Brussels sprouts have the unworthy reputation as one of the vegetable garden’s most apprehensive occupants. As children, most of us have memories of cringing at the thought of this cruciferous vegetable’s arrival on our plates.
As an adult I enjoy seeking out brussels sprouts; whenever I see them on a menu, I order them. I consider the tiny mouthfuls the ultimate cook’s challenge when it comes to vegetables — cook them too long, and they turn to mush and taste like a medicine cabinet; not enough and they are acridly bitter and tough.
Boiling and steaming are common enough ways to bring them to submission, but roasting — ah, that is what I spied on chef Todd Ginsberg’s menu at Bocado: there, offered between dishes of chicken thigh over fried polenta and mussels in red wine, were roasted brussels sprouts with thyme and parsley, a little lemon, some shards of Parmesan, salty capers and buttery croutons. Sliced in half, their surface was singed around the edges — just a bit — and perfectly tender, each bite a blissful little mouthful.
Almost everything on Bocado’s menu will bring some type of similar reaction. Ginsberg has managed to utilize fresh, well-sourced ingredients while keeping the price point at a minimum. He cooks with a simple, subtle hand, letting those brussels sprouts speak for themselves.
The menu is uncomplicated and inviting, with a focus on excellently procured meats, cheeses and fish, as well as a spotlight on well-cooked veggies like those b-sprouts. On a smaller, less showy scale, Bocado’s kitchen evokes the excellent cooking at Craft. Owner Brian Lewis, who owned now-closed Table in Birmingham, returned to Atlanta with little fanfare, but Bocado — which means “mouthful” in Spanish — is poised to become one of the Westside’s most sought-out destinations.
An open-air, minimal design from ai3 makes for easy-on-the eyes surroundings highlighted by a large communal table in the center of the main dining room used as a serving station and by serene bamboo planted in the front of the building, buffeting a comfortable lounge area.
Ginsberg, who most recently worked at now-closed Trois, has cobbled together offerings from inventive sandwiches of roasted poblano smeared with pimento cheese and stacked with bacon and fried green tomatoes to brilliant appetizers such as braised veal cheek over grits and greens of Russian kale and red mustard with a jus redolent of both the tender meat and greens and laced with butter and garlic.
Flounder is so rarely found on menus these days that I was mesmerized to try it: a thin fillet of the tender white fish is dredged in flour, dipped in egg wash and pan fried with lemon and capers, served with a warm fingerling potato salad dotted with caraway and tossed in a warm vinaigrette and Swiss chard. Ginsberg uses greens — kale, chard, mustard, escarole, arugula — in everything from skirt steak to gnocchi, a wonderful addition to an already seasonally inspired menu.
Pastry chef Jennifer von Schlichten is one of the dining scene’s greatest finds of the year — she manages to update homespun desserts, giving them a modern flair without losing any of their homey goodness.
Chocolate pudding — silky, soft and light, layered in a Mason jar with bananas and caramel sauce, garnished with a meringue cookie laced with peanuts and a fluffy layer of caramel whipped cream — is my answer to the blues. One bite and there’s no way your spirits won’t be lifted.
Bocado is proof that even in a recession, great restaurants can still open, and hopefully, thrive.
Food: Contemporary American
Service: Consistent and polite.
Price range: $$
Credit cards: Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Discover
Hours of operation: Open for lunch Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Open for dinner Monday through Thursday from 5 to 10 p.m. and Friday - Saturday from 5 to 11 p.m.
Best dishes: Roasted brussels sprouts, veal cheek with grits and greens, crab fritters with apple salad and cilantro, skirt steak with rutebega and potato gratin, house burger, chocolate pudding, lemon curd mousse
Vegetarian selections: Brussels sprouts, baby beet salad and gnocchi with sofrito and lemon butter sauce
Parking: Complimentary valet or on-street
Wheelchair access: Yes
Smoking: Outdoor lounge only
Noise level: Medium
Address, telephone: 887 Howell Mill Road, Atlanta, 404-815-1399
Web site: www.bocadoatlanta.com
Pricing code: $$$$$ means more than $75; $$$$ means $75 and less; $$$ means $50 and less; $$ means $25 and less; $ means $15 and less. The price code represents a typical full-course meal for one excluding drinks.
Key to AJC ratings
Sets the standard for fine dining in the region.
One of the best in the Atlanta area.
Merits a drive if you're looking for this kind of dining.
A worthy addition to its neighborhood, but food may be hit and miss.
Food is more miss than hit.
Restaurants that do not meet these criteria may be rated Poor.
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Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC