A large Italian meatball served with a dollop of polenta and a lovely, tart tomato and strawberry sauce was tasty, but felt a little overpriced at $14. On the other hand, another Asian-influenced dish, heritage pork bao, was a bargain at $13. Two steamed buns were stuffed with chopped pork in a savory sauce that was much less sweet than barbecue; it made for a filling starter.
At a restaurant so heavily weighted toward appetizers and drinks, not every small plate will be a home run. Smoked beets were served with coconut yogurt, dried apricots and apricot kernel dukka, but lacked much of the advertised smoky flavor that could have taken the dish to the next level.
The same could be said for several of the entrees, most of which were good, but lacked a wow factor. The Ashford serves just five entrees, as opposed to 13 small plates, but Lewis said the entree part of the menu is likely to expand, as diners have tended to stay for full dinners more often than the owners had expected.
An autumnal squash agnolotti dish clearly was prepared with care; the pasta was made in-house and a wonderful sage pesto beautifully highlighted a staple herb of fall. But, in contrast to the pesto, the agnolotti’s filling was a bit bland.
The bistro filet of beef, while cooked perfectly to medium-rare, also needed more aggressive seasoning. The meat and accompanying mushroom ragout lacked the expected umami depth.
A notable exception was the dry-aged pork chop. The hulking, bone-in chop was so tender and richly flavored that it was greeted with raised eyebrows and a “wow” from everyone at our table.
On the other side of the menu, wines were reasonably priced and provided a nice variety of labels. There was a welcome selection of four house wines — two whites and two reds — for just $10 a glass. The cocktails we tried were well-executed, but lacked creativity.
One of the more original cocktails, the rum-based Ankle Breaker, seemed to want to be a tiki drink, but needed a touch more sweetness in order to find balance. The blood rose margarita was visually stunning and tasty, but didn’t deliver the floral notes promised.
Among the classic cocktails were a beautifully executed Aviation and a barrel-aged Old-Fashioned that hit all the right notes.
With no dedicated pastry chef, the Ashford’s desserts are limited, but the pistachio cake was nice, and the lemon curd showed off a bit of daring cooking. Usually seen as a spread or pie filling, the very tart curd was accompanied by gooey, toasted meringue and a crunchy crumble base. Visually beautiful and texturally interesting, it was another flash of creativity that hinted at the kitchen’s hidden depths.
The Ashford is a neighborhood restaurant that gives the sense that it’s stuck in second gear. With a pleasant space, supportive community and talent in the kitchen, it feels as if there is untapped potential that could make the restaurant a destination.
There are limitations — primarily the tiny kitchen, where everything is cooked by induction, rather than gas, and there’s no room for a deep fryer. But, the owners all live in the neighborhood, and small details — like the fact that the Ashford’s tree logo mimics the shape of the Ashford Park neighborhood’s borders — indicate the team’s dedication to the community.
As the menu evolves, and more entrees are added, the Ashford has a chance to go from good to great.
Food: modern, global, eclectic
Service: very good, if occasionally slow
Best dishes: steak tartare, gulf shrimp and artichoke dip, dry-aged pork chop
Vegetarian dishes: marinated olives and almonds, cheese plate, cheese fondue, house-made ricotta, smoked beets, kale salad, squash agnolotti
Alcohol: full bar
Price range: $$$
Credit cards: all major cards accepted
Hours: 5-10 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 4-11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays
Parking: free parking around the Village Place Brookhaven development
MARTA station: half-mile from Brookhaven/Oglethorpe station
Outdoor dining: sidewalk
Address, phone: 1418 Dresden Drive, Brookhaven. 404-254-5277
Sign up for the AJC Food and Dining Newsletter
Read more stories like this by liking Atlanta Restaurant Scene on Facebook, following @ATLDiningNews on Twitter and @ajcdining on Instagram.