Late as this is, it’s well worth it. Weekend before last, I had two, count ’em two, spectacular meals.
Friday night, MF Buckhead. Big brother (sister?) to MF Sushi on Ponce (never been, want to go), this recently opened joint is probably the sexiest restaurant I’ve ever encountered. In a sort of restaurant ghetto in the new Terminus building, where the other tenants (Aquaknox, Bricktops, Lola) all have grand entrances with gigantic, brightly lit signs, MF Buckhead’s entrance is a pair of doors wrapped around a corner, with the restaurant’s logo simply, quietly etched in glass. Greetings come by way of three ridiculously hot (Asian, fittingly) hostesses, and we pass by a beautiful black bar staffed by an even more ridiculously hot bartender as we’re shown to our table.
Heralded recently in two reviews from Atlanta critics that I pay attention to, and already crowned the king of Atlanta sushi, the place is stunningly gorgeous. I can’t even remember it all, but there were great, modern (but comfortable) chairs, dope art, and a larger space overlooking the main room that was sheathed by some sort of blue beaded waterfall curtain. But I digress…..the food. Jesus Christ, the food.
First off, edamame. I certainly never thought that there was much to edamame. Every time I’ve had it, it tastes the exact same. It’s always good, but always the same. This, however, was the best edamame I’ve ever had. I’m not even sure how this stuff is harvested, or if it was from some different place (Japan?) than where run-of-the-mill edamame comes from (Wisconsin?), but it tasted leaps and bounds fresher and lighter than any I’ve ever had. And with edamame like that, you can’t just toss Morton’s on there; our waitress grated fresh Himalayan rock salt over the whole bowl. I don’t put salt on anything, but it was welcomed with open arms (mouth? PAUSE) in this instance.
After that, a roll, but without the rice and seaweed. Is that still a roll? Snow crab and asparagus wrapped in smoked salmon, barely seared and drizzled with a creamy aioli. I dare say it was a little much, if only because the salmon was so rich. But that’s probably a good thing. Then, Kobe beef nigiri. At the risk of sounding cliché, it really did taste like butter. Thinly sliced, momentarily thrown on the robata grill, and laid over a pillow of rice with a slice of jalapeno and cilantro, it literally melted in my mouth. I managed to turn those two pieces into about six bites, just so I could experience it that many more times. Then some real rolls, among them a fatty tuna with cucumber, and two others I can’t remember — not because they were in any way deficient, but because I’m not quite at the level of sushi connoisseurship to appreciate the nuances of it all. I do, however, recall that they were all as fine as the first.
My entree (is that what they’re called at a sushi place?) was a piece of Chilean sea bass, again from the robata, wrapped in what I think was bamboo, with seasoned purple onions and a squeeze of lemon. This stuff fell to pieces as soon my chopsticks touched it; this is a good thing though. It was flaky, tender, and kind of perfect.
Dessert was a raspberry coulis topped with a layer of meringue, and a pair of sorbets — one a white peach, the other the house special, a banana, something, something, and something mix (I know it was 4, all fruits), sauced with sweet red beans, a taste I’d learned to appreciate from the Chinese woman I shared an office with in New York, who consistently and kindly brought me Chinatown treats, like red bean popsicles. Neither was outstanding, but both were still pretty damn good.
Luckily, I have a friend with a generous expense account — for three, the bill was upwards of $300. Nice.
On to Saturday night. I have a dear friend who, while I lived in New York, I went out to dinner with once a week. Or at least almost once a week. A fellow food nerd, we always tried something new and different, and went back and forth picking up the check. She was in town for New Year’s, and lucky for me, it was her turn to ante up (next time I’m up top, it’s on me). After weeks of e-mailing suggestions back and forth, we decided on JCT Kitchen, off of Howell Mill on the Westside. I used to live over there, and have a great appreciation for the area, although in those days my culinary options usually ran closer to Wendy’s and Taco Bell. I’ve grown.
Anyhow, this spot has been on my radar for some time now, as I have a great appreciation for Southern/country/soul food, and I love seeing people doing new, interesting things with it. I’d read about JCT and it’s chef in quite a few places, and Esquire even named it one of the best bars in the country. In what seemed to be a theme for the weekend, JCT is located in another sort of restaurant ghetto. It’s in the same complex as Bacchanalia, Star Provisions, Quinones at Bacchanalia, and Floataway Cafe, all found here, and all of which I desperately want to try. The decor was cool; woodplank floors, and lots of muted lighting and neutral color on the walls. Nothing special and even a little bland, but still extremely pleasant and relaxed.
Started off with tomato soup with a Georgia got cheese crouton. Not exactly a bold choice, but I knew what I wanted, and I go for pretty much anything with cheese. It was delicious, as suspected, but my only complaint was that the goat cheese crouton was precisely that: a big-ass crouton, about the size of a RAZR, with some cheese on it. It made it a little hard to get a nice piece of it with every slurp of soup. Spoons aren’t generally the best cutting utensils, and bowls, particularly when filled with hot liquid, don’t make for very good cutting surfaces. Nonetheless, it was indeed delicious. They do not, however, get any extra special points; I mean really, how hard is it to fuck up tomato soup?
For the main platter, I made an excellent choice, if I don’t say so myself. Which I do. I ordered the bacon-wrapped rainbow trout, served over a bed of sweet corn puree, with a wood grilled onion salad, lemon, and EVOO (shout-outs to Rachel Ray). I realize the ridiculousness with which most restaurants describe their food, but I give them the benefit of the doubt; they do a better job of telling me what it is than I’d probably do on my own. Anyhow, it was good. Really good. And all of the frou-frou that accompanied it was good too. I don’t think I’ve had trout before (I just started eating fish about 3 years ago, slowly but surely, after a 10+ year lay-off, with my previous experience pretty much limited to fish sticks), but it was distinctly not very fishy. Not necessarily a bad thing, but as I’ve learned to appreciate fish, I now kind of like it. Was it just here, or is all trout like that? It’ll definitely get it a shot elsewhere though.
My homie is a real meat-and-potatoes kind of girl (gotta love that), so she appropriately had meat and potatoes. Her steak, which usually doesn’t really get me going, was perfectly seasoned, and she had potatoes two ways — smashed (does mashing no longer do the trick?), and a basket of truffle-parmesan fries. I’m not entirely convinced of the magic and wonder of truffles, despite hearing them praised and fawned over on the Food Network and in fancy-pants restaurants and recipes, and not really being able to taste much more than the parmesan on the fries certainly didn’t convert me. But they were some damn good parmesan fries. I’m not a huge french fry fan, but when done right, they’re pretty hard to beat.
Dessert was crazy good. We shared the gingerbread pudding with lemon curd, although the name is a bit misleading. As you can see, a more apt description would be a gingerbread bread pudding; get the difference? This was an intensely dense pudding/cake hybrid, that was rich and creamy and thick and all of the above. I’m not entirely sure what a curd is, so I’ll run with what they called it. Not a pudding, not a sauce, but whatever it was, its citrus-y zest perfectly accompanied, and balanced, the richness of the cake (that’s what I’m calling it: a gingerbread pudding cake).
Both of these spots get hearty recommendations. Here’s hoping I can finagle my way into another weekend of fee-free gourmet sometime again soon.
Picture credits: MF Sushi – Creative Loafing (James Camp); JCT Kitchen – Off The Broiler; Gingerbread bread pudding w/ lemon curd, Access Atlanta