Monday, March 15, 2010

Shaun with the Wind - Shaun's

Shaun's is like a Lamborghini that pulls up next to you at a red light revving its engine. You already know that your Honda Accord doesn't stand a chance, so you choose to exercise respect and sense and let the Lambo pass. But when the light turns green, that fine Italian sports car putters off at a snail's pace. Those Lamborghini replicas with 95 horsepower Geo Storm engines can be quite deceptive, can't they? This Italian supercar replica could hardly take a moped.

I have been to Shaun's a total of three times now and find it safe to say that it reminds me of Wisteria's older, well traveled, and more mature brother. Unfortunately, this is a backhanded compliment. They're both overrated in my book, but at least Shaun's menu is always interesting and the flavor pairings are uniquely complimentary and uncommon - and this is why I've come back 3 times without ever leaving wowed.

I attribute Shaun's success and popularity to two factors - Credentialism and neighborhood support. Doty has created quite the name for himself or rather his former employers' names have helped push him to respectable chefdom. Working under Guenter Seger (Ritz-Carlton) and in FIVE (you read correctly) Michelin star receiving restaurants, you can't help but think his food will be world class. When one reads the menu, the food's maturity is readily apparent. However, the taste (on 3 separate visits) always falls a little flat for a restaurant of this caliber.

The first time I visited I sampled a number of things including the schnitzel, a venison special, and the hyped-up burger. The schnitzel was great and perfectly rounded out by grilled onions, arugula and peanuts. Bambi was also delicious and featured a melt-in-your-mouth wine poached pear. The burger was a laughable spongy mess. Not good and not worth close to $16. By the way, I'm beginning to think that White Oak pastures beef is just spongy in general (see Leon's Burger). The duck fat fries were also boring and bland. Service on this visit was terrible and slow. When we arrived the putrid odor of turpentine took over the entire front of house. While the restaurant was empty, they sat us right in the front instead of seating us in the odorless back and we had to move ourselves after toxic inhalation. Seems like seating us in the back of the restaurant from the start was a no brainer and I still remember it a few years later.

My second visit was for Pasta Night. Every Sunday, Shaun's offers salad, a choice of three pastas and gelato for $12. Great idea on paper, right? Nothing like eating in a restaurant where one course will set you back $20-$30 for nearly half the price. The pasta dishes just didn't come close to being great- I'm not exaggerating that while the quality of ingredients may be better and pricier at Shaun's, you can get more memorable pasta dishes at Figo. Service, again, was slow.

My last visit was for Inman Park Restaurant Week and we were enticed by their prix fixe menu. Many of their regular menu items were available (with some new items snuck in there) with choice of appetizer (real ones, not just salad) and dessert for $25.

For the first course I ordered the pork belly salad. This dish could have been one of the best salads I've ever had, but heavy hands in the kitchen led to the over salting of the dressing, which manhandled the rest of the dish. Perfectly tender and buttery winter-greens were topped with pork belly, an actual egg fritter, and granny smith apple. The pork belly, expectedly, was salty. The egg fritter (amazing idea) was salty. And the dressing was the finishing touch on Saltfest. The bits of masterfully sliced apple were ingeniously included to off-set the savory components of the dish, but even when I took an entire forkful of just the apples, their sweetness was masked completely by the salt. Great idea, but poorly executed.

Kins ordered the cumbersome Chopped Liver appetizer. It's not my thing, so I can't comment too much on the flavor, but the dish was stacked obnoxiously high. It literally towered 4 or 5 inches off the plate atop two tiny slices of very stale bread. It had to be eaten with fork and knife which sort of misses the mark when it's on two tiny slices of bread.

The mains were both quite good. Having already tried the schnitzel, I went for the steak frites. Cooked perfectly and seasoned well, the steak was excellent and I would even say that flat iron is a smart cut for this dish. The fries were perfect and much better than I remember on my first visit. The plate was also adorned with a tiny wedge of lettuce with delicious green goddess dressing.

Kins got the grilled Loch Duart Scottish Salmon. While slightly overcooked, the salmon was tasty and the mustard mashed potatoes were the most delightful update to a normally tasty, but typically boring side.

Desserts included the fried organic sweet potato pie and Tahitian vanilla bean cheesecake. The pie was good, but the cinnamon and sugar it was tossed in, while delicious, overpowered the sweet potato filling. The honey ice cream included on the dish, didn't taste of honey at all.

I don't like cheesecake, but the vanilla bean cheesecake was divine. It was light and airy and the vanilla was showcased beautifully. The top was even bruleed! I can't describe it any more eloquently than that but it's probably the best cheesecake I've ever tried.

Service again was on the slow side. Reservation for 8:15. Flighty hostess sat us at 8:35. When we first ordered a carafe of wine, the waitress disappeared for ten long minutes only to come back and inform us that they had run out of the Malbec. I don't think she was searching the cellar.

Since it was the last night of Restauarant Week, it wasn't surprising that Shaun's was running out of items on the menu. When we arrived our waitress told us the cheesecake had been eighty sixed. Throughout the course of our dinner however, we watched slices of cheesecake being delivered throughout the restaurant. Our neighboring diners managed to ask a member of the kitchen staff about this and they said there was still cheesecake available. She made sure our two tables got a slice, which was wonderfully caring. This act of kindness totally balanced out the slow service from our waitress.

I give credit where credit is due. Props to Shaun for sourcing his ingredients conscientiously. The menu is filled with all sorts of locally farmed, organic, and/or exotic original components. Shaun's menu, on paper, is incredible - it's upscale bistro food with clean components. However, when that food is put on the table, it often falls short of being delicious. If they could just tighten up their execution on dishes and focus on better service this restaurant would easily be one of Atlanta's best but after 3 visits (with three separate menus) I have to call it quits for now.

Shaun's on Urbanspoon

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