The owners of the Consulate, Doug Hines and Mei Lin, have a real thing for James Bond.
But, of course, they do. They’re kind of secret agents themselves. Their cover story? Honey Bubble on Ponce de Leon Avenue, their first foray into running a restaurant.
Honey Bubble traffics in tapioca pearl tea. It’s stylish, very hip and the drinks are tasty. But it gives no inkling that Hines and Lin had it in them to create something like the Consulate.
This hideaway next door to the Midtown MARTA station is a stunning and sumptuous jewel box: a 65-seat dining space made up of several intimate little nooks. Its tapas menu has so many cuisines going on, you get jet lag just reading it.
And, knock me over with a mid-century modern martini shaker, that crazy range of food is actually deliciously successful.
But, first, let’s talk about that dazzling space. Hines is a designer of many glamorous Atlanta spots, and he was featured on the show “HGTV Design Star.” As a result, the Consulate feels like Pussy Galore’s dream house.
Everywhere you turn, there are swank little scenes in which to lounge. There’s a dining room painted in high gloss black — an inky hideaway that feels like a conference room where sharp-suited villains should be cutting billion-dollar deals.
There’s a living room with a mod orange faux fireplace and a Le Corbusier LC4 chaise longue.
Almost every wall is a maximalist gallery of Really Good Art.
It all feels like a movie set in which every detail is brilliantly realized — from a row of vintage suitcases to a staging of cobalt glassware in a gorgeous mid-century hutch to the collection of antique globes that makes you yearn to grab the next first-class ticket to anywhere. Or, at least, rattle the oversized globe of ice in your rocks glass and speak in the Scottish brogue of the only 007 who mattered.
Speaking of cocktails, the ones we ordered on a recent weeknight outing were very tasty — each one a fun “reconstruction” of classics like the Japanese Cocktail, the Blood and Sand and the Old Fashioned. The former, called the Ryü Sasakura, was a pink, citrusy cognac concoction, set aflame before us, which gave it a mellow smoothness — and looked really cool. From a drink-in-flames, it seemed fitting to move on to the Moneypenny, daringly smoky with mezcal. Mr. Jones’ Famous Elixir, which was a little challenging with its mix of citrus and mint, was saved by some excellent bourbon.
The most cunning thing about the Consulate’s cuisine is the side of the menu called Visa. It’s filled with food of a particular country for three months, before it globe-trots on to a different locale. In mid-December, the Visa took us to Denmark, with a selection of 10 Nordic dishes and snacks, plus a charcuterie board. A tour of Russia began on Jan. 2, which means chef Tara Mayfield might have some political prescience as well as culinary talent.
Despite their temporary status, there wasn’t a greenhorn in the Danish bunch, from buttery, parmesan-sprinkled Brussels sprouts to a succulent slab of pork belly served in a springy nest of tart, balsamic glazed cabbage. The acid from this deep purple veg cut nicely into the richness of the belly, and the whole business was topped with another brilliant hit of brightness plus sweetness: a vanilla apple compote. This dish was exciting and cozy all at once, while a pan-seared rainbow trout topped with pear and fennel slaw felt more traditional, but also exquisite.
Much more humble and homely, but equally delicious, was a smørrebrød (open-faced sandwich) of juicy, flavorfully pink grilled flank steak, dappled with sweet caramelized onions and given some essential bite from a few arugula leaves and dark Dijon cognac.
Don’t despair that you’ll never get to taste these dishes. Hines told me that some items on the permanent menu, called Residents, started on the Visa side. Big sellers like that trout, along with a couple of others, were holding over after Russia arrived.
On the Resident side of the menu, you’ll find dishes from Brazil, Thailand, Korea, Ireland, you name it. And Mayfield nailed almost every one we tried. Of our many small plates, only one (teardrop-shaped fried Brazilian coxinhas stuffed with sawdusty minced chicken) disappointed.
All others were beautifully prepared, super-flavorful, and delivered with professionalism by our casually elegant (you know, kind of like James Bond) server. Though all these tapas were served as tapas ought to be — when they’re hot and ready — each of our dishes arrived one or two at a time, so we could enjoy each plate without having to rush to the next.
So, what else did I love? A dry sautéed Thai okra, the plump pods stacked in a pretty pyramid. Perfectly cooked to just a tiny bit toothsome and bright green, this okra had zing from chili sauce, some bite from salt and black pepper, and just a hint of earthiness from rosemary. It was a revelation.
A Korean pulled duck confit couldn’t have been cozier. I ordered it with reservations, thinking the combo of butternut squash, dried cranberries and Korean barbecue sauce would add up to a sugar bomb, but no — the dish was both earthy and bright, spicy and fruity. A complicated pleasure.
I love knowing that much of the menu will be different the next time I go back to the Consulate. (And, I will go back.) I’ve sampled enough of Mayfield’s cuisine to be confident that her next round will be similarly delightful.
I’ll think of it as another adventure, with a dazzling new location and maybe a couple of new Bond girls — but with that same, favorite spy at the helm.
10 10th St. N.E. Atlanta. Lunch, 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Mondays-Fridays. Tapas dinner, 5-11 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays. 404-835-2009, facebook.com/TheConsulateATL.
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