Repast: Blending Cultures
If a restaurant can define the American Experiment, Atlanta’s Repast is a native son.
You wouldn’t expect this hip spot on the ground floor of Ponce Springs Lofts to represent an old-school term like “melting pot,” or life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, with equal opportunity for all. But here it is, an upstart restaurant whose formula for success is blending seemingly conflicting culinary influences into a surprisingly unified vision. Call it Eat Pluribus Unum.
And successful it is, having received a 2006 “Best New Restaurant” nod from Esquire magazine. Still, on my last visit – a crowded Saturday night – we were never hurried, despite the noisily growing throng at the bar.
Like many American innovations, Repast is the brainchild of immigrants. Husband-and-wife chef/owners Joe Truex and Mihoko Obunai are from the exotic lands of Louisiana and Japan, respectively; and both lived and cooked in some of the best restaurants in New York and Atlanta before opening Repast. (Both have done cooking stints at the venerable James Beard House.) Their work in kitchens abroad (he in Switzerland, she in South America) influenced them as well; but their respect for their ingredients’ quality and freshness is perhaps their primary touchstone.
Along with their blend of cultures, Truex and Obunai also fold sweetly old-fashioned touches into their contemporary environment. What other hot, hip restaurant in town serves a French 75 cocktail, a World War I-era gin libation named for an artillery gun? (It was traditionally served between courses, to revive flagging appetites.) The wine list is also quirkily refreshing, and the wait staff is so knowledgeable they’ll unfailingly point you to a great match, even if you want only a glass.
Repast’s trademark, however, is the ease with which unlikely ingredients unite in something new: The menu changes with the seasons and the chefs’ tastes, meaning that when they find a good source, you’ll find terrifically fresh “hamachi three ways,” the creamy yellowtail tuna served seared, grilled, and minced with truffle oil. Perhaps Repast’s most famous dish is Truex’s “foie gras hot dogs,” his own hand-ground mixture of beef, goose liver and sweetbreads, served in a cashmere blanket of puff pastry. It’s topped, of course, with house-made ketchup and mustard. One $10 order of four small slices is probably enough cholesterol for a century – but it sure is good, artery-clogging fun.
My favorite dishes evoke quiet “wows.” Carolina trout is wrapped in country ham as thin as grape leaves and served over pecan wild rice and brown butter sauce. The pork chop is a shameless serving of pig on pig, topped with shaved chorizo and surrounded by candied sweet potato and Swiss chard. My favorite was the special, nutty-sweet diver scallops, encrusted with porcini mushrooms and paired with a slice of fatty pork belly, over bok choy and sesame-dressed carrots.
On previous visits I’ve been equally astounded by the quality of the vegetables and salads. Ostensibly plain dishes like roast chicken amazed an entire table with its earthy, true flavor and tender texture. Red meat lovers’ choices include hangar steak with root vegetable fries and Australian lamb chops with mustard herb crust; vegetarians may opt for Mihoko’s daily macrobiotic composition of vegetables, tofu and whole grains.
For dessert, take the humble bread pudding, and raise it to a beautiful mound of pecan-crusted bread mousse, topped with ice cream and caramel sauce.
620 Glen Iris Drive (at North Avenue)
Hours: Dinner only, Monday through Saturday.
Credit cards: All major.
Dress code: It’s Midtown – anything stylish is fine.