Review: Restaurant Eugene

Restaurant Eugene logo

Without question, this has been the most difficult review that I’ve ever written. It is the single biggest reason why I have not posted anything in 2 weeks.

It is no coincidence that almost 90% of my reviews are overwhelmingly positive, and it isn’t because I love everything I eat. I don’t. In fact, I have many meals that are just “ok”. I just don’t make you read about them.

I only feel compelled to write about the experiences that excite me, one way or the other. Usually, a meal will only wind up here if it was a story worth telling.

Were I a true critic, as opposed to whatever it is I’m currently playing at, I would simply write about every meal that I possibly could. Not all of those meals are going to be great and hopefully very few of them will be horrible. So, logic suggests that I would spend my fair share of time writing about the mediocre.

Except, I don’t really give a damn about the mediocre. And when you don’t care about something, it makes it a little tougher to write about, and procrastination becomes a much more viable option.

So, why write about this one? Because it was supposed to be amazing, and it wasn’t.

Chef Linton Hopkins is a certified badass. He is a 3-time James Beard award nominee. Not a semi-finalist, mind you, but a nominee…for those that aren’t familiar with how the James Beard nominations work, that means he made it to the finals. On top of that, he has been named a “Best New Chef of 2009” by Food & Wine magazine, and is part owner of one of my favorite restaurants in town, H&F. And Restaurant Eugene is his flagship. It is the food he cooks at Eugene that made him famous.

So, yeah, you could say I’d been looking forward to it.

This is where the whole “amateur food writer” thing actually becomes a problem. Maybe I’m just too damn nice. Maybe I’m letting my appreciation of Hopkins as a chef, and the high expectations that I carried into this meal, hold me back from being totally objective. Maybe I should just rip into Eugene and disregard the caliber of chef that was preparing my food. But I find that difficult to do.

Eugene is SUPER swanky…it is truly fine dining. The service was exceptional and attentive. But the only reason I wanted to eat there was the food.

The first thing that I immediately identified as destined for my table was the foie gras tasting. That consists of foie gras three ways, seared, terrine, and powdered. This was served with hibiscious syrup, whipped honey, and grilled brioche.

Foie Gras Eugene

I assure you…the reason that you can’t find the seared foie gras in that picture isn’t because the lighting and my photography skills suck, though that isn’t helping. Just before my plate was due to the table, I received the soul-crushing news that they were out of the seared foie gras. Instead, I received a double portion of the terrine at half of the original price (down to $14 from $28), which I must say was damned decent of them. But it still didn’t put any seared foie gras in my mouth.

The terrine was excellent. I had no complaints about it, but the dish definitely didn’t feel complete without the seared foie gras. The powdered foie gras, however, was pretty damn cool. My date, who doesn’t usually mess with foie because of the texture, loved the powdered version. This had all of the flavor of foie with none of the texture.

Next up was the Soft Poached Bantam Egg. This was cooked sous vide and served over a bed of farro, crisped vidialia, and tasso, all in a pool of nettle-black tea.

 

It is not often that I find myself trying to figure out how to steal a saltshaker from the server station at a restaurant of this caliber, but that is exactly what I was doing. If you manage to get a piece or two of tasso onto every forkful that you eat, the blandness problem is drastically reduced. But there just wasn’t enough tasso to go around. I cursed myself under my breath for passing up on the Pork Belly or Lamb Rillette to order this.

Listen to this: Niman Ranch Rib eye, served with duck fat toast, onion marmalade, escarole, and brown butter emulsion. Made by Linton Hopkins. HOW GOOD DOES THAT SOUND?!?

I was so f’ing excited about this steak, I could barely contain myself. This was going to be incredible. And for $42, it had better be.

The lighting was bad. This was more appetizing in person.

The lighting was bad. This was much more appetizing in person.

 

When you were a kid, was there ever a time when you finally got a toy that you had been DYING to get your snotty little hands on, only to find out it was broken? Do you remember how disappointed you were?

That is how I felt when I ate this steak. The flavors were good, but the execution was nothing short of horrible. I don’t know how they managed to do it. It LOOKED medium rare. But it was one of the toughest pieces of steak I remember ordering in a restaurant. And it sure as shit didn’t taste like a medium rare rib eye. Chewing it was a chore.

The duck fat toast, which definitely tasted like duck fat, was actually too greasy. They had soaked the bread all the way through with duck fat, which sounded great in theory. But the greasy bread, though tasty, was difficult to finish. However, I must say, the onion marmalade and brown butter emulsion were fabulous. Very rich in flavor…those two accompaniments were the only thing that saved this dish from total ruin.

This night was a single experience. So, I cannot (and will not) make a sweeping statement about if you should or shouldn’t go here, or if you will or won’t have a great meal. Reason suggests that this is a bit of a fluke. It is widely accepted that Linton Hopkins knows what he is doing. I don’t think anyone would argue that.

It could have easily been someone other than Hopkins working the kitchen that night. Given the quality of food that I received, I’d say it is extremely likely that this was the case. But Hopkins needs to get his house in order. Whoever he left at the helm steered that ship straight into an iceberg.

As I left Eugene that night, and saw Holeman and Finch right across the driveway, I felt a sting of regret. I could have spent half the money and probably had a much better experience there. For $140 for a meal for two, NOT including alcohol, this isn’t a restaurant that I’ll revisit before reviewing. I just don’t have that kind of scratch.

There are far too many other options that are much more consistent that are worth my hard-earned dollars.

Restaurant Eugene on Urbanspoon

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7 Comments

  1. Sally
    Posted May 14, 2010 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    Finally! Someone who agrees with me and my husband. In the beginning it was fantastic, we went often and enjoyed everything about it for 2 years or so. A couple of years ago we went for Mother’s day and my veal was inedible.. seriously how can someone make veal unchewable? We talked to Rick, GM at the time, he was very gracious. Gave it another shot in December, I spent a good 3 minutes talking with our server about the temp. of my filet mignon. I just can’t eat rare meat, I need it to be med rare. I was careful to say i don’t want to insult the chef or anything just my personal quirk. Came out, it was rare as could be and I would have sent it back but she disapppeared for 20 min. Swapped entrees with hubby (his pheasant was great) but here’s the kicker, when I said it was too rare, she said “Then you should have ordered it well-done”.. That’s a real quote. We havn not returned since, which is a shame, we were regular customers, they knew our names. But it’s too expensive for being so risky. It really is a shame. Chef Hopkins and Gina are such likeable people, but something has gone off the tracks at Eugene.

  2. Posted May 16, 2010 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

    Wow. I actually could not look at this the first time because I didn’t want to read a flippant review of one of my top 3 ATL spots and Chefs. But…I finished to the end and I have to say that, despite the fact I have never eaten anything I haven’t loved there, many of my friends have washed their hands of Restaurant Eugene and won’t return. Ouch. We always order the tasting menu and it has NEVER disappointed. I am sorry to read your experience, and even more sorry that it is echoed by many others I know. I think your review was honest and respectful. Can’t ask for more. Thanks.

    • Posted May 17, 2010 at 11:08 am | Permalink

      Yeah..I know what you mean about not wanting to read it. Hell, I didn’t even want to WRITE it. I obviously respect Linton Hopkins, and I love his food at Holeman and Finch, which is what made this visit that much more disappointing. It wasn’t horrible…it was just mediocre. Had I not had such high expecations, I would have just chalked it up as “ok” and left it at that. But it should have been great (especially for that kind of money!)

      I think I expected more of a backlash from criticizing one of Atlanta’s best chefs, but I’ve had a lot more people say that they have had similar experiences than the other way around.

      I’m not going to stop eating his food (hell, I even make some of his recipes at home!) I’m just not going to do it at Eugene.

      Thanks for the comment!

  3. JSF
    Posted May 17, 2010 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    So let me get this straight, the kitchen sold out of an item, didn’t add enough salt on another and overcooked the steak and you want to discout this place and the chef (you mention his name 7 times) who may or may not have been cooking this night after ONE visit? Get a grip.

    And posting those pics does not do anything except show you are a horrible photographer who can’t use a flash, or needs to hide his camera (but more likely a cell phone) because he is NOT a true food critic.

    Why CL linked to your amateur review I will never know.

  4. Posted May 17, 2010 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

    I’m NOT a true food critic, something which I point out more than once in this post. In fact, I even refer to myself as an amature, so I’m not sure what your point is with that. I write about my experiences with food, nothing more, nothing less.

    I apologize that the quality of my photographs offended you, but they are a bit of a neccesarry evil. People usually need some visual stimulation to make it through my wordy writing. And you are correct, on this night I was hiding my camera (in this case, an iPhone). I did this out of respect for the other diners. Perhaps I should be less considerate as to not appear as amaturish.

    I mention Chef Hopkins’ name multiple times (does this make #8, or do comments not count?) because his name carries a remarkable reputation, and I’ve been a fan of his food long before dining at Eugene. It is his reputation that makes the mediocrity of this meal significant. It should have been better than it was. I also don’t discount Restaurant Eugene…I specifically said that this was probably a fluke, that I won’t make sweeping statements about the restaurant as a whole, etc. If you paid $200 to see (insert musical act of your choice) and the lead singer’s voice cracked every 30 seconds and they were missing the drummer, would you not have an issue with that? Or would you write it off as them just having an “off night”?

    Were I a true food critic, and my meals were expensed for the sake of my craft, then I would never have written this after just one visit. But I’m not and any restaurant that serves me a wholly mediocre meal for over $200 is not going to get a return visit from me. Part of what you pay for at a restaurant like this is consistency.

    You took this review a little personally, huh?

  5. Posted May 18, 2010 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    JSF,

    You arguments are asinine. He had a shitty meal, paid an exorbitant amount of money for it, and you want him to write it off as a bad night or blame it on the chef not being in the kitchen?

    While LTF responded appropriately, I will echo him in saying that you pay for consistency at a restaurant (and chef’s mainstay) that has this good of a reputation. The meal was bad and not worth the money and LTF’s review is more than fair. He could have had something for 1/8 the price at H&F next door and been significantly more satisfied. Whether or not Anne Quatrano is in the kitchen at Bacchanalia, you’re going to get a great meal for $75. And if you don’t, it’s completely unacceptable, just like this experience at Restaurant Eugene.

  6. Posted May 18, 2010 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    LTF,

    JSF is an archetype: he isn’t educated appropriately to be a professional critic, and he’s too lazy to be a blogger (yes, this is an allusion to the old saying about porn stars).

    Instead, he just whines and snaps at the bloggers that don’t agree with him. Sad, pathetic, a bully to you and sycophantic to whomever in the food word he worships. I’ve seen enough of my share of this. I have no respect or sympathy for this pattern of behavior.

    FnS.

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  1. By Web-o-rama, Monday edition | Omnivore Atlanta on May 17, 2010 at 11:18 am

    [...] Local blogs have some interesting stuff to say about Restaurant Eugene, both positive and negative. [...]

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