What’s your spirit animal? Mine is a salmon, if we go by the zodiac. Apparently, salmon-spirited folk swim against the current. We have infectious energy, and our feelings get hurt when you don’t like what we say. Ouch. Our words usually are delivered with good intention.
Honesty is a tricky thing, because, in being sincere, you expose yourself. Husband-and-wife Terry and Jenn Koval, Wrecking Bar owners, have done exactly that with their new restaurant. Their spirit animals are a deer and a dove, respectively. Terry, the deer, is energetic, witty, intelligent and not afraid to make a fool of himself. Doves are conversationalists. They enjoy dinner parties. The dove also is said to represent maternal instincts. The Kovals see enough resemblance between themselves and their spirit animals that they chose them as namesakes for their new restaurant.
Home for the Deer and the Dove is the former Cakes & Ale spot on Decatur Square. You’ll find similarities between the two restaurants. The wall separating the main dining area and the bar has been removed, brightening the space substantially. Also, there are deer and dove motifs throughout (taxidermied ones bagged by Terry Koval’s hunter dad on the walls, and even the restrooms; a chalk drawing by former Atlanta-based sketch artist Patrick Nguyen, who signs his work Dozfy). But, apart from that, the space is largely the same as before. The menu is as farm-to-table as when food was lovingly prepared at Cakes & Ale by chef-owner Billy Allin (Bread & Butterfly, Proof Bakeshop) and his team. Still, the Deer and the Dove is not Cakes & Ale.
The Kovals describe it as “rustic new American.” That’s wholly accurate, whether you are sharing a vegetable, meat or cheese tray — or the best of everything family platter — with friends while sipping an uncomplicated mixed drink like Terry Koval’s Chef’s Cocktail (whiskey and ginger beer). That’s also wholly accurate when you are savoring a wood-cooked rib-eye all by yourself, with only Barbera d’Asti in an unpretentious tumbler (Jenn Koval’s preferred wine vessel) to keep you company.
Even if you dine alone here, I don’t think you’ll feel like you’re supping solo. It’s more like eating with the Kovals and all their farmer friends. Every dish is a rich celebration of the bounty from nearby: their own farm in Loganville, chevre cheese from Decimal Place Farm in Conley, cherry tomatoes from local urban farmlet Crack in the Sidewalk, beef from Comfort Farms in Milledgeville.
Oh, that Comfort Farms beef! Experience it in the tartare. If ever there was “rustic new American toast,” this is it. The diced rare meat rests on a thick slice of grilled housemade focaccia, topped with sauce gribiche, a French egg yolk-mustard sauce that’s tangy, briny, chunky and bright green with capers, pickled veggies and herbs. Typically, gribiche calls for hard-boiled egg; here, they go with soft ones. It’s divine when meat, sauce and crispy flatbread hit your mouth.
The tartare is among a dozen-plus items on the small and shared plates side of the menu. If I were eating solo, I’d commune with that, as well as the octopus and shrimp terrine. Although a tad salty for my taste buds, I enjoyed this creative seafood take on a terrine, with its superb consideration for the texture of these ocean swimmers, and the Calabrian chili and sea beans in the spread.
Now, if I had to share my food, I’d stick with the platters. A vegetable platter highlights whatever is in season in raw, poached and roasted form. The D+D cured salami platter varies, too, but always will include a cooked and cured item, as well as a terrine. The latter was a blend of pork and beef with chopped pistachios — and was delightful when smeared on one of the airy housemade rolls, whose tops glisten from a butter wash and a sprinkle of salt. At $32, the family platter is quite the deal, and offers a fabulous combination of taste sensations.
I’ve few complaints about the Deer and the Dove, but I do have a bone to pick with its bread service: Rolls come three to an order. Why the odd number? My guess is that they need room on the plate to fit the herb butter. If yours is a table of four or more, get ready to fight over these puffy soft rounds, or pay for multiple orders.
You can feel satiated from a platter, or a handful of small plates, yet entrees are where the kitchen shows deep skill cooking over wood, be it with rabbit roulade, roast chicken or duck — the breast seared, the leg confit — paired with a slice of savory butternut squash tarte (oh, that crust!). There’s also rib-eye eyeing you on the menu. Mine came medium rare, just as requested, with a fine char, accompanied by a garden full of blistered tomatoes, pole beans, peppers and whole roasted potatoes bathed in sour cream.
Considering the outstandingly cooked meats, as well as what seemed such deliberate and restrained accompaniments, dessert was a disappointment. I don’t want or need potato chips on a tarte au chocolat, nor kettle corn sprinkled over French flan, however playful those might appear. The tarte and the custard would have more than sufficed without contrived add-ons.
The restaurant makes an exquisite coffee liqueur. If they simply poured that over a scoop of silky vanilla bean ice cream, I’d be in heaven, honest.
Honest. It’s the best word to describe this place. From the purity of ingredients, to the straightforward manner of preparation, to the genuine hospitality of those who set that plate in front of you, the Deer and the Dove shines with an honest spirit — at least, from this salmon’s perspective.
THE DEER AND THE DOVE
Overall rating: 3 of 4 stars (excellent)
Food: Rustic new American
Service: genuinely kind, informed and professional
Best dishes: D+D cured salami platter, family platter, tartare, Joyce Farms rib-eye, White Oak Pastures duck.
Vegetarian selections: Vegetables From Our Friends platter, Cheese From Our Friends platter, weekly salad pickings, harvest plate, various side dishes.
Price range: $$$-$$$$
Credit cards: all major credit cards
Hours: 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays; 5 p.m.-11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5-9 p.m. Sundays
Children: not recommended
Parking: paid street and lot parking
MARTA station: Decatur
Wheelchair access: yes
Noise level: low
Takeout: not recommended
Address, phone: 155 Sycamore Ave., Decatur. 404-748-4617
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