Given the explosion that has been the restaurant scene in West Midtown over the last 6 months, I’ve struggled to find time to try all of the new hotspots. That isn’t exactly a bad problem to have.
Bocado is an example of one that has been on my list for far too long. In fact, it’s been there since opening back in October ’09. Seriously…it’s on my “restaurants I want to try list” that I keep on my iPhone, right under my list of “bands to check out” and “stuff I want”. Doesn’t everyone do that?
Bocado sits at the intersection of Howell Mill Rd and Marietta St., directly across from Octane Coffe Bar and Hop City Beer & Wine. At the helm of this farm-to-table/small plate/sandwich shop is the team of Executive Chef Todd Ginsberg, formally of The Dining Room at The Ritz, TAP, and Trois, and Owner Brian Lewis.
Ginsberg, a classically trained CIA graduate with some impressive experience in French cuisine at restaurants in both Paris and New York, steps outside of his usual fare to craft a locally sourced modern American menu focused on sandwiches, small plates, and salads. Despite the change in direction, Ginsberg maintains the same flavor driven and detailed approach to cooking that has made him a success in the past.
Finally making my way down there for dinner last week, I had a bit of an advantage as a result of waiting a few months. Thanks to the power of Twitter, I fielded suggestions from the ATL foodie scene, and none of them disappointed me.
Unfortunately, things did not start off on the right foot. We arrived late on a Thursday evening (post 9 PM) and were seated immediately. The problem came when we ordered drinks. My date ordered her drink, the name of which escapes me, that included Cynar, a bitter Italian liqueur. I wish I could tell you what else was in this, but the overwhelming bitter aftertaste is all that I can remember. I know that the bitterness of Cynar is a big reason to use it in a cocktail, but a good mixologist should balance that bitterness so that it isn’t all-consuming. That was obviously not the case here. This thing was undrinkable. And before you chalk it up to personal taste, we had a cocktail with Cynar in it the next night that we both loved.
For my drink, I ordered a Woodford Reserve Manhattan on the rocks. It arrived “Up” in a cocktail glass instead. It was still a Manhattan, so I didn’t make a fuss to my waitress, as I still enjoy drinking them that way. But I didn’t enjoy this one. It barely tasted like a Manhattan at all, and I know enough about bourbon to know that it was not made with Woodford. That was later confirmed while reviewing my bill.
A Manhattan is a pretty basic drink that every bartender in the world should know how to make. This leads me to believe that whoever made our cocktails that night didn’t know what they were doing. So, perhaps the Cynar concoction is actually well crafted, but was just poorly executed. Either way, we stuck with wine for the rest of the night.
Now, I love me a good cocktail. For those keeping score, that is 2 cocktails out of 2 that I didn’t like. And one of them even had bourbon in it!
Now, the food was a different experience for us. One of the first suggestions I got from my Twitter request came from Atlanta’s food industry PR extraordinaire Melissa Libby. She emphatically recommended the Roasted Brussels Sprouts, served with thyme, lemon, parmesan, croutons, and capers.
Brussels sprouts are a great example of a green that, in the right hands, can shatter the misconceptions most of us develop during childhood. And I’m a sucker for well made Brussels sprouts. When you overcook them, as I’m sure most of our mothers were guilty of, they release sinigrin. This compound is responsible for the sulfuric “old sock” taste that haunts the dreams of children everywhere. But, Bocado’s sprouts were executed perfectly.
They were browned just enough to add flavor without being overcooked. At first, we thought this might be a little under seasoned, until I combined all of the components simultaneously into one bite. Make sure you do the same. Paired with the sharp flavor of the parmesan and salty pickled capers, the sprouts are magnificent. I would definitely order these again.
Next up was the only “miss” in the food department, and it crushed me because I was so excited about it. As soon as I spotted the Veal Cheek, served with baby rutabaga, turnips, grits, and jus, I knew that I had to order it. Excitement turned to resolve when our server told me that this is prepared sous vide. *
CORRECTION: Chef Ginsberg let me know that I was mis-informed. It seems Bocado does not even have a sous vide machine. Because I don’t feel like deleting every other sous vide reference in this post, and because my impression of the dish was definitely impacted by the expectation given to me by the server that this was sous vide, I won’t be making any more changes that relate to this. Just keep that in mind.
I mean, come on! Sous vide veal cheek?! Just writing those four words is making my mouth water.
Alas, as much as I wanted to love this, I was left wanting. It definitely wasn’t bad; it just wasn’t everything that it could have been. The meat was tender and the grits slathered in jus were delicious. This was still good, but I found myself slowly chewing each bite, waiting for that thing that makes your eyes roll back into your head. It never came.
The most noticeable correction that could have been made was the crust of the meat. As with all things sous vide, there needs to be a nice crust to contrast the soft textures that this method produces in proteins. The veal cheek had been seared at some point, but all of the crunch had gone soft by the time it reached the table. That might have been the only issue. Whatever the cause, it felt like this was one flavor layer short of badass.
This dish really pissed me off, because it should have been mind blowing. The cheek that I ate had enough potential to merit a second try, and if you’ve had this I’d love to hear from you. I’m hoping I just got a bad plate.
Thank god for The Epicurean Athlete. It was her suggestion to get the Roasted Poblano & Pimento Cheese sandwich with bacon and fried green tomato. The pimento cheese was fresh and smooth, and the poblano had that slow heat that creeps up on you 6 bites into the meal. This sandwich is highly recommended.
Fortunately for you, this is on both the lunch and dinner menu. Fortunately for me, it was dinner so I got a cup of their creamy tomato bisque to go with it. It’s very well done, with a nice thick texture and rich flavor. We got an extra batch of H&F bread just so we could soak up every last drop.
You really want to blow your own mind? Dip the sandwich INTO THE BISQUE!
Thank me later.
Don’t let my bitching confuse you. Even though my experience here wasn’t flawless, all of the issues could be easily explained away as flukes. The pros outweighed the cons, and I will definitely be back. With the knowledge that I work minutes from a lunch that includes that sandwich, I’m not even sure how long I’ll be able to wait.
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