My sister lives far, far away in the land of granola and Arnold Schwarzenegger, so she has no shortage of excellent restaurants to patronize. Thus, when she came to the ATL to visit last weekend, I wanted to show her that there are some excellent dining options down here in the land of Coca-Cola and the religious right. I had high hopes for Restaurant Eugene, but unfortunately, the experience was average at best.
The atmosphere is nice, though a lot smaller than I was expecting. We were definitely the youngest table in the room, which may have been why we waited so long, once seated, to be addressed. Seriously, we sat at our table, without water and without menus, for a good ten minutes. Then, our waitress brought us wine and food menus, and wanted to know if we would care for a specialty cocktail. When I told her that we’d have to see a cocktail menu in order to make such a decision, she had to retreat to the bar to get one.
None of the cocktails looked particularly yummy to me, so sis and I decided to order some wine. I told the waitress that I wanted dry and white, and that I wanted to stay in the $50-$60 range (which is high for me, but that seemed to represent practically the bottom of Restaurant Eugene’s wine list barrel). She brought a bottle of Chablis, and we enjoyed it with our meal, but there was NO WAY that it was worthy of its $61 pricetag. I expect a certain amount of markup, but there’s definitely a point where I start to feel taken advantage of. I would have ordered something by-the-glass, but they were all quite expensive as well (I noticed a lot in the $16-$18 range).
Restaurant Eugene has a “Sunday Supper” that allows folks to choose a 3-course, prix fix dinner for $29.50. Jason ended up going that route, and for his appetizer he was given “ham and biscuits” with lots of homemade fixins (such as mustard, chow-chow, and bread and butter pickles). It was tasty and nicely presented, and there was plenty to share. Sis and I split the appetizer sweetbreads, which were pan-fried and served with sweet corn relish (I believe). The meat was cooked nicely and had good flavor, but there wasn’t anything amazing about the dish. I should note that we scarfed down our apps, not because they were so delicious, but because we were STARVING after waiting upwards of 30-40 minutes to receive them. For two relatively straightforward opening courses, that is entirely too long.
For entrees, Jason’s Sunday supper came with none other than fried chicken. Two HUGE pieces, no less. The breading was salty and crispy, and the chicken was fresh and moist. It came with some thick-sliced “fries” that were nothing terribly special, and a VERY celery-heavy cole slaw. Sis ordered squab, which was cooked very nicely and served with faro and arugula, but was unremarkable in its presentation. I ordered snapper over a sweet corn risotto; both components were cooked correctly, and the crispy skin of the fish was very flavorful, but the rest of the dish was incredibly underseasoned. Again, nothing was bad, and the ingredients seemed to be high quality, but I didn’t feel like I was experiencing chefly creativity.
Jason’s prix fix menu came with a brownie a la mode, which he ate a few bites of (it looked like it was way too dense). Sis ordered a “s’mores” concoction, and she thought it was very good; the butterscotch sauce was a bit much for me, but the plating was cool. The server did present me with two homemade cookies on a plate that said “Congratulations!” in chocolate (my sister had previously mentioned the recent engagement), and the chocolate chip variety was good and chewy.
With wine, two cocktails for my fiance, one Sunday supper, one appetizer, two entrees, and one dessert, the total (with tax and tip, too) came to about $275. I had a little bit of sticker shock, I’m not gonna lie. I mean, I expect to pay a price for fine dining. But did this meal qualify? For nearly $100 a head, I expect something a little more intriguing, thought-provoking, mouth-watering, or any number of adjectives. In other words, fine dining shouldn’t just be “fine.”
In sum, when the thing that jazzes me the most about a meal is the room-temperature butter (don’t get me wrong, an important point, but not exactly what should be at the top of the highlight reel), I probably won’t be returning in any hurry.