Staplehouse: Worth the hype?

Staplehouse: Worth the hype?

So, of all the restaurants I was looking forward to in the States, Staplehouse was highest on the list.  And why is that exactly?  Well, as there is a distinct shortage of Michelin stars in Atlanta, this venue (with its nomination for the James Beard Award Best New Restaurant 2016) was going to fill in the blanks.  After some hiccups online — the booking service was through Tocktix, which took nearly an act of God and a pricey call to my bank back home to complete, I completed my reservation. (It’s worth noting these issues were addressed upon my arrival, a detail I sincerely appreciated).  We caught an Uber and in the unexpected location of the Old 4th Ward and nearly drove by the restaurant (it REALLY blends with the neighborhood).  Walking in, we were promptly seated at 7 PM at a table very close to the entirely open concept kitchen.

That’s our table on the end. (Photo courtesy of Creative Loafing’s review of Staplehouse).  It’s much more crowded in person.

With a quick confirmation, we would be sampling the five-course tasting menu (and also, of course, opting for a glass of bubbles before the meal, with the wine pairing as well), the first batch of hor ‘d oeuvres were whisked out, barely giving me time to enjoy the ambiance.  It seems that nearly every restaurant I went to during my time in Atlanta could be considered ‘New American,’ although in this instance, I was easily reminded of Dill, in Iceland.  The dining room in Staplehouse was much smaller than I was expecting…not that I’m complaining!  The tall ceilings and overall space led to a very intimate experience (even if the venue was at capacity).

Stunning soup starter.
IMG_0065 (1)
The first two snacks are welcome anytime.

After a soup palate cleanser (?), we were served some small snacks.  On the plate of amusing bouches, I found the first bite (a yummy mash up of pretzel and Creme Fraiche) to be the best, with the pate type beef bite to be the least.  Not finished, we were then presented with one of my favorite (and creative) ideas to pre-dinner bites I’ve seen yet — a thin sliver of pork, with a spicy blend dusting the edges.  If I were another restaurant, I would totally steal this move — it was so simple, but delicious (and maybe next time with a piece of locally sourced cheese in the middle?)!

Ready for the tasting menu to officially begin, we began with a beautifully presented snapper (completed with ats jaar veingar, saffron, chive and rice).  To start the evening (and throughout the meal) I was impressed with the wine selection.  In this instance, the first course was accompanied by a sake (of all things).  The seishu sake, icishima went down a treat…for everyone else at the table.  I instead went for the alternative offer of white wine (sorry, didn’t get the name), which was quite delicious.  The dish itself was gorgeous to look at and the perfect size to start.  The haphazard shards are a bit difficult to work around, but I used them as more or less a ‘scoop’ for the hidden snapper.  I like when meals start in a bold direction, and the first course offered just that.

Stained glass? Or fish? And how does one eat this politely? I used my fingers!

Onto round two!  This course was probably my favorite plating and overall taste of the evening — honestly, the level of difficulty in balancing this dish is something I can only imagine, and I give full credit to the chefs for envisioning this dish.  The beets (which I usually don’t enjoy), bresaola, hibiscus, and sunflower came together beautifully.  Honestly, it was the sunflower that elevated the dish — adding both texture and (of all things) a bit of protein.  When we finished, our plates looked like they were bleeding…which I thought was a cool effect.  I’m weird.

I don’t even like beets, but the (unseen) sunflower is what really brings the dish together.

Round three was where we had the first small misstep.  Before I go into that, I will mention the accompanying wine, the familiar blanc by Dirty & Rowdy was wonderfully cloudy (not something you usually see on the table).  While again, all the points for presentation, the flounder (served with charred cucumber eggplant, and lemon basil) was served at a temperature I felt was more than a few degrees colder than it should’ve been.  Now, each kitchen is allowed to make choices for their dishes and as a diner, I am allowed opinions of my own.  The problem was that it was just warm enough that sending it back to be fired again would’ve been insulting to the (clearly talented) kitchen.  At the same time, I enjoy my fish piping hot (unless it’s sushi and then I want it cold…).  I would’ve thought it was a one off thing but…

Oh, but for a few degrees…

Course four, the duck (with squash, cilantro, and dark roux) was also served a few degrees short of optimal.  While again, I realize everything comes down to personal opinion, I’m going to play my ‘I’ve dined around the world card’ here.  The distinction here is what separates Staplehouse from an awesome meal from a truly memorable one.  Is this one of the more first world decisions I’ll make this year?  Sure it is.  At the same time, did my issues with 3 of 5 of the courses distract from what was a fantastic evening?  Not really — we still had a wonderful time.  Even if a bit lukewarm, the portion size of the duck was spot on, as was the plating and taste.

Flavourful, and I really appreciated the size of all of the proteins in the tasting menu — no food wastage.

Staplehouse also managed to surprise us between courses three and four with one of the best (potato) breads I’ve ever eaten — so good, I’m glad they didn’t have it on the table, because I definitely would’ve filled up on it!  The starter for the bread was over 13 years old and the treat was served with whipped olive oil.  Nom!

The dessert course was, unfortunately, a concoction that did not help my opinion of the tasting menu.  I was craving something truly sweet and what was presented was much more ‘earthy’ than I wanted.  It’s not that the flavours were bad, it’s more that my expectations were along the lines of what I’d had at the Kimball House (yes, I realize they are different restaurants).  To send us on our way (and we were pretty far gone at this point), the desert was accompanied by the Verve & Vigor cocktail (bitters, cardamaro, tequila, and mint).  Fortunately, the meal had a final finish of a small ‘petit four’ type truffle (essentially what I would consider small Snickers bite, although much more elevated).

A rare miss in dessert for me.

Would I go back?  I, of course, like to live a hypothetical world.  Honestly, I would like the Kimball House to bring down their prices, develop a tasting menu and go head to head with Staplehouse.  In reality, that can’t happen, so I’ll say that $85 per person seems like an absolute bargain for the outstanding, personable service and creative, filling food.  Even adding in the cost of wine ($40 per person, plus that tasty glass of bubbly), I think the price provides quite good value for what is on offer.  Overall, I’m excited that this level of food is on offer in Atlanta!  If I make another trip back, I would love to sample off the ala carte menu, which looked equally as good.

Have you been to Staplehouse?  What was your favorite dish?  Do you think someone in Georgia deserves a Michelin star?

Side note: If you haven’t, check out The Giving Kitchen (a great charity which provides emergency assistance grants for Atlanta area restaurant workers facing an unanticipated hardship).  The team at Staplehouse are involved with this fantastic organization.

Staplehouse Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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