01 August, 2007

Mr. Wizard's Kitchen

I just have to rave a wee bit about my birthday dinner. My friend's I've been staying with in Atlanta took me to Element. Richard Blais, a practitioner of molecular gastronomy, now runs the kitchen and reviews have been good. I'd first read about El Bulli (under "gastronomy" in the white column click "general catalogue" and start drooling at the "food porn") and this whole culinary movement a few years ago and was intrigued.

Things like liquid nitrogen figure into several dishes, but it's never gimmicky. All the technical whiz-bang is meant to bring out the best of the ingredients. The menu is mind-bending in it's false simplicity and odd ingredients: "melted lamb" in a pasta dish; "carbonized octopus"; "artichoke soda" (surprisingly good); "Coca-Cola rocks" (syrup flash frozen) atop panna cotta. In between your orders the kitchen sends out little gifts - taro root chips with three tiny, jewel-like cubes of jellied essence of salsa; "candied corn" frozen with liquid nitrogen - pop a few kernels in your mouth and let the "smoke" flow out your nose (if you can stop giggling); "peach nigiri" with goat cheese. Some of our favorites from the tapas-style menu: diver scallops with white chocolate risotto (which had a wonderful hint of key lime flavor to it) and the beef "cap" with blue cheese and creamed corn. Every bite was out of this world. The only wrong note, to me, was the "Red Velvet cake tartare", which was too deconstructed, leaving little of anything but some lines on a plate. The cream cheese ice cream that accompanied it was delicious, though. Our other desert, a sort of chocolate cake Oreo with "strawberry water" and an outstanding sweet basil sorbet, was wonderful.

Even better? Aside from the excellent food and drink, word is Blais is a nice guy chef, not a rampaging ego maniac. I hope that's true and it certainly seems to be reflected in his restaurant, which is very relaxed and welcoming; a world-class kitchen attached to an easy-going neighborhood restaurant. Lack of pretension, affordability, and just plain fun, make Element worth trying if you're in Atlanta.


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