Empire State of Genius
We were on glass number four — my state of mind somewhere between bewildered and woozy — and everything was making beautiful sense.
I don’t always associate “beautiful” and “sense” with farm-to-table-locavore-grassfed-organically-sustainable-non-gluten-beet-fanatic restaurants that pair industrial metal with wood and aprons. These places are all all over Atlanta, and at this point, the look is overplayed, and the food can be expensively nonsensical: $27 turnip greens unseasoned but seasonal as chefs assume we can taste sustainability and Mother Earth’s smile, as if the heat comes from the warmth we feel on our insides knowing we’re helping Farmer Joe.
After a 4-course wine pairing dinner, I think Hugh Acheson’s Empire State South is what other farm to table restaurants should be: bold and creative. Executive Sous Chef Kyle Jacovino was in charge of our appetites that night, and while he showed an affinity for mustard, farro and parsley, he did not show a reluctance to season and spice where appropriate.
amuse bouche: parlsey root soup, crispy farro
The crispy farro seeds are a clever touch to a brothy bouche that isn’t too far from celeriac.
smoked duck breast, apricot mostarda, celery root puree, pak choi, hominy
This is duck breast unlike anything I’ve had. It’s rare and fresh before smokiness subtly rides in at the end to meet a garden of bright vegetables and puree.
soft poached farm egg, crisp rice, housemade kilbasa, mustard
What kind of farm to table place would ESS be without the obligatory poached farm egg? The play on flavors and texture are fantastic: crispy rice matches a creamy egg with lightly-salted kilbasa.
cheese plate, buttermilk crackers
ESS offers some fine cheeses, but it is the accompaniments that make them superb. Specifically, honey and muscadines go with smooth, buttery moses sleeper (Jasper Hills). A red onion marmalade turns an appalachian from meadow creek dairy into a savory wonder.
maple flan w. pear, breadsticks
There are flans, and then there is this one, a buttery descendant from Mount Olympus that should have chefs across the country hiding in shame. Flans are not inherently difficult desserts to make, but ESS’s is smooth until the end with a remarkable complexity.
In the coming months I look forward to sifting through ESS’s menu in search of consistency, creativity and boldness. The kitchen is doing farm to table right, and I, for one, will vote for them with my fork.
Empire State South
Midtown 999 Peachtree St NE
Atlanta, GA 30309