Tuesday, May 11, 2010

restaruant: Canoe's river garden

Went with a few lovely people to the equally lovely Canoe a couple weeks back on a Wednesday evening -- they're hosting a series of musical evenings out on their lawn, serviced by a brand-new bar on the edge of the river. They've hired my friend Juliana Finch on to manage the music, and built a little stone patio -- just the size for just enough sound equipment to make an acoustic set happen -- for her and the other performers she's bringing in. It was a tad bit chilly that night, but now that it's warmed up past 70 it'll be paradise -- as scenic a view as you'll get of the Chattahoochee framed by Canoe's signature aesthetic style (which mixes enough modernity in with its quaint riverboat concept to make it more posh than kitschy), a staff that's ferociously polite and gracious, handmade cocktails with Springy flavors, and a menu of small plates all sturdy, warming, and portioned to share.

We tried most everything on the riverside menu, and it was all worthwhile. And though still not cheap, it's quite reasonable for Canoe -- we shared 7 dishes and 7 drinks among the 4 of us, and the total bill came just shy of $100. Here's what we tried:

The snacks: The lightly textured edamame hummus tasted bright and green with herbs and garlic, and came with two types of breads for dipping -- one a crisp flatbread and one lightly toasted and chewy. The potted chicken liver pate came with two fruit jellies (one soft and spreadable and one gummi-like) for a contrast of acid, and four triangles of crispy bread for building bites on. The pate was smooth, creamy, and on the light end of the potted meat spectrum (which was nice for the setting), but the bread, despite its good buttery flavor, was the one negative point in the meal for me, too crumbly to handle and with too few slices served to compliment the generous portion of pate.

The sandwiches: The miniature version of their duck & beef burger was juicy and pink; topped with an omg-cute quail egg cooked a perfect over-medium, a slight slather of something mayo-like, and lightly pickled radicchio; came with a small side of storebrand-shaming waffled potato crisps; and mostly made me want to go inside and order the larger one. The roast beef sandwich was possibly my favorite dish of the evening, a combination of bright tomato, earthy cheese, and savory, meltingly thin-sliced beef on bread just crisped & chewy enough to stand up to the toppings. (I adore Canoe's fancy dishes, but their ability to make simple ones glow, gastronomically speaking, is my favorite thing about the place.)

The plates: The smoked salmon served over crunchy grated potato croquettes with creamy caper dressing, one of the dishes I'd tried at their brunch, was just as good as I remembered -- all those different textures and salty, fatty flavors form a highly snackable dish. (We ordered a second plate of it during round 2, and everyone had seconds.) The tiny lamb shortribs were tender and smoky, with complimentary tang provided by the minimally messy sauce and the pickled relish that they come plated with.

The drinks: Their boozy Chai cocktail was a minty and delicately spiced mix of whisky and tea, like a julep gone just a little Bollywood. The bartender sold three of us on a new thing called a Spring Lemongrass, made of cucumber vodka, a light sake, lemongrass syrup, and a curl of lemon peel, which was the most refreshing and scene-appropriate drink we tried. We also ordered two variations of a drink involving lime juice, muddled basil (strained out, yay), and rhubarb bitters -- if you try one, I recommend asking for it with gin instead of vodka for more of a flavor punch.

Being out there on Canoe's lawn, the sun setting behind their lit logo with music and grillworks both wafting, I never would've thought that 6 months previous, flood water rose to the level of their hanging garden lamps and came all the way into their kitchens. Canoe is a restaurant more than recovered -- it's blooming. Go for the music series -- it's running every Wednesday through Friday from now til at least the end of May -- and see for yourself.

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