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Photograph by Kevin A. Roberts
Central West End
Average Main Course: $20
Dress: Something befitting a “nice neighborhood place”
Reservations: With only 60 seats, the magic eight ball says “Definitely.”
Chef: Daniel Dreher
Rarely has a restaurant transition gone as swimmingly as the rebirth of Atlas, where Bryan and Diane Carr, owners of Pomme Restaurant and Pomme Café & Wine Bar, succeeded original owners Michael Roberts and Jean Donnelly last summer. Six months later, things are rolling along smoothly, without a noticeable blip.
On a recent Friday, every table was full just after 6 p.m., with pre-concert and -theater parties enjoying dinner and chef/owner Bryan Carr making the rounds. The menu is similar to the previous ownership’s, with French touches to a modern American cuisine. Its ancestry includes tastes and textures that mostly originated in other countries. When we visited, there was a pasta dish, of course, plus a vegetarian entrée, and enough daily updates to keep diners happy. Tipping his hat to the Catholic clientele, Carr offered three fish choices that particular Friday, though he substituted a butternut-squash soup with hints of curry for clam chowder.
A scallop gratin showed proper use of the word “gratin,” with a buttery, olive-oily crust of bread crumbs over the fat sea scallops, nicely browned on top. Sauced with the scallops’ natural juices and lemon, the result was amazingly rich. An old favorite, a mixed-lettuce salad with radishes and tarragon vinaigrette, was still present, the dressing sharpened a bit. The butternut squash returned with fluffy gnocchi and shreds of Parmigiano, utterly irresistible.
Carr always has shown mastery of vegetables, so it was no surprise when the juicy pork tenderloin arrived with not only sautéed apples and a savory pan sauce, but also tart red cabbage, sautéed spinach, haricots verts (the tiny green beans at the perfect point of tenderness), and a little diced tomato. The same cabbage and spinach also rode shotgun with slices of duck breast, rare as requested, heightened by a tangy green-peppercorn sauce. Carrot flan brought the barest hint of sweetness.
Red snapper wore a white-wine garlic sauce and capers, good enough to demand a bit of bread for soaking. Passing up the potato gratin, we chose a sauté of superb escarole, spinach, pine nuts, currants, and lemon, the vegetables barely cooked and ideally seasoned. More spinach was inside the eggplant involtini, which also held Gruyère cheese and roasted red peppers. A delicious tomato sauce capped things off.
For dessert, the affogato—hot espresso poured over vanilla ice cream—is a favorite, but Atlas’ more elaborate items reward the curious. Tibka’s Chocolate Cake is dense and fudgy, with caramel and apricot between layers and dark-chocolate ganache as icing—serious chocolate to be taken slowly and thoughtfully. Butterscotch pudding with glazed pecans and a ladle of soft-whipped cream was so good as to successfully woo even the non-butterscotch lover at the table. Perhaps the most satisfying, though, was a pear gingerbread: chunks of cooked pear in the warm spice cake, topped by paper-thin slices of pear sprinkled with sugar heated to a clear, crackly glaze. Quite the gathering of the senses.
Service was warm and knowledgeable, including the server’s familiarity with a well-chosen wine list. We also appreciated that Atlas serves appetizers, drinks, and dessert until 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, making it an outstanding ending to an evening of music or theater.
The Bottom Line: If you adored Atlas before, let the love continue.
By Joe and Ann Pollack