood their missteps and brought a few dishes and ensured our server was overly pleasant during the first three-fourths of meal. Our original server’s shift ended at that point and her replacement was not in the same league. So, the beginning and the end were very rough, but the meal itself was spectacular.

Fox Brothers BBQ – Minority Opinion…I was Disappointed

Menu

I know I am in the minority and this is not what most people say about Fox Brothers BBQ, but I was pretty disappointed. I was really excited about the prospect of enjoying what many have described as the best Q in Atlanta, and as we waited in the parking lot for our table, the visuals of the plates going by and the smells that permeated the entire area raised my hopes.

Lopez

Immediately after being seated we ordered the Lopez and the Fried Pickles. The Lopez was tater tots smothered with brisket chili and cheese. There was barely any chili on our serving smothered, suffocated and overwhelmed the tots; it broke the rule more was not better. On the other hand, the fried pickles were pretty good, but they were extremely salty; you had to dip them in the ranch dressing to soften the saltines6. I will rate the Lopez a 2 and the pickles a 7.

Ribs and Pulled Pork

Onto the main event…we ordered a Combo Plate (chopped brisket and sausage) and an Everything Plate (doubling up on the ribs and pulled pork).

Sausage & Brisket

Ribs. Of the smoked items, the ribs were the best. A good amount of seasoning and the smoking created a great crust and fall off the bone preparation made these very good, but I was not a big fan of the seasoning. Dipping the fall off the bone meat into the BBQ sauce lessened the overwhelming seasoning. I give the ribs a 7.

Pulled pork. This was very inconsistent. While I really liked the first bite, the second was incredibly disappointing. There was no smokiness in the latter and it was similar to biting into boiled pork. I immediately went from a believer to a nonbeliever. This is rated a gentlemanly 4.

Brisket. Let’s start with the portion size, ridiculously skimpy and a slap in the face to all BBQ lovers. My guess is 2 ounces. After tasting my portion, it did not bother me that much as one forkful was enough. Again, there was little smokiness to the dish. I’ll be generous and give it a 3.

The best of the sides was the mac & cheese. This was delicious, a creaminess that was fantastic, the shells were cooked perfectly and the cheese melted to great lusciousness. The M&C deserves an 8.

The other interesting side was the Frito Pie, chili, cheese, onions inside a Fritos bag. It was both fun and tasty, and for a side a good option. I give it a 7.

Service was great. Our serve ensured we ordered enough for the three of us and kept our sweet tea glasses full. Best art of the meal and deserves a 10.

Overall, I was expecting greatness from Fox Brothers and was very disappointed.

Mission & Market (Buckhead) – Needs a Re-Boot

As much as I would like to continue to recommend M&M, our latest two visits were not up to the standards that made our initial visits so memorable. It does not appear I am alone, since the dining area on a beautiful Saturday evening had more empty tables than occupied, while other restaurants (in particular Little Alley next door) were booming.

If you are using Waze or GPS set your guidance for Little Alley Steak House, and drive past its valet and Mission and Market is just beyond it on the right. If you place Mission and Market in the GPS it will take you to the rear, delivery entrance.

Once you arrive, there are two dining areas, the bar in the front and the dining room in the rear, plus outdoor seating overlooking Lenox. Our server arrived immediately upon our being seated and started very strong with recommendations on food and wines.

I ordered the Grilled Spanish Octopus Hazelnut Romesco, with Shaved Vegetables. It was beautifully plated and while the Romesco sauce was delicious, the octopus was flavorless, with a spongy texture that was more aligned with it being boiled. Likewise, there was little seasoning on the dish. It was disappointing.

I also ordered the special entrée of the evening, which was described by the server as grouper over a risotto infused with white asparagus oil. I asked the server if it also contained white asparagus and she replied there were pieces of white asparagus as part of the accompaniments. The dish arrived and it was beautifully plated. The four, small fish pieces were inconsistently cooked. The biggest drawback was the complete and total lack of seasoning. There was little in the fish itself I could recommend. On the other hand, the risotto was delicious, great flavor.

For dessert we ordered the chocolate tart, which comes with Jeni’s coffee, cream and sugar ice cream. We asked if we could substitute the salty caramel ice cream from one of the other desserts and the server was agreeable. She approached a few minutes later and informed us they were out of the other, and offered plain vanilla. The dessert was the best part of the meal, fantastic flavors in the rich, dense chocolatey goodness.

I almost felt sorry for our server. She was performing her tasks plus, delivering some of the food and bussing the finished plates. While we very much enjoyed the room and the company, the food was extremely disappointing, for the second straight visit. Others at the table said the duck was extremely salty, while my wife enjoyed her salmon.

Mission and Market started strong last year, but it needs to refocus on the food if it expects me, and others to return.

Kawi (NYC) -Some Great Dishes, But a Lot of Work Still Required

Foie Gras Bitmap 2Kawi is located on the fifth floor of the new Harbor Yards complex. To find it, look for Brooks Brothers, make a left and take the elevators to the fifth floor. When you enter the restaurant, there is a few banquettes to the left in the bar area, a medium sized bar along the left wall, tables and banquettes in the bar area and to the right is a main dining room, overlooking the kitchen. It is not an exceptionally large space, but relaxed in its décor, and comfortable in the seating.

The four of us were seated in a banquette in the main dining area and the server immediately brought menus, both food and beverage, plus offered water (tap, sparkling, flat). The emphasis of the menu is Korean, and it is advised that you ask a lot of questions to the server, the original server (more on that later) was friendly and quite knowledgeable. The four of us decided to try a few smaller plates, plus a rice noodle dish and a main course.

Ribs 1

We knew we wanted the Sweet and Sour Ribs ($15) and immediately placed that order, which include three; the server was quick to point out they could easily make that four ribs so each of us could enjoy. They were delicious, but the description should read sweet and spicy as the glaze offered a little kick as an after-note. The meat was fall off the bone tender and a perfect size to set the tone for the rest of the meal. This was a solid 9.

Brisket 2

The next dish to arrive was the overwhelming favorite of the table. The Pickled Brisket ($16) and Mustard was slightly cured, and served with a delicious sauce and mustard greens. The ultra-thin slices were melt in your mouth spectacular, take you time and enjoy every bite. This dish was a 10+.

Foie Gras Bitmap 1

The most unusual dish was the Foie Gras Kimbap ($36), which resembled Japanese maki, seaweed wrapped rice with a slightly cure foie gras terrine, pickled daikon and chives. A simple sauce accompanied the twelve slices of the bitmap. The luscious creaminess of the foie gras terrine was divine. It was a centerpiece of the dish and so rich and flavorful that the other components were slightly overwhelmed and none of the items complemented the others. I can only give this dish a 6.

Rice Noodle Dumplings

The next dish to arrive was the Rice Cake Dumplings ($38) with parmesan and summer truffles. The term, dumplings, is a complete misnomer; I would describe them more in the style of ricotta gnocchi. They arrived in a bowl covered with the Parmesan cheese sauce and the server sliced the white truffles on top. The truffle slices were delicious, the cheese sauce was rich and creamy, but the dumplings were extremely dense and gummy. The dish was so rich and the dumplings so dense that I do not think one, or even two, people could finish. Even with the four of us, there was still some left in the bowl. I would not order this dish again. Except for the truffles this dish only receives a 2.

Boiled Chicken

The last dish to arrive was the Boiled Whole Chicken for two people ($64). Again, a proper description is required. We were told the chicken is boiled for an hour and then the skinless breast is sliced and placed on a large serving platter alongside glass noodles, beech mushrooms, bok choy, spring onions, cabbage, pickled daikon and two sauces. The remainder of the chicken was cut into portions, seasoned and deep fried. This dish was a cacophony of flavors and textures, two completely different dishes in one. We loved the crispy, seasoned fried pieces. The breast meat and the accompaniments were also outstanding, and gave each diner a chance to experiment. Overall it was a great use of every part of the bird and lots of ways to enjoy, I give this an 8.

chicken-fried.jpg

Service needs more focus. The restaurant has only been open a few days and there are adjustments in the kitchen and on the floor that need addressing. When we ordered the chicken, we were told it was cooked when ordered and it takes an hour. We liked that idea and mentioned it to the server; it would give us time to slowly enjoy the rest of our dishes. We were very surprised when it arrived twenty minutes into the meal, while we were only halfway through our appetizers, even before the rice dumplings arrived. What was very disappointing was how it was handled. I told the server we were not ready for it, that she originally informed us it would take an hour to arrive, and we planned around that information. It took close to ten minutes for her to scurry around and get approval to remove the two chicken platters and all the accompaniments from our table. Meanwhile the table was overwhelmed with so many plates, we could not eat anything else. In addition, it would have been a nice gesture for one of the managers to, at a minimum, apologize. Another unusual event was two-thirds of the way through the meal, our server arrived and introduced us to her replacement. It was very disjointed with a new server now needing to understand the rhythm of our table and the rapport developed with server #1 who worked with us in creating the meal. Given the bad timing of the food from the kitchen, the lack of management oversight when there was an issue, the manager spending more time sipping wine than addressing an issue and the uncomfortable hand-off of servers two-thirds of the way through the meal I can only give the service a 2.

Overall, as much as I enjoyed most of the dishes, I expected a smoother evening from a David Chang restaurant. When you spend ~$100 per person, there is an expectation that the kinks have been resolved, this was not the case. Everyone in the restaurant welcomed us at the table when we arrived, but when we had an issue, they were invisible.

 

If you go, I would also suggest planning on sharing the dishes to gain a full appreciation for the flavors that Chang and team have developed. Some of the dishes are really good, the ribs, brisket and chicken, while others should be revamped or eliminated. Overall, Kawi was an experience, but it is not a place I would rush back to.