September 26, 2007

hanging in the ATL: Element

A few weeks ago, Lav and I were in Atlanta for a family wedding. I hadn't been to Atlanta since my cross-country 48-state road trip back in 2000... when I stopped by the Silver Skillet (I sat on the middle stool) and had red-eye gravy for the first time w/ my ham and grits while chatting with a genuinely friendly waitress. With a chance to visit Atlanta with Lav for the first time, we set our sights on some of the newer restaurants making waves in the local scene. First stop: Element, Atlanta's own gastro-lab.

In a sense, we're still recovering from the sensory onslaught of our dinner at Alinea three months ago (sincerest hopeful wishes to Chef Achatz as he battles cancer). Chef Richard Blais' Element is like the renegade younger brother of Alinea... born of the same spirit of inventiveness, a little rougher around the edges in execution, more wildly experimental in clashing flavor concepts, and totally laid back in a pub-like setting.

Chef Blais is known locally for his work at the well-regarded One Avenue, back in Atlanta after a brief stint in Miami to run this experimental project out of a converted residence. Outside of Atlanta, he is better known for his win on Iron Chef over Morimoto, unabashedly utilizing science lab techniques to create new methods and media for his dishes.

I don't want to venture too much into "reviewing" restaurants... that's not what this blog is about. Instead, I just want to highlight some of the interesting flavor and texture aspects of the dishes we enjoyed. Lav started with a frozen margarita cocktail and I had the "Coke Squishy," both of which were made utilizing copious amounts of liquid nitrogen. The super-cooling effect of the liquid nitrogen has the effect of creating an incredibly dense and creamy texture.

Dishes are all small plates, optimal for sharing and experiencing as many different flavor combinations as possible. We started with the Oysters and Pearls: six oysters served with frozen "pearls" of cantalope juice (think dipping dots) and a thin ribbon of prosciutto. While the cantalope and prosciutto is a classic flavor combination that worked well together here, the combination with the oysters was off putting. The cured saltiness of the prosciutto made the natural brininess of the oysters taste old and stale, rather than effervescent. And the sweetness of the cantalope was overpowering and bluntly saccharine for the oyster. A citrus-flavored pearl with some acidity would have paired much better with the oyster (sans the prosciutto).

Next, we had Chips and Salsa: homemade potato chips served with tiny gelatinized cubes of salsa. The flavor of the "salsa" was remarkably precise, making the delivery mechanism interesting and successful.

The dish of the night was grilled octopus, served with a cucumber lightly pickled in rice vinegar and potato salad. Intense and deep flavor complemented very well by the subtle touch of acid from the pickle and unified by the lightly dressed creaminess of the potato salad.

Almost as successful was the homemade fettuccini served with smoky Daves bacon and an egg, slow poached sous vide. The consistency of the yolk was decadent and luxurious... much thicker than a regular poached egg... teetering on becoming solid.

The other dishes we tried:

beef brisket + hot & cold grits: not a very successful dish, mostly because the meat was surprisingly dry.

fried fish + curry remoulade + smoked spices: the curry remoulade with smoked spices was absolute genius, turning a simple plate of battered fish into a gloriously complex and richly flavored expression.

baby back lamb ribs + goya malta: texturally precise, but one dimensional in flavor (only sweet).

mozzarela ravioli + heirloom tomatoes + tiny basil: beautifully plated, and would have been outstanding had the tomatoes been ripe.

panna cotta with coke crystals and crackerjacks: really fun, like a vanilla coke and crackerjacks, but in another textural dimension. The coke crystals melted instantly upon contact with your tongue and actually still had some residual carbonation captured that created an interesting, light tingle.

Who knew Atlanta had this kind of experimental creativity going on?

Element Restaurant & Lounge in Atlanta

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1 comment:

  1. I was going to go try Element next. I love to try new restaurants & have recently started writing about them. Great review!

    ~ Akanke