Review: Underground supper club in West End pushes culinary boundaries

Counter seating at Bovino After Dark gives guests a close-up view of the kitchen and frequent interaction with its staff. Ligaya Figueras/lfigueras@ajc.com

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Counter seating at Bovino After Dark gives guests a close-up view of the kitchen and frequent interaction with its staff. Ligaya Figueras/lfigueras@ajc.com

Picture the scene at Bovino After Dark: You are perched on one of 14 counter seats with a view of the chefs in action. A parade of food is coming your way — five courses from a prix fixe menu, and lots more when you splurge on supplemental offerings, such as oysters, caviar, a meat-meets-sweet intermezzo and a take-home bag of homemade candies.

You’re also in for more interaction with the staff than you’d ever have at a typical full-service restaurant. Are you in?

That’s a question you’ll hear a lot when dining at Bovino, one of Atlanta’s newer supper clubs. Up and running since last summer, the underground restaurant is in a corner of the basement of Hop City, in Atlanta’s West End.

Alex Sher and chef Chris McCord are behind Bovino After Dark. A former bartender, Sher also is a butcher, and started the Stone Mountain Cattle beef and pork distribution company in 2018 and later opened the Hero Bovino butcher shop and deli — whose space now has become Bovino After Dark. McCord, chef de cuisine for more than six years at Kevin Gillespie’s performative restaurant Gunshow, is the brains behind the ever-changing Bovino menu.

By the time you read this, a deconstructed version of the Arby’s beef ’n cheddar sandwich likely will be off the menu. It was not a sandwich, but a bowl of thin slices of roast beef surrounded by a pool of onion jus, as thick as gravy. In the center was a sunchoke fritter filled with melted Velveeta. The whole thing was finished with a dusting of powdered sugar made with dehydrated, pulverized kimchi. Did it capture the essence of the flavors you’d get from the Arby’s sandwich? You bet. However, the kimchi sugar felt like a “because we can” component.

Bovino After Dark offers an optional oyster course at the start of its meals. Pictured are a half-dozen raw Maine oysters with warm crab cream and crispy breadcrumbs. Ligaya Figueras/lfigueras@ajc.com

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

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Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Bovino After Dark is untethered to any one cuisine. A Thai-accented dish featuring a cabbage wedge stuffed with shrimp sausage was served with two sauces: an herbaceous, sweet Thai chile, tinged green from cilantro; and a spicy, red-hued tom yum — good flavors, messy presentation.

Twice, I experienced katsu grouper. The fried fish cutlet, coated with panko, was a delicious regional take on the Japanese chicken version. Creativity aside, though, your taste buds might get confused when the main dish comes with a sweet hoisin sauce, a bed of herbed crème fraiche, pickles, sauteed broccoli and two small french fries that mimic those from a Checkers drive-through.

Those were dishes from the $65 prix-fixe menu. But, before the standard five courses commence, an exuberant host named Nathaniel will ask whether you want in on a single, half-dozen or dozen oysters. You can get them raw or garnished with the topping of the day — be it bivalves from Maine blanketed with warm crab cream and crisped panko, or pink moons from Prince Edward Island with crab coconut cream and toasted coconut flakes. With both dishes, the essence of the oyster was masked by the garnish.

A recent intermezzo course, available for a $30 upcharge at Bovino After Dark, featured a combination of foie gras ice cream with maple waffle cone pieces, crispy chicken skin and caviar. Ligaya Figueras/lfigueras@ajc.com

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

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Credit: Ligaya Figueras

The intermezzo — served between the fourth and fifth courses — is another “opportunity” to experience something unique. For $30, you get a dish that brings multiple flavors and textures. Soupy foie gras ice cream with maple waffle cone bits, caviar and crispy chicken skin wasn’t for me, but one of my dining partners loved this sweet, savory, smooth and crispy combination. Bovino After Dark also dubs itself “home of the caviar bump,” and it is during this intermezzo moment that, for $15, you can order a dollop of caviar on your fist and down it like a shot. Pass.

On the other hand, I would not pass on a final course of sesame black bean fudge. The core of the dessert combined fermented black bean cake with a layer of chocolate ganache and a quenelle of mint ice cream drizzled with Magic Shell topping. It didn’t need rum-soaked cherries, meringue bark or a dulce de leche swirl to convince me.

A recent meal at Bovino After Dark featured a dessert of fermented black bean cake with mint ice cream, rum-soaked cherries, dulce de leche sauce and meringue bark. Ligaya Figueras/lfigueras@ajc.com

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

icon to expand image

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Even though the team at Bovino After Dark sometimes overly complicates dishes in the pursuit of deliciousness, the exciting thing about this venture is the unorthodox approach to a prix-fixe menu with no theme, the ad hoc nature of the endeavor and the fact that the rest of us are invited to experience the culinary arts in real time.

BOVINO AFTER DARK

2 out of 4 stars (very good)

  • Food: chef’s counter five-course prix-fixe menu
  • Service: intimate, energetic and personable
  • Noise level: low
  • Recommended dishes: menu varies
  • Vegetarian dishes: vegetarian menu available on request. Note dietary restrictions when making reservations
  • Alcohol: wine pairings (four 3.5-ounce pours for $59), wine by the glass; or purchase beverages from the Hop City bar
  • Price range: $$$ ($75 or less per person for basic menu, not including tax, gratuity, beverages or optional courses)
  • Hours: seatings at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. Fridays-Sundays
  • Parking: free lot with ample space
  • MARTA: West End station
  • Reservations: required
  • Outdoor dining: no
  • Takeout: no
  • Address, phone: 1000 White St. SW, Atlanta (inside Hop City). 404-663-6842
  • Website: resy.com/cities/atl/bovino-after-dark

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s dining critics conduct reviews anonymously. Reservations are not made in their name, nor do they provide restaurants with advance notice about their visits. Our critics always make multiple visits, sample the full range of the menu and pay for all of their meals. AJC dining critics wait at least one month after a new restaurant has opened before visiting.

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