Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Eating Out: 4th and Swift

Since budget constrictions make revisiting most of these restaurants in a short period of time a little difficult, I will be recalling most of these experiences from my notes. I'll make certain to note the time of year, as most of the really good restaurants have seasonally-inspired menus.

4th and Swift is located in the old Southern Dairies building in Atlanta's Old Fourth Ward. The interior space is both sleek and rustic, with exposed ventilation that pays homage to the building's industrial roots. The lighting and design is more contemporary. Heading the kitchen is veteran chef Jay Swift, formerly of South City Kitchen Midtown. Swifty has fashioned a menu that is seasonal and celebratory of our local produce, without being dyed-in-the-wool southern. When I came in to eat in late September (roughly 2 months after opening), the dining room looked full, but I was able to wrangle a seat at the bar. The added bonus of this seating was the availability of a bar menu of snacks in addition to the regular menu. Rather than ordering an entree, I decided to order several smaller items with the hope of getting a better feel of Swifty's cuisine. Upon my former executive chef's recommendation, I started with the Truffle and Parmesan Popcorn. The popcorn was very light, with the salt coming from the parmesan (which also contributed a nice nuttiness), and these earthy notes from the truffle oil. Next came parmesan beignets with marinara. The beignets were ethereally fluffy, with small chunks of cheese that melted once inside your mouth; and the marinara had a hint of sweetness and marjoram, and really held its own against the soft beignets.

My second pair of apps to arrive were the charcuterie plate with pretzel bread (on the regular bar menu), and the pan-fried chicken livers with country ham, shallots, and a sherry cream sauce from the market menu. The charcuterie plate offered a selection of proscuitto, sopressata, finocchiona, and salami toscano. Though not made in house, the meats were all delicious and their individual characteristics shone through. Arriving with the cured meats was a sweet plum mustard, various housemade pickles, and housemade pretzel bread. The only drawback to this dish was that the salt on the pretzel bread was not coarse enough, and there was too much of it. The chicken livers, appropriately enough, recalled ours at South City Kitchen Midtown: unctuous and popping with subtle sweetness from the fortified wine.

My final pairing was the sweet corn soup with oyster "rockefeller" and the braised lamb "lasagna." The soup tasted like taking a big bite of fresh late summer sweet corn, though a little more salt would have sent this into the stratosphere. The oyster "rockfeller" consisted of a crispy fried oyster floating atop the soup, garnished with Benton's bacon, watercress, and a Pernod oil. The briny oyster and smoky bacon were a great contrast to the sweet, rich soup. The "lasagna" was something of a freeform pasta dish with layers of fresh pasta, red wine-braised lamb, and ricotta cheese. While hearty, the dish was not at all heavy, and I still found myself wanting to pore over Swift's dessert menu.

By this point, Tessa the bartender was incredulous that I wanted to continue. Her look was both one of appreciation that someone in the industry was loving the food and was increasing her check average, and one of disgust--usually the kind I give when I see the contests where the people have to scarf down 147 Krystal burgers in 12 minutes. I didn't really mind, as the tapioca pudding with vanilla-macerated strawberries was a light way to end the meal. 4th and Swift has received some favorable press, and I can't help but agree with it. Can't wait to go back when the menu changes

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