Review: Swerving Through France
Restaurant week. The concept of cheaper options at finer restaurants undoubtedly has appeal, but when kitchens corner us with hanger steaks, chicken with fancy names and ice cream, it is hard to taste what makes these places fine in the first place.
Decatur’s Atmosphere imitates a bistro on the outside and romantic Paris on the inside, serving strictly French cuisine to both. The outcome is shaky and even stumbling at times.
From the restaurant week menu, I chose three items which are so French that they’re nearly cliche: rabbit terrine, trout amandine and french vanilla ice cream with caramel and Polignac Almonds. I could have ordered from the regular menu, but I was curious as to how the kitchen handled these classics.
The terrine, while not outright bad, was an average attempt both too crumbly and too coarse. And while the picture may not show it, the plating needed serious help.
The Atmosphere salad showcased a brighter side of the kitchen. Pesto, roasted peppers and balsamic vinaigrette made for a wonderful family on a plate.
The trout amandine was an appropriate salute to the original. Although the trout was nearly drowning in butter, its skin was crunchy and the capers and slivers of almond wonderfully complementary. The hanger steak was also a very good, but the papardelle au poulet tasted too simple to be served in a restaurant.
papardelle au poulet
It is here at the desserts where the story takes a dive. For all their sweetness, desserts at Atmosphere are about as successful as King Louis XVI. And like King Louis, the pastry chef who concocted these dishes should be executed. The creme brulee, a dessert so simple it’s a copout to order, was a buttery mess of Paula Dean proportions…y’all. How a French restaurant can send out a creme brulee with a watery consistency that tastes like two sticks of butter and has a paper-thin crust is beyond me.
The other dessert — french vanilla ice cream with caramel and polignac almonds — tasted store-bought and is, unfortunately, exactly so (the waiter said something about getting the ice cream from this place that other restaurants use — as if tattling on other restaurants will make it all ok).
As far as service is concerned, it could use some polishing as it’s a bit too loose for a restaurant that charges $23 and up for an entree. Atmosphere also seems oddly stingy with their bread, whisking away our empty bread basket never to be seen again.
At the end of the meal, I think Atmosphere is trying, down to the questionable French accents the waiters and busboys often front. But many details need more refining.