Apr 30, 2013

Tactical (Restaurant) Review: 5 and 10

5 and 10, the iconic Athen’s based restaurant of acclaimed Chef Hugh Acheson (known for his Food & Wine, James Beard and Top Chef fame), has been a trail blazer for this college town now for many a year (since 2000 with annual awards to show for it). As a recent acolyte of all things southern, I had been feverishly awaiting the chance to convince my wife to take the scenic hour tour to his restaurant and sample what I’ve only read and heard.

Though Canadian by birth, Hugh has taken Georgia as his adoptive home (much like myself) and henceforth, has driven his menu to reflect it’s great influence. But 5 and 10 was constructed as an ‘open interpretation of Southern food, melding Georgia cookery with French and Italian influences” where his menu is heavily influenced by his James Beard award winning book A New Turn in the South.

The restaurant sits nestled in with one of the shopping districts (very near their local fire department station) near the college and exhibits a contemporary farm feel complete with ginormous utensils adorning the walls flanked by herbs growing in planters. If you didn’t know what you were looking for, you’d drive right by it.

The contemporary farm atmosphere continues as one walks inside to find eclectic bobbles and knick-knacks arranged haphazardly around the establishment.  It sets a relaxing but playful mood, but one can not help and crave a little more light if you don’t get seated in the one room that has enough windows to allow the sun inside.

The menu, however, was the first departure, as my wife and I scanned the offerings, we found ourselves at a loss to try and find were the Southern began and the obvious Italian and French influences ended. Ever adventurous though, we began the meal with three appetizers.

First off was the special of the house (and by house, I also mean in house, as its all done on site at the restaurant), Charcuterie. With five offerings to choose from, we went with the recommended Pork Rillette. Slow cooked pork rendered with its on jus, solidified and shaped into cubes then fried served with a sliced fresh baguette, pickled veggies and whole grain mustard. The pick-and-play options were interactive and fun but the pork, surprisingly, was way under seasoned.

Soup was singing it siren song to me this day, so we went with the Bean Soup with Buffalo Meatballs and the en vogue, Pork Belly. The meatballs were proportioned well but lacked a pronounced flavor (perhaps that’s just buffalo in general) and the pork (no longer crispy) presented nice departures from the clear, tasteless broth. The lack of seasoning again was a huge issue. Thankfully the beans themselves were delicious and cooked to perfection.

With the plethora of Italian inspired meals, we ordered the suggested Octopus with Lentils. Having learned that octopus is a finicky ocean dweller when it comes to preparing it properly as to avoid the dreaded ‘chewy’ factor, one must tackle it with either a very fast or arduously slow cooking process. We were disheartened to find that the scantly small two portions representing the octopus were indeed chewy and covered in a Romesco sauce so cloying and overpowering, the delicate flavors of the cephalopod were lost.  The appetizers left us wanting more…

The entrée brought us to seek out some more southern fare, so we went with the Mississippi Rabbit. This was the first recipe to shine from beginning to end. The stuffed braised thigh was perfectly cooked (though it dried out fast due to them pre-slicing them) with cranberry beans (again fantastic) sitting upon a bed of well-seasoned rabbit jus. Delicate and well developed.

Dessert was an after thought as we were laboring under the weight of 3 appetizers and an entrée, but the waiter informed us that the restaurant specializes in homemade cookies and ice cream. So, we took the plunge and ordered a ginger cookie with a scoop each of Chocolate Mocha and Hazelnut Ice Cream.  Simple, clean, and a revelation on what a cookie and ice cream should be, this was the highlight of the meal.

On a side note, my wife and I shared a bottle of a fine 2011 Pfeffingen Dry Riesling, which paired well with the eclectic meal. The wine list was well stocked and varied, a nice surprise.  The service was offered via a relaxed, genial style, not formal at all, which fit right in with the casual country atmosphere.

Overall, 5 and 10 offered a glimpse into the mind of a renowned, southern chef and how he pairs the local area’s bountiful produce with European influences. Though his personality still resides in the menu, the execution was spotty and as an example, dessert was the highlight. For the price (it will put a dent in your wallet and no, there were no college students dining this night save for those sitting next to their parents), I’d be willing to consider other options. I was left wanting more…

Review date: April, 2013.

2 Alarms.  

Five & Ten on Urbanspoon

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