Been traveling here and there lately so this is a bit late. But it happened. The epic dinner of 2012. It was a collaboration of rock star chefs who channeled their creative geniuses to produce the best dinner to ever hit Atlanta. And I was there. Six famous chefs: Robert Phalen, Drew Belline, Josh Hopkins, Ryan Smith, Guy Wong, Stuart Baesel. One talented sous chef. Twelve plates. Three appetizers. Five glasses of wine. One bourbon. One bottle of beer. One cocktail. Sixty-five very full bellies. And a night to remember.
It was so cool, too, because I was in the company of people who were there because of one thing: the love of food. But it was more fun because my sister and I got to crash my very good friends Troy and Cath‘s table who were supposed to be on a date. Well, they always let me crash their dates anyway. So without further ado… the meal.
The reception started with a nice, crisp glass of an old classic, the French 75. Holy Taco’s Phillip Meeker prepared delicious hors d’oeuvres that were passed around. I loved the creamy, meaty trotter balls (
sorry, no photo thanks, GJ!) enveloped in crispy batter then drizzled with honey. You get a different texture as your teeth sink in from a pop, a crunch, and then a slide. You also get a different layer of flavor from sweet, fried, then meaty. The fresh head cheese topped with shreds of pickled onions was also outstanding in that there wasn’t that metallic, rusty taste you normally get. These were great appetizers to transition to a multi-course, filling dinner.
The first course started with Chef RP’s fried shrimp heads in a light buttermilk batter. These popcorn shrimp had a nice savory taste whose fried taste was cut down by the aioli. Very nicely done.
Chef Drew took a different approach on the traditional asparagus soup. The creamy, herby, smooth custard was topped with crunchy accoutrements with the roe lending a salty burst of flavor and a pop in the mouth in every bite. It was light and refreshing. It was so good I wanted to lick the jar it came in. Oh wait.
As if the first course couldn’t be topped anymore, Chef RP’s braised pork belly in bacon broth raises the bar to stratospheric proportions. I had to have a moment of silence on this one. Definitely a death row meal, I call this The Chloe Porky Belly. The smoky, crusty exterior with the pork belly’s fork-tender interior swimming in savory broth was unbelievably delicious. Really. It was amazing. I would love to see this on the regular menu at One Eared Stag: a humongous serving with a side of noodles. Or grits. Or rice. This will go well with anything.
Next came Chef Josh’s creation: sweetish scallops and crispy smoked duck topped with greens and radishes. You can taste maple, bourbon, a hint of citrus, and a tiny bit of vinaigrette. My sister had to shush me so she can have her moment of silence. And in true Troy fashion, my food soul mate Troy, had nothing but praises, expletively expressed, no less. This was so fantastic, we had to scurry and reach for our phones after the first bite, to google when STG would actually open!
A tartare made with beef heart and bottarga, the minced delicacies provided a great topping to the thin piece of toast. The taste wasn’t that far from beef but with a meatier, viscous texture. It was a good and light transition to the next dish.
Chef Ryan teased us with his wonderful consommé that was so clean tasting. Contained in a small mason jar, it was fantastic poured over the bowl of pea shoots and summer veggies, slices of blood sausage, and pork skin. The light broth lent a contrasting flavor to the heavier-tasting blood sausage while the veggies pulled it all together. A brilliant dish, as expected from Chef Ryan.
A fun piece of fried pork skin that was as light as air and full of air pockets, as chicarrones should be, came tumbling by next. The dusting of kimchi powder gave this otherwise flavorless snack a tasty, slightly spicy kick. The paired Hitachino beer was a perfect accompaniment. As you all know by now, I don’t drink alcohol (cheap date, I know, and forever a designated driver) so I’m taking my friend Troy’s word on this when he says “the beer brought out the flavors in ways that made the dishes stand out even more.”
The heaviest dish of all came courtesy of Chef Guy who gave us a fun take on a Japanese staple: hamburg. But this was no ordinary hamburg. This was an exceptional hamburg. The meat patty is so juicy and flavorful. The gravy, a departure from the ho-hum brown, thick sauce served everywhere else, was thin, yet saucy enough and gave a sweetish-spicy-citrusy sensation. Topped with a poached egg. It wasn’t heavy at all, and not too rich either, as you’d expect from most hamburg versions. You could hear every table go mmm. Yes, it was that good.
By now, we could see people leaving because they were either too wasted or too full. Just imagine, 10 good sized plates and 6 glasses of alcohol including a full bottle of beer. So far. For each person. All these for $100! There was no family-style stuff or any sharing at this meal. Except for my alcoholic drinks which I happily gave away.
The perfect ending to a meal, Chef RP and Chef Stuart both presented us with two kinds of desserts. Chef RP’s sweet citrus creme was heavier than whipped cream but lighter than Chantilly cream. It was simply heavenly. You can taste flavors of jalapeños, Meyer lemon, clementine, and lime. There was a sort of crumble at the bottom, and sweet and tart dried fruit on top. Oh and there was this gel made of Mezcal which made it a grown-up dessert.
Chef Stuart’s decadent cornmeal cake came with citrus confit and a big dollop of fresh chantilly cream. It didn’t intend to compete with the multi-course meal. Instead, it provided a palate-cleansing effect, in a simple, yet fantastic way.
So there you have it. Each guest chef’s dish was complemented by a dish from Chef Robert. The effect was one cohesive meal with dishes that did not overwhelm the other. As the courses progressed, you weren’t left with a heavy, sinking feeling from eating heavy, rich dishes. Rather, there was an amazing balance in both flavors and textures — each dish was carefully thought of and excellently executed and where each dish was blow-your-mind delicious. For those of you who were not lucky enough to snag a spot, it was truly an unforgettable dinner. Thank you rock star chefs, for showing we can play with the big boys. For proving we have super talented chefs right in our backyard. For validating Atlanta’s spot on the food map. I have never been more proud to be an Atlantan.
Postscript: Chef Ryan Smith and Chef Guy Wong were both nominated for The People’s Best New Chef by Food and Wine for 2012.
One Eared Stag
1029 Edgewood Avenue NE