My husband and I rarely love any evening more than one that affords us the opportunity to try a new restaurant. Lately, finding a new “date spot” has been the mission. Our previous reigning champion of “date spots” recently had to close due to scared investors and a shaky economy. This event was particularly heartbreaking for the two of us considering most major milestones in our relationship took place in the restaurant, including our engagement. There is a hole in our dating life left by the closing of our place.
So, needless to say, every new place we try is subject to the “date spot” hunt and therefore both tremendous scrutiny and hopeful bias. We want to love every place we go. We desperately want a new place to call ours, to settle into a new usual table and breathe easily on date night knowing we always have the old standby ready to invariably wow us each time we walk through the door.
That said, my husband and I are on a budget. We usually split meals or wait for ridiculous specials to quell our foodie cravings, but we are seldom deterred. Upon Taste of Atlanta Week’s much anticipated arrival, I thoroughly researched the restaurants and the deals on offer, eventually selecting the trendy new Atlanta cucina, 4th & Swift for “date spot” contender number one.
After some slight confusion and a few choice words for my GPS system, we found the place. The lure of twinkle lights and a distant bumpchikbumpchikbumpchik of trendy music pulled us ever closer to a pair of huge steel doors nestled into a very old looking brick wall. A host very kindly held the door for us and welcomed us into an envelope of heavenly smells with a wide smile. My husband and I could hardly contain our enthusiasm.
In the Old 4th Ward district of Atlanta, 4th & Swift occupies what used to be the engine room to Southern Dairies and still displays many of the original elements. Exposed brick partially covered in artfully imperfect peeling plaster graces the walls along with shocks of white paint and simple framed photographs. The lighting is subtle, most of it tracked and radiating off of a white brick wall from behind a row of booth seats lining the back of the restaurant. Little votives flicker in front of drawn shades and atop each table bouncing fairy lights off the exposed pipes. The room is small, intimate, stylish and a little on the noisy side. Despite a little of the “not quite moved in” effect, overall the feel was quite attractive with a sexy and exciting vibe.
We were ushered past the trendy looking bar to an architecturally intriguing booth for two. The tabletop sailed cleanly through the wall, leaving a gap in what would have blocked our view of most of the restaurant. Instead, we had an intimate two-top with plenty of space, plenty of privacy yet an excellent spot for the restaurant voyeur.
After the ambiance-inspired stars fell out of my eyes, the first thing I noticed about the table was a lack of salt and pepper. As a matter of fact, none of the tables featured the aforementioned spices. I remember commenting, “either ballsy or arrogant. It’ll depend on the food.” Obviously Chef Jay Swift has enough confidence in his food that he refuses to submit to the American way of overseasoning every dish as soon as it hits the table. While belief in his talent is an admirable quality for any artist to have, this apparent need to protect the dignity of his dishes instead of pleasing the customer’s taste clued me in to a bit of snobbishness on his part. I simply know that if I were the restaurateur, I would care more about the customer being pleased than my dish being uncompromised.
Our table was blown past by the endless attractive, well-dressed, and slightly over-gelled wait staff and our lovely server approached offering us beverages, a basket of bread and the daily specials. After she delivered me a delightful cup of coffee and my husband a tea, I bit into a far too floury artisan sourdough roll and perused the menu. As I pored over several pages of dishes and their tongue-twister descriptions, including a carpaccio of summer beets and watermelon salad and the most unusual entrée: filet of mule, I have to confess I was slightly intimidated. The menu bordered on pretense. As I said before, my husband and I are professed foodies and no strangers to the finer and more exotic items to tickle the pallete and even we found a few things on the list that couldn’t be identified. Thankfully, we had planned to stick to the special Taste of Atlanta Week menu which offered only two choices per course. We ordered one of each.
To begin, we had a crisp and refreshing Bibb Salad augmented by the hearty crunch of chopped hazelnuts. Floating atop the lettuce in a brilliantly stacked presentation were grilled peaches and light-as-a-feather manchengo. Unfortunately, my allergy to peaches prohibited me from tasting this dish, but I assure you, my husband was in raptures. Given that, it is extremely difficult to mess up a salad, so lets reserve the pats on the back for the real deal.
Accompanying the salad was the sweet corn soup with house made chorizo and cilantro oil. This soup had strokes of genius all over it. The soup itself tasted like cornbread batter with all its sweetness and comforting familiar flavor. However, when I picked a spoon full including a chunk of the chorizo artfully plopped into the middle of the bowl, the pop of spicy sausage danced a waltz with the sweetness of the corn. If the chorizo had been pureed into the soup rather than floated in the middle, it’s pungent flavor would have overpowered the delicate corn completely. As it was served, despite the undetectable cilantro oil, the soup was an excellent start to the meal.
Round one: So far, so good. Unfortunately, the appetizers and the coffee were as good as it got.
Our entrees were mind-bogglingly complex and completely unimpressive. The first dish was billed as Crispy Summer Flounder with Local Greens and Legumes with Lemon Thyme dressing. Sounds lovely, right? Upon tasting, my husband and I promptly renamed the dish Glorified Fish Stick sitting on top of Really Bitter Salad topped with Mayo and Salt. What minimal flavor dared to show itself elicited nothing but intense dislike from both my husband and myself. The only points this dish earned the restaurant were in the presentation which was unfailingly impressive.
Our second entrée was Wood Grilled Leg of Lamb, Harissa, Grilled Naan, Sweet Peppers, and Herb Salad. If the first dish were a lullaby, this dish would be reveillee. The intense heat of the harissa paired nicely with the cooling yogurt sauce, but that was the only continuity in the dish. I could hardly taste the gristly cut of meat at all for the sauces and overbearing bitter greens. The grilled naan (or half a burnt mini-pita) was a campy and hurried addition to the presentation and did nothing to remedy the epic battle of flavors raging on the plate. All told, this dish was a mess. I love lamb, I love spicy food, I love Mediterranean flavors and I could not finish this dish. It was an unequivocal disappointment.
Next came dessert which is usually my favorite course. We were first offered Fennel Crème Brulee and Oven Roasted Strawberries with Shortbread. The presentation of the dish was cute with the crème and the strawberries in two separate dishes holding erect the two prettily sugar-dusted cookies. I was thoroughly nonplussed by each element individually, especially since one of my greatest foodie pet-peeves is crème brulee served in a deep dish. The combination of the three, however, was reminiscent of a shortbread thumbprint cookie infused with strawberry jam which did little more than make me want to buy a bag of the good ones on the way home. Yawn.
The second offering was Baked Chocolate Mouse, Caramel Ice Cream, Banana, and Candied Bacon. While this dish was rich and interesting, especially the fact that there was bacon involved, the flavors had a similar battle to that in the lamb dish. The ice cream had little purpose but to provide a temperature difference, there was far too much bacon on the plate, the bananas were superfluous, and the chocolate mousse was a flourless cake in disguise. All in all, the dish seemed hurriedly thrown together and, frankly, quite careless.
Point blank, when I received the bill, I was upset. On top of being charged three dollars for a cup of coffee, I dropped a huge chunk of money on not much food that I hardly ate and did not enjoy. My husband and I even spoke about stopping at the grocery store so we could make a decent dinner at home. Most shockingly, these piles of afterthought were served to us from the Taste of Atlanta Week menu which is an event meant to draw new customers to the participating restaurants! 4th & Swift were supposed to put their best foot forward. Instead they served us food that tasted like foot.
We wanted to love it. We really did. Though, in spite of the hipster sexy crowd and ambiance, I will definitely not return to 4th & Swift and would only recommend it to someone I intensely disliked.