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Element: Midtown (CLOSED)

posted on June 26, 2007 at 7:19 am
prepping his favorite tool
Chef Richard Blais with his favorite toy, liquid nitrogen.

I have been a big fan of chef Richard Blais’ cooking ever since I tasted his food at One Midtown Kitchen just months before his departure for Miami. When he returned and took over the kitchen at Element in Midtown, I was there the first couple of weeks for brunch and dinner. There were some slight missteps in a few dishes (like a bloodline in my halibut and some unfortunate lamb fat sprayed on top of a lamb dish), but the talent was screaming at me from dishes like the carbonara, vitello tonato, sweetbreads hash, and sous-vide eggs on impossibly buttery brioche toast—the kitchen excels at brunch items and I can easily see Element becoming my go-to brunch spot.

Although this is just a blog, I try to be an ethical “reviewer” when frequenting restaurants—I have even become wary of bringing my camera into restaurants lately because I have begun to get recognized by servers and it makes me feel as one acquaintance said, “dirty.” There are a couple of chefs however, that I do choose to engage simply because talking with them about food and watching them do their thing is such a pleasure—I did start this website because I love food after all. Blais is one of those chefs (neck and neck with chef Linton Hopkins of Restaurant Eugene) and I am a big fan of his food—it never fails to entertain or take my palate somewhere new. What more can you ask of a meal?

Six fellow food fiends and I went to Element last Friday for an organized tasting and entertainment á la Blais and crew. We were seated at 7:45 p.m. and did not return home until midnight after eating 20 (!) courses—there is some debate on whether or not the margarita shooter and corn count as courses, but I think they do. They pulled out the big guns and everyone was pretty much blown away by the flavors and presentation. Onto the food…

Liquid nitrogen margarita
Liquid nitrogen margarita: Whew. These babies are strong. Using the liquid nitrogen makes the texture of the margarita much smoother than the usual suspects. Make sure you drink it fast because the ice starts to separate from the liquor quite quickly.

"caramel corn"
“Caramel corn”: I am not sure how he does this, but it is freeze-dried corn that he somehow imparts with the sweetness of caramel. It tastes like Corn Pops and if you like sweet corn, you are bound to like this.

Celery root chip with salsa jelly and cilantro
“Chips and salsa”: It is with dishes like this that you really get a sense of the chef’s sense of humor. He makes chips out of celery root and then tops them with a salsa jelly and diced cilantro stems. The deconstructed composition makes them a joy to eat and I wanted a plate of these.

Beau soleil oyster with meyer lemon dipping dots
“Oyster and pearls”: Visually stunning dish with a wink. I have a thing for Beausoleil oysters and so does chef Blais. I think his fondness stems from some sort of nostalgia, but the flavor of these babies is unmistakable. The Meyer lemon dots are fun, but I have to say I would prefer the gorgeous oysters on their own if given the choice.

making the choco for the chorizo in liquid nitrogen
Freezing the chocolate in liquid nitrogen

Chef Richard Blais
Frozen chocolate ready to be plated

Chorizo chip with chocolate
The finished product, chocolate and chorizo: Chorizo and chocolate dishes have found their way onto many Atlanta menus. This has to be the most refined though. The chorizo had a nice bite to it and the chocolate quickly melted when I placed it my mouth. Just charming.

Goat cheese and peach nigiri
Peach, goat cheese, and beet “caviar” nigiri: What a whimsical dish. The components worked so well together and it was a pleasure to eat something. Blais really has a knack for vegetarian dishes that wow.

Hot and cold bouillabaisse shooter
Hot/cold bouillabaisse shooter: I wasn’t sure what to expect from the smoking shooter at my table. The liquid nitrogen formed a cool crust on the hot soup. The diner gets to break through with the tap of a spoon like a very strange creme brulee. The soup itself was deep and I longed for a big bowl of it full of seafood. The crisp was a nice addition and provided that extra bit of salt to compliment the flavors of the shooter.

Toro tartare, pine nuts, and quail egg
Toro tartare with quail egg, pine nuts, and soy jelly: What can I say? One of the best tartares I have had in quite some time. Buttery, salty, and fatty. Just gorgeous.

Crispy sweetbreads with honey mustard
Fried sweetbreads: Sweetbread donuts? Are you kidding me? Amazing. The sweetbreads were cleaned beautifully and the sweet sauce was a perfect compliment. I think I ate more than my share of these.

Fried rabbit and cherry meatballs
Shredded rabbit and cherry meatballs: Another fried delicacy to hit the table. The consensus was split. Some found them too gamey, but hey, its rabbit. It is game. I enjoyed them and the cherry center was an interesting contrast to the tender meat.

Tomato ceviche, jicama, cilantro
“Tomato ceviche”: A bright palate cleanser full of citrus. Maybe a hint more salt to set it over the top, but still a welcome burst of flavor after the two fried items.

Fried lemon with smoked aioli
Fried lemon slice with smoked aoili: Blais really knows his fish, but he knows his way around frying just as well. I swear he must have trained under a tempura expert at some point in his career, because his fried dishes are never greasy. There was also no bitter taste from the pith and I was pretty much amazed how mellow the lemon was. I believe he also adds these to his fritto misto and they are just so much fun.

Burratta, pineapple water, radish sprouts
Burrata with pineapple water and radish sprouts: I would never, in a million years, think to combine these flavors together, but they worked. I asked the chef why pineapple? And, he said he tried every other fruit with burrata, so why not pineapple?

Lamb belly with yogurt "ravioli"
Lamb belly with yogurt “ravioli”: Probably the only miss in my book. There was no salt whatsoever and I am just not a fan of the yogurt from a taste or texture point of view.

IMG_2995.JPG
Preparing the salmon in the M.R.E. (Meals Ready to Eat) bag

Salmon coking in the MRE bag
Placing the M.R.E. bag on the table so the fish could finish cooking

Yukon salmon, cauliflower, asian pear
Salmon and cauliflower puree: I do not know why, but I have always had a strong dislike for salmon unless it was placed on a bagel or in the form of sushi. The chef brought the salmon to the table in the M.R.E. bags and finished them off at the table. We watched as the bag expanded with hot air and waited for the chef to place them on the bed of cauliflower puree already on the plate. I was taken aback. I loved it. I was actually eating salmon and liking it. I don’t know if it was this specific type of Yukon salmon, which is only available at a certain time of the year, but who cares? It was delicious. Everyone loved it.

Foie gras, peanuts, apple
Foie gras with peanuts and apple jelly: The day-glow green apple jelly paired perfectly with the buttery foie gras, crunchy peanuts, and chutney. I would have like a bit more crunch from some sea salt, but the flavors were there and I would have eaten the whole thing if I was not trying to pace myself.

Scallop with peas and brown butter foam
Scallop with brown butter foam: This was the fan favorite of the night. It was just amazing from every angle. The brown butter worked well against the scallop and the cheese under the sheet of gelatin added a creaminess that just made the dish shine. Don’t take this one off the menu, chef. It is a winner.

Pigeon, turnip, black truffle, spices
Pigeon with beets and truffle soil: By this point, we were getting very full and many dishes were going back to the kitchen half-eaten, but not because we were not enjoying ourselves. This was another hit. A few pieces of the pigeon were a bit chewy, but it was still delicious. Gamey pigeon with the bright beets and truffle “soil” were well executed.

Pork belly and turnip soup
Pork rind and turnip soup with crispy pork belly: As amazing as Blais’ refined dishes are, this simple soup was the my favorite of the night. Blais brought a vat of the broth to the table which was studded with earthy turnips and crunchy pork rind-my friend and I actually started eating the skin. The real showstopper was the crispy piece of pork belly in each of our bowls. I could have sipped the smoky broth all night. I would go back for this dish alone.

Panna cotta with frozen coke syrup and crackerjacks
Vanilla panna cotta with crackerjacks and frozen coke syrup: Well, I should preface this by saying I am not a big dessert fan. So, take what I say with a grain of salt. I am definitely not a panna cotta fan for purely textural reasons. This one was much firmer than the one I’d had on my previous visit. It is just too sweet for me, but everyone else seemed to like it eventhough they were bursting at the seams.

Awesome night with many, many hits and only a couple of slight execution problems. Even the most jaded of my friends (you know who you are Mr. “I am not into chef worship”) loved the food and couldn’t stop raving about that insane scallop dish. The restaurant is still adjusting to the new kitchen staff and the service is a tad green and overeager. However, I found everyone to be very hospitable and we all had a delightful meal that left us smiling and very, very full. There is no doubt I will back very soon.

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5 comments

  • Re: Element: Midtown (CLOSED)
    posted by: Mau · June 26, 2007  6:31 AM

    The NEXT time you do anything like this, can I come?

    Honestly. I’m SO THERE. Just let me know. mau@imsayin.com. I’m good company. My wife too!

    I think you may have just picked the place where we’ll take my In-Laws for their Anniversary! Thanks!

    -Mister Mau

  • Re: Element: Midtown (CLOSED)
    posted by: Francoise Schmulinger · June 26, 2007  9:07 AM

    This restaurant looks awesome. Do you think they could prepare a gluten-free menu for my sick aunties?

  • Re: Element: Midtown (CLOSED)
    posted by: andicati · June 28, 2007  7:47 PM

    Dined at element tonight as a result of reading your blog. Ambiance lacking, silverware sucks, menus hard to read. However, all these complaints fade to oblivion when the food starts arriving. AWESOME, INNOVATIVE, BACCHANALIA WATCH OUT!

  • Re: Element: Midtown (CLOSED)
    posted by: Anonymous · July 8, 2007  3:33 PM

    I had brunch at Element today. It was fantastic! The flap jacks with coffee butter and the crab cakes were to die for! Richard Blais’ inventive culinary style makes the most ordinary dishes taste extraordinary!

  • Re: Element: Midtown (CLOSED)
    posted by: Anonymous · September 13, 2008  10:13 AM

    caveat: i’m only basing my comment from the pictures and dish descriptions.

    richard has some good ideas, although passé, and (from the pictures above) his work is sloppy.

    -Jeff

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