I'm nominating Haven as the definitive neighborhood restaurant. Let's talk about that for a moment: what is a neighborhood restaurant, anyway?
Well, it starts with a neighborhood — this one is Brookhaven, a small enclave just north of Phipps Plaza on Peachtree Road. And the restaurant part? It's a place where the neighbors feel comfortable and welcomed. Maybe folks come from other parts of town, but mostly the clientele is a list of local regulars who can call this place home, at least for a few hours. The food is very good, but hardly groundbreaking. The wine list caters to a broad audience, with affordable choices. There may even be a few things on the chef's menu that become, to the neighborhood, their very own classics.
So now, let's look at Haven.
Neighborhood? Check. The surrounding environs offer demographics ranging from Oglethorpe University students to middle-income families.
Do they feel welcome? Check. Make that a double check.
Michel and Tonya Arnette, both former Buckhead Life employees, opened Haven almost six years ago. In a small, urban space, they've created an atmosphere that's welcoming, yet hip enough to survive the scrutiny of the well-heeled: exposed brick, a semi-open kitchen and Michel Arnette's wine wall give warmth and style, with signature touches like water spigot sculptures playfully placed on a brick wall. The Arnettes know how to cater to their clientele as well, and in the summer the pleasant patio becomes a place that almost feels like your own. They also own lovely Valenza in the same complex.
The food? Check again. Chef Stephen Herman has been on board in the kitchen in one capacity or another since its inception. A Johnson & Wales University graduate, he worked with a few luminaries before arriving at Haven — most notably Bob Waggoner of Charleston Grill and Joel Antunes.
Herman's style can be heavy handed — both with ingredients and portion size — and that would be my biggest complaint of his work. I also don't get the feeling that sourcing local products is a priority, though the idea isn't completely ignored.
It's easy to get bogged down in appetizers laden with creams, mayonnaise or other forms of silky fats, as is the case with an offering of crab and artichoke gratin laced with citrus and highlighted with the saltiness of black olives. The same thing happens with Gulf oysters, crispy fried and prettily presented, but ultimately overwhelmed with a tarragon remoulade. The balance of an otherwise lovely beet salad ends up skewed to the bullying of goat cheese.
But signature hay-style potatoes, a cross between matchstick and curly fries, come mounded in a bowl, perfectly crisped and golden, laced with the flavor of truffle oil. It was necessary for the waiter to remove them from the table before I devoured every bite, which would have been an unsound decision for my waistline.
Plus, I wanted to save room for bacon-wrapped, North Georgia smoked trout over a bed of local Swiss chard laced with — and here's the kicker — roasted red grapes and a sweet browned butter dotted with roasted pecans. Plus beef tenderloin, red-centered and juicy with lively spring greens sautéed and pepped up with cippolini onions, a dab of Maytag blue cheese and a reduction that smacked of jus and acidic sorghum.
Seasonal strawberries were by far the fave in a generous, biscuit-topped cobbler, but sweet potato doughnuts were something to save for fall — heavy and spiced with things that make me think sweater weather, not summer.
So it's check and a go for Haven.
Food: Contemporary American
Service: Very good, but I had the same server on both my visits, and I'm sure management was aware of why I was there.
Price range: $$
Credit cards: American Express, Visa, Mastercard, Discover
Hours of operation: Open for dinner from 5-10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday and 5 -11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Best dishes: Truffled haystack fries, smoked bacon-wrapped trout, tenderloin, strawberry cobbler Vegetarian selections: Salads, goat cheese agnolotti
Parking: Complimentary valet
Wheelchair access: Yes
Noise level: Medium
Address, telephone: 1441 Dresden Drive, 404-969-0700
Web site: www.havenrestaurant.com
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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