Restaurant Eugene

(Atlanta, GA) — For our final dinner in Atlanta, we decided to try one of Linton Hopkins’ restaurants. But which one? We wanted to dine at Holeman & Finch Public House, but it doesn’t take reservations, being more tavern style. Standing around, waiting for a table with the inlaws didn’t sound particularly appetizing. Right next door is the more upscale Restaurant Eugene and they were more than willing to accommodate a party of four. We knew we’d be in for a wild ride, but we had no idea what surprises were in store...

He Fed:

I am no longer intimidated by any restaurant. I can remember, not long ago, however, when the mere sight of a pristine white tablecloth and myriad silver cutlery precisely set out alongside fine china would give me the chills. Which fork should I use for the salad? Why are they taking away the plate? That’s funny, I don’t recall folding my napkin into the shape of a swan before I went to the restroom? These attributes of fine dining are now familiar to me, and they are in full display at Restaurant Eugene.

We are greeted, then shown to a roomy four-top in the main dining room. There is a private table on the other side of a divider, and I wish we had been seated there instead, because the lighting is better. The main dining room is dimly lit but warm and serene. We scan the menu options. After some persuasion, Juliet and I manage to talk her parents into a chef’s tasting with wine pairing. Let the parade begin!

To whet our appetite, an amuse-bouche of champagne and white grape juice arrives, in the form of a shooter. It is sweet and slightly sparkly. Then, another amuse-bouche comes out: a spoon of chocolate panna cotta topped with caviar. I had something similar (cauliflower panna cotta and caviar) in New York a couple years ago and hated it; this, though, is beyond extraordinary. The sweet chocolate and the salty fish eggs contrast spectacularly. I almost ask for more. No need, however. Amuse-bouche #3 shows up to save the day: an egg shell, perfectly decapitated, inside which is a piped scrambled egg atop bacon jam.

Wow. Wowie wow wow. Shazam! The sweet, savory bacon jam at the bottom is like a revelation. Juliet makes pretty darn good bacon jam, but this might just beat hers. Everyone scrapes their empty shell clean until not a speck of jam remains. It is one of the most fun and delicious dishes I’ve ever eaten. And we haven’t even started the courses yet!

Finally, our first course arrives. A scattered “salad” of citrus cured Georgia mountain trout, Georgia grown yuzu, grapefruit, benne wafer, clabber cream, and crisp shallot glistens on the plate. Although there is a fishy taste, it is relatively subdued because the trout is pretty much raw (the way I like most fish). The shallots provide some crunch, while the grapefruit mimics the texture of the fish. Paired with this, a 2010 La Chablisienne Saint-Bris which goes well with the fish but I’m not keen on sipping by itself.

Next is a shallow bowl filled with a gorgeously poached farm egg yolk (very little white), country ham, pickled ramp hearts, and red eyed dashi with peanut powder and cayenne sprinkled on top. The egg is sumptuous, oozing yellow into which every bite is dipped. As a counterpoint, the cayenne adds some heat and spice to the Japanese broth. It is one of those dishes you just want to tip up to your lips to finish off. Another 2010 Rousseau Freres Touraine Noble-Joue is a rosé whose bitter Pinot Noir notes provide a kind of discordant harmony with the dish.

Nantucket bay scallops, tiny yet perfectly prepared, whisk in front of us on a mound of braised cabbage, chunks of country ham, drenched in she crab cream. Honestly, it is just too much richness for me. If it weren’t for the cabbage, I probably would have bailed after one bite. The cabbage is plentiful and still crunchy, just the way I like it, and helps to get everything else down. I use the 2010 Dopff & Irion Riesling to rinse.

To cleanse our palates before the next course, we are presented heavy, silky buttermilk sorbet with crunchy, candied bacon crumbles. Mouth, reset.

Midway through the meal now, we are presented with the torchon au foie gras, a buttnut squash sorbet, foie powder, chestnut puree, and brioche. The layout of components on plate remind me of breakfast: ham, egg, toast. It’s playful and fun to eat, though again a bit too rich for my taste. I like foie once in a while and I have to be in the mood. A slightly older 2005 Le Clos du Roy Sauternes proves a formidable match to the buttery foie, but much too sweet on its own.

Veal pot au feu with milk braised turnips, melted leeks, and baby carrots are drizzled with a thin consomme. We are back on familiar ground here, with the earthy, autumnal vegetables married exquisitely with the fatty richness of the veal “brat-style” sausage. It is my favorite course so far, not counting the amuse-bouche. A 2006 Hall Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon provides a fruity yet mild backdrop on the tongue.

Cheese course is next, the infamous favorite of Napoleon: Epoisses Fondue. A little pot of melted, ooey gooey stinky French cheese from Burgundy squats with a slab of peanut brittle poised on top. We are instructed to break up the brittle and sprinkle it on the cheese, mix it up, then use toasted bread strips to dip and eat. A gummy rope of red wine jam helps alleviate the stinky rich experience, but not enough for me. I manage to get through most of the cheese, though it is nearly overwhelming. Juliet loves this kind of cheese; not I.

We are then given a specialty cocktail of beet juice, bourbon, and champagne. It is sweet but also light and refreshing. My taste buds feel resurrected and my belly feels warm deep inside. Another amuse-bouche of sorbet, crumbles, and candied “egg” arrives. Unfortunately, my senses are sated and I lose track of the flavors. (I blame the brilliant cocktail.)

Finally, dessert comes. Ellijay Apple Pate with yogurt streussel and mousse, and gluwein. It is sweet and tart and, again, just plain fun to eat. With it, a sparkling Patrick Bottex "La Cueille" Bugey Cerdon Rosé that furnishes just the right amount of texture and mouth feel. Before we can depart, however, petit fours and cashew brittle lollipops appear as if by magic. We try to gamely dispatch them, but it’s a lost cause. Time to go.

Not since Moto have I had such a great time experiencing a chef’s tasting. Service and food at Restaurant Eugene are unparalleled. We were made to feel at home while being subjected to some of the most creative and out-of-this-world dishes I’ve ever experienced.
She Fed:

When we plan our trip to Atlanta, I know there’s one chef we cannot miss. I first met Linton Hopkins at the 2009 Food & Wine Aspen Classic at their famous “Best New Chefs” party where the chefs prep small plates representative of their style of cooking and serve them to eager crowds of foodies. I remember vividly what Chef Hopkins served—grilled pimento cheese bites. I’m a sucker for pimento cheese and his remains one of my all-time favorites. My friend Karla and I went through the line several times, mostly at my urging; Karla has too much class to hit up the same line repeatedly. I think it was on my sixth visit to his table (no exaggeration) that Chef began to recognize a “repeat customer.” Luckily for me, he didn’t call security and actually took time to chat briefly.

A year later, I staffed a video shoot he did in one of my brand’s training kitchens. Embarrassingly enough, he remembered me (he said it was my unique eyeglasses, but I think he was being nice) and was even gracious enough to share his pimento cheese recipe. His love of talking all things food was engaging and I’ve been anticipating this dinner at Restaurant Eugene.

As soon as we are seated, champagne is poured for the table. A gift from the Chef we are told...cheers! Our foursome selects the Chef’s Tasting with wine pairings and the procession of plates begins. Three unexpected amuse bouche arrive in succession. A shot glass with local apple cider and champagne is clean and only slightly sweet, successfully cleansing my palate.

Next up is a little spoon with chocolate panna cotta and sturgeon caviar. I’ve never been a big fan of caviar, but I’m intrigued by the pairing and give it a try. I am surprised to find myself enjoying it. The salty black roe with the sweet chocolate reminds me a bit of salted caramels.

The third amuse bouche is an eggshell filled with soft scrambled eggs and bacon marmalade. The eggs are so light and airy they deflate slightly, like a souffle when I spoon my way in. The eggs are buttery and creamy pairing nicely with the sweet and salty marmalade.

Our first course of citrus cured Georgia mountain trout is presented. I was expecting a plate of grey trout, but this is gorgeous with bright bits of grapefruit and yuzu along with sprinkles of bright green pea shoots. The trout and citrus are contrasted with shards of benne wafers made with toasted sesame and crispy fried shallots. I’m not a giant fan of ceviche, but the trout is quite good. The Saint Bris wine from La Chablisienne is light and dry, reminding me of a Chablis.

A new glass arrives and is quickly filled with a Touraine Noble Joue from Rousseau Freres, a light grassy wine with green apple overtones. The wine cuts through the richness of our next course, a poached egg with pickled ramp hearts, dashi, peanut powder, and cayenne. The egg is poached perfectly and the yolk is a vibrant bright orange, clearly a farm fresh egg. The ham, doshi broth, and peanut powder make for a salty meaty mouthful while the cayenne gives it a bit of kick.

Our next temptation is the Nantucket bay scallops with braised cabbage, country ham, and she crab cream. For someone who doesn’t care too much for caviar, I love she crab in soups and bisque. The roe from the female crab gives incredible depth of flavor. (I guess I like caviar when it’s blended with copius amounts of butter and cream?) The scallops are caramelized and sweet; the cabbage is slightly sulpheric and still has a bit of crunch; and the ham adds the salty component. The melange is encircled around a pool of the she crab cream and it’s just ridiculously good. I’d skip the next four courses just to have four more servings of this one. The Dopff & Irion Riesling from Alsace is slightly sweet, standing up to both the strong flavors of the dish and the luxuriousness of she crab.

I’ve been looking forward to the foie gras course and am not disappointed. A torchon of foie appears with the expected accompaniment of brioche, as well as a surprising schmear of chestnut puree, butternut squash sorbet, and foie gras powder. It’s paired with an extremely sweet Sauternes from Chateau Clos du Roy. With the butteriness of the foie on brioche, the wine works perfectly, but on its own it’s too cloying for me. The chestnut puree is a little mealy but the sorbet gives the foie a nice tangy kick. As far as the foie gras powder, I’d like to buy it in bulk to sprinkle on a ho-hum weekday salad.

The fifth course is a veal pot au feu with milk braised turnips, melted leeks, baby carrots, and consommé. The veggies still have a nice tooth to them, but the veal is star of the show in sausage, breast, and steak form. Each cut has a slightly different flavor to my tastebuds and each goes very well with the big meaty Napa Cabernet.

A specialty cocktail appears with gin, beet juice, sparkling wine, and a few other ingredients I can’t remember. It’s strong, which maybe explains the memory loss. The cocktail is paired with a fondue of epoisses, an unpasteurized pungent cheese from France, toast soldiers, housemade red wine licorice, and a large chip of peanut brittle for crumbling into the fondue. It might sound a bit weird, but it’s pure heaven to someone who adores stinky cheese.

Our final course is an apple pate with yogurt mousse, streusel crumbles, and a reduction of Ghluwein (a German mulled wine pronounced glue-VINE.) The pate is like a solidified apple butter and awith the mousse and crumbles it’s fondly reminisent of homemade apple pie. The sparkling rose from Bugey Cerdon leaves a clean crisp finish.

More gifts from the kitchen arrive. Mini-madeleine cookies, fudge bites, and a cake lollipop. At this point, I am saturated and can only eat one of the madeleines. When we are asked which course is a favorite, I am hard pressed to select just one. Early on I thought it was the scallops, but each dish just got better and better. The service and attention to detail has been absolutely phenomenal; General Manager Robert and our server Mario are standouts of the evening. Tonight is our last night in Atlanta with my parents and has been a splurge-worthy meal worth every penny.

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