Rathbun’s, Guilt Free?

August 20, 2009 · 8 comments

in atlanta, cooking at Home, wine at home

One downside of training for a triathlon is that after every major workout, I dupe myself into thinking I deserve the most obscene caloric abuse imaginable, and I end up spending the next 48 hours devouring whatever my stomach desires, a sort of deserved hedonism. Piles of pizza, a 10pm H&F burger, duck fat French fries, and gooey enchiladas and cheese dip are my prey. Inevitably, after my post workout binge, the guilt sets in and I make a concerted effort to eat something to bring me back to the cardiovascular light.

This scenario played itself out recently, and the #1 place I head to for a fantastic and guilt-free meal is Dynamic Dish, but I was wondering where else I could go in town to sample a bevy of fresh vegetable and fruit driven cuisine. Somewhat surprisingly, Rathbun’s popped into my head. I’ve subscribed to their blog feed in the last few weeks, so I’ve been seeing their specials, and that’s surely why I thought to head up there, but the expression “guilt-free” and Rathbun’s have likely never been uttered in the same sentence. After a quick perusal of the menu online, I decided it was worth a shot and we headed up there for dinner.

There was no wait for a table for two inside, though their loud and dark dining area was almost full at 8PM on a Wednesday evening. While we browsed the menu I ordered a 375ml bottle of Duval-Leroy Rose Champagne. I’m learning that ordering a half bottle often has many benefits – the price is obviously lower, which means I can afford some better wines, I am more likely to savor the wine instead of slugging it down, and I’m less likely to stumble out of the restaurant at the end of the night. Plus, who doesn’t like bubbly at the start of a meal?

Rathbun’s has an extensive list of small plates, large plates, and the “second mortgage” section, where Rathbun’s proudly flaunts their most expensive dishes, an approach I find humorous, but I think it also has an in-your-face effectiveness to it. Though, we were there to eat healthy and ordered six dishes from the small plate, raw plate, and soup menu. I don’t know that we could call our order guilt-free, especially when we started with champagne, but I was successful in avoiding the broiled lamb loin special and the 20oz bone-in ribeye. It’s the small victories…

We started with the two soups, the green pea spring onion bisque, and the gazpacho, which was the soup special of the day. While both these soups were of obvious quality, and delicious upon first bite, with these two dishes a trend began that would continue with almost every dish we consumed. These soups were salty. Extremely salty. So much so I was actually confused. The gazpacho was otherwise wonderful, and amazingly fresh tasting – why would ripe, vibrant tomatoes need this amount of seasoning?

The pea soup had an incredible velvet texture, rich flavor, but the amount of seasoning was even worse than the gazpacho. With every bite I was rushing to sip my water to rinse my puckered mouth.

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My confusion was laid to rest, if not for a while, when the remainder of our meal arrived. The remaining five dishes were all delicious looking, with great plating and appealing color contrast, they just looked like they were going to taste good.

The tuna with citrus and thinly sliced serranos was my favorite dish of the meal, and perhaps not coincidentally, it was also the dish with the least amount of salt that had been added when the dish was finalized. The tuna crudo, thin sliced zucchini, caprese salad, and peaches, had been either moderately or heavily seasoned at final plating with large crystals of salt.

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The tomatoes in the caprese were slightly firmer than I expected in season, and the house made mozzarella wasn’t what I had hoped for texturally, but again, this dish would have been just fine to me if I hadn’t been crunching on salt with every bite of the cheese.

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The peaches in blackberry balsamico would have been the best dish on the table, had it not been for the few slices of ripe peach that had its flavor suppressed by the salt. At times during the meal, my mouth tasted as if I’d been drinking margaritas from a salt-rimmed glass. It was really strange.

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The charred corn side dish in gouda was even a bit too salty for me, though I will say that corn was crunchy and sweet, and I loved the char flavor and I would order this side dish again in a heartbeat.

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Confused and full, I was mentally ready to finish our meal, but the peanut butter and banana dessert was my siren song. At under $4 each, the desserts are well priced for ordering more than one, so we also ordered the tiramisu mousse special.

I’m glad we did stay, because the peanut butter and banana cream pie was fantastic. I’m not even a huge dessert fan, but there was a well balanced distribution of sweet, burnt marshmallow, creamy banana, and just enough peanut butter at the bottom.

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The tiramisu was good, but it didn’t stand a chance against the banana/peanut butter dessert. It’s light composition was outmatched.

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I’m not really sure what to take away from this meal. A lot of these small plates had good stuff going on, they looked appealing on the menu, they featured local and fresh ingredients, and they came out of the kitchen looking great. But the over-salting ruined most of them for me, and it leads me to wonder, is it just my palate that is intolerant of this aspect of the dish? It’s clear that the salt was added on purpose when plated, could it just be that I’m overly sensitive to this oft-used seasoning? Or is there a heavy hand working with the salt in the plating department? I’m nervous to go back and drop another $130 to find out.

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  • http://amyonfood.blogspot.com Amy W.

    That’s disappointing to hear about the salt. I’ve never been to Rathbun’s but I have had it on my radar for awhile to try… maybe I will wait a little longer – that tuna looked great though!

  • biskuit

    Heavy handed salt has been a frequent complaint about Rathbuns since day one. Your meal was not an anomaly (nor was it “just your palate”).

  • http://www.decaturwineandfooddude.com decaturwineandfooddude

    What biskuit said. Haven’t been back in a couple years because of it.
    Rathbun’s STEAK does not, in my exp, suffer from the same issue.
    Bummer about your experience J.

  • Jimmy

    Interesting that others perceive this as a common problem…do they just feel differently about the use of salt?

    I didn’t notice the salt problem the first two times I went, but that was over two years ago.

    DWaFD – I agree re Rathbun’s steak, both times I’ve gone I’ve really enjoyed it. Where does Kevin work on a daily basis?

  • Katie

    I’m still thirsty from the coating of salt on the peaches-that one was the weirdest for me! Fun meal nonetheless!

  • http://www.suburbanwino.com Joe

    Never been to either; what about his third place, Krog Bar? …any word on the salt there? Might just have a chef tasting everything at Rathbun’s with a weird palate…less tastebuds per square centimeter or something.

  • Judd

    We went to Rathbun’s Saturday night with some foodie friends from out of town. We had four great appetizers, open faced ravioli was one of the best things I’ve ever had. But out came the entrees and they went 4 for 4 in the “OVER-SALTED” category. Everything was cooked to perfection – two filets, duck and halibut but all had too much salt, especially the steaks which were barely edible despite being cooked a perfect medium rare. We think the problem is in their sauces. We were embarrassed because we had really pumped up our friends about Rathbun’s. We didn’t have a bad experience prior and had a great experience until the entrees came out. I agree with everyone about Rathbun Steak, very consistent, never had a problem with over seasoning. I’ll never go to Rathbun’s again. And about Krog Bar, we had meat, cheese and wine there before dinner and dinner and really enjoyed it. Could have just done that for dinner and been fine.

  • http://eatbufordhighway.com BuHi

    Interesting – I haven’t tried Rathbun’s yet (I know… but I did like chatting with him when he was at Bhead Diner…), but I’m noticing a salting issue all over the city. In the past few weeks, I’ve had individual items all the way to entire meals that ranged from either unpleasant to inedible because of the salt content. What gives?

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