Thursday, September 17, 2009

Restaurant Review: Ecco

Okay, I was supposed to be saving time and doing homework (and I think my homework might actually be fun if i can figure out how to do it). But I'm just too food-blissful that I need to post this blog before I can focus.

Randomly, my dad was in Atlanta tonight. He has a business meeting tomorrow and was only supposed to be here for about 6 hours tomorrow, but the bad weather forced him to fly in early, which meant we got to meet up for dinner. And his company would pay for his, so we were getting two for one... or less, so we could really go anywhere. So I asked around and did a few internet searches and made a list of about 5 restaurants. But the leading candidate, and the one I eventually chose, was Ecco. Plus it's near the Midtown MARTA station so it made it easy to meet up there and walk over.

This may have been one of the best dining experiences I've ever had (and mind you, I eat well when I am with my parents). The waiter was attentive but not lurking, and very helpful. He greeted us and asked if we had been there before, and when we said no, he explained the philosophy of the restaurant was to make very fresh food and use local and organic food whenever possible. I really try to stick to these principles, but it's hard when you do not have much money. However, it is something I appreciate in a splurge restaurant (especially when I'm not paying). He then went over the menu with us in detail of all dishes, which I really like sinc ei have a hard time making decisions (and I like to know what's good and what's popular). The service was very prompt; we had barely looked at the menu when he asked if we wanted to start with a meat and cheese plate. Having not looked at it, he offered that some people say "surprise me," so we agreed to that. He asked if we have any preferences and I noted that I do not like Bleu Cheeses. We ended up with Smoked Gouda (I've decided I really like a quality Gouda), some Italian sausage (I'm not a huge sausage eater and they all kind of taste the same to me), and Robiola 3 Milk, a blend of sheep, goat, and cow milk cheese. The cheeses were fantastic and went extrodinarily with the crusty bread. I'm trying to develop my cheese palate, but right now I'm just working on getting "this tastes like this," and "I like this" down. One of my favorite parts of the cheese palate (besides you know the surprise!) was the waiter explained what all of them were and where they were from. Actually, the menu had the origin of all of the meats, cheeses, and wines (and fun fact: in Atlanta, it is more sustainable to drink European wine than wine from California, but probably barely, the boundary is Columbus, OH). Early on I was very impressed.

Then came dinner, which is obviously the most important part of a restaurant experience. My dad asked for a wine recommendation for his entre and I guess I can't tell you how that went because I don't know anything about wine (that's something else I'm working on, but I'm going to start with Trader Joe's 2 3/4 buck chuck and using it in food). I ordered the Chili-braised pork with garlic and homemade pappardelle because it sounded interesting and the waiter said it was a favorite and "kind of [their] signature dish." My dad had also been looking at it, but he let me get it and I told him to work around me. Fortunately, he chose my other top choice, with minimal prodding from me: organic chicken thighs with salsa verde. For both my dad and I, if you say "salsa verde" it is not a very hard sell, and for me the word "organic" helps a little. But neither of us likes dark meat, though I said it was probably worth a try and that I had also been looking at it, when he said that was his next choice (see, that is minimal prodding). He ended up with that. We both loved, LOVED our meals. My dad's comment was "I will never look at a chicken thigh the same way again," since it was so flavorful and slightly crispy with the salsa, and did not have any of the properties that he dislikes about dark meat (personally, I dislike that it tastes like iron and this certainly didn't). I actually ate very little of mine so I could bring it home with me (since i knew there would be an abundance of food, I tried to consolidate so there was enough of one thing to bring home). But it was slightly spicy, served with sweet juicy tomatoes, and deliciously pulled pork. Oh, and there was basil, which made me love it even more. I just hope it heats up well for lunch tomorrow. And the homemade pasta was also delicous. We also ordered green beans, which were served with rum infused raisins and honey with a pinch of cinnamon to give it a little spice. These beans were seriously amazing. I would consider buying rum (and raisins, for that matter) just to try to recreate them. The flavors blended so well, though I couldn't really place them. I even ate all the raisins.

And then there was dessert. Oh dessert. This almost merits it's own blog entry. Because the company was paying and because we couldn't decide and because we were both enjoying the dinner, as well as the surprise time together so much, we ordered three desserts. Three desserts! At a nice restaurant! We both eyed the Red Plum Sorbet immediately. We both love sorbet and have had a great sorbet experience in the past together (guava sorbet at Coquete Cafe in Milwaukee). And it just sounded interesting and unusual, but still delicous. He saw fresh figs and gravitated towards that immediately. And I... couldn't decide, go figure. The dish that caught me as possibly tasty and unusual was Honey Basil ice cream. There was a chocolate cake with pine nuts, which sounded fun because of the pine nuts, but very typical of what I get. And then I saw olive oil and chocolate ice cream with sea salt. This also sounded wonderful and interesting, so I figured I'd have the waiter make the ice cream choice for me. I asked him about both the olive oil and chocolate and the honey and basil ice creams and he said the olive oil and chocolate was "just about the best ice cream anyone has ever had," which if that's not a glowing endorsement I'm not sure what is. So I ordered that. The plum sorbet came out first and it was spicy and sweet. It tasted like all things that should go with plums: cinnamon, ginger, perhaps a dash of nutmeg and I swear there was a touch of wine in there, but I only tasted it when I switched between my chocolate ice cream and the sorbet later. It was very flavorful and the texture was so soft and creamy. It was light like sorbet should be without being crisp to the touch of the spoon like it often is. Possibly the best sorbet ever. And the ice cream was also up there. I don't think there were almonds in it, but it tasted like almonds. But the blend of sea salt and chocolate was just... magical. I am convinced sea salt and chocolate is one of the most understated but perfect food, or at least dessert, combinations ever. Then again, I say the same thing about chilis and chocolate (and chocolate with chilis and sea salt is also phenomenal, they have dark chocolate, chili and sea salt bars at Wal-Mart down here, as well as dark chocolate with sea salt and pop rocks, which are also unbelievable).

This was one of the most amazing meals I have ever had, for sure in Atlanta. I loved every bite of it. The restaurant was great, a nice ambiance, sustainable, and professional yet friendly. The food, as I just spent the past hour describing, was phenomenal. I would definitely recommend it to anyone in Atlanta. And I don't often return to restaurants (I'd rather try something new), but I would go here again for a special occassion.

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