When I was 35 and new to Atlanta, my wife’s boss invited us to dinner at Toulouse. This South Buckhead restaurant had for years been one of his favorites. Toulouse’s unchanging but reliably executed French bistro menu, coupled with a serious wine program, made him a happy diner, year in and year out. Its unusual entrance — not accessible through the Peachtree Road storefront but rather up a steep rear fire escape set on a steeply pitched hill — added to its appeal. The restaurant was ensconced deeply in its residential neighborhood, there for those, and only those, who knew to look for it.
I liked it well enough, but I can’t remember if I ever went back. Toulouse didn’t feel like it belonged to my generation. The restaurant had aged with its clientele, and whatever excitement my wife’s boss must’ve once experienced at discovering this place had been replaced by an “I always get the chicken” kind of complacency.
Last May, restaurateur Thaddeus Keefe (a former partner in Tuk Tuk Thai Food Loft) revived the dormant space as 1Kept Kitchen and Cocktails. Perhaps because of the name, I had assumed this place would be another Holeman & Finch Public House knockoff, with drinks leading the way and a meat-heavy small plates menu. In fact, the restaurant seems more like a Toulouse for a new generation.
The bar is indeed front and center, with a few tables radiating around it. But on the recent busy weeknight I visited, people were there to enjoy the nice atmosphere and dine. Liquid olive oil candles on the tables picked up the tones of amber spot lighting, brick walls sported a moody black paint job, and the open kitchen in the back sent nice smells into the dining room. The feel is more hearth than tavern. (The lighting, though nice on the eyes, makes for lousy iPhone photos. Sorry.)
The crowd? Mostly well-dressed professionals who looked like they had a couple of years before they had to consider impending 40-ness heading their way.
I point this out only to note that my dining room neighbors were there for dinner. Not drinks with small plates, or big salads, or some famous fried chicken, burgers or ramen, but dinner. They had arrived at that age where they could afford a nice weekday meal with cocktails or a bottle of wine, where they wanted to talk without screaming, and where they needed to get to bed in time to make it the gym before a big presentation the next day.
A trio of chefs share kitchen management duties, and they prepare a menu with a few shareable items (such as wood oven-fired flatbreads) but a whole lot more traditional salads and entrees.
The list reads mostly like versions of familiar dishes you’ve eaten elsewhere, but sometimes that’s what you want from a neighborhood standby. I found the food prepared and seasoned with real care. What a happy surprise when food sounds a little boring but totally hits the spot.
I know I’m supposed to stop getting so excited about kale salad, but 1Kept makes a really, really good one! It’s warm from the wood oven and tossed with marbles of house-made chorizo and quinoa — like a totally scrumptious, healthier take on yesteryear’s spinach salad with warm bacon dressing.
Pork schnitzel was more of a thick cutlet than a real Middle European schnitzel, but it was crisp and juicy, and the center of a riotous plate of sautéed apples, (too doughy) gnocchi, red cabbage confit, onions and cream. As a regular, I would know to split this dish and ask for the sauce on the side to better appreciate the good frying job.
Monkfish, served over a tomato and olive stew, was also nicely cooked and seasoned. I only needed some bread to soak up the good but thin sauce pooling in the dish.
The thin and mostly New World wine list doesn’t thrill me, the dozen beers won’t captivate geeks, and the few house cocktails all sound sweet. The Old Fashionista (note to self: never, ever call my wife that), made with a splash of red wine, was fine, but for now I’d consider the beverage program here more in service to the menu than vice versa.
And that’s fine — really, what everyone in the dining room has discovered. I suspect these people will be having many more meals here for years to come.
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