Tasting Intown: A review of Wisteria
Wisteria has been serving the Atlanta dining scene since 2001. Given the tough economic challenges of the past decade, those 12 years could easily qualify as “dog years” particularly for a restaurant. With scores of reviews and blog entries, many decidedly positive and some even effusively so, we wanted to visit this “venerable institution”.
We chose a Sunday night. I like to visit restaurants on Sunday nights for several reasons. The traffic is usually lighter or at least I like to kid myself that it is and the dinner crowds are usually a bit smaller allowing for a little more leisurely paced dining.
Wisteria offers complimentary valet parking immediately adjacent to its storefront so it’s a short few steps and you’re being greeted with a smile at the hostess stand. It’s an eye-pleasing relatively small space that has been carefully utilized to accommodate around 100 people. You might think that you’ll be dining only with your date tonight but a brush of an elbow and you’re now a party of 8. We found seating at the end of a wall-length banquet that ended up being quite intimate.
We were quickly greeted by our server, who I’ll go ahead and identify upfront, as probably one of the nicest and most helpful wait staff as I’ve encountered anywhere in the city. This person loves his job and is very good at it. Looking around at the other servers and staff, I got the feeling that this is a common theme.
We ordered cocktails and wine. The bar does a nice job with its version of the currently popular bourbon and ginger beer libation, calling it the Old Wive’s Tale. There’s also a cucumber-vodka martini that is a subtle relative to a Bloody Mary, replete with salted rim and pimento-stuffed olive and cherry tomato garnish. The wine list is fairly extensive. It has some helpful tasting notes and even “points reviews” on its reserve wines from such well known wine aficionados as Robert Parker and the Wine Spectator. Tasting flights are also offered.
For the salad and appetizer round, we ordered the Kale and Acorn Squash salad, the Arugula and Grilled Apple salad, the Black-eyed Pea Hummus and the Gouda Stuffed Arancini. The Kale and Acorn Squash salad was crispy cold perhaps needing just a touch more apple cider vinaigrette. The Arugula and Grilled Apple salad was exceptional with the tartness of the apples playing perfectly with the sweetness of the honey-roasted pecans and the crunchy, saltiness of the fried onions. The Black-eyed Pea Hummus was good but would have really sung had the accompanying sweet potato chips been warm and slightly crispier. The Arancini were the hands-down favorite; the lightly fried rice balls popped with the warm Gouda filling complimented by a thin drizzle of Meyer lemon aioli.
The salads and appetizers range from $7 to $15.
For entrees, our party ordered the Pan Seared North Atlantic Skate Wing, the Georgia Mountain Trout Almond Encrusted and All-Natural Half Chicken Iron Skillet Fried. If you’ve never had skate wing, this is the place to try it. It has the taste and mouth feel somewhere between lobster and crab. It was delicious with the stone-ground grits, asparagus and lemon brown butter. The trout was another winner. The bacon vinaigrette did not overpower the delicate, flaky, Panko-crusted fish and united the flavors of the accompanying fingerling potatoes, roasted tomatoes, green beans and corn.
The skillet-fried chicken was a perfect example of a dish that is made better by the sum of its parts. The deboned half chicken was crispy and well seasoned. It was served over a bed of bacon-braised collards that were perfectly done with a hint of vinegary tartness. The accompanying corn pudding was served as rectangular blocks with a crusty exterior and a sweet, soft middle. The one element of the dish that initially appeared out of place was the mushroom-herb broth but it worked, acting as a delicate gravy even though it contained bits of meaty mushroom.
The entrees range from $17 to $32. The portion sizes are on the large side.
We also ordered the Braised Greens Mac & Cheese and the Caramelized Brussels Sprouts, Grano Padano; both were exceptional. The braised greens cut just enough of the richness in the mac & cheese such that every one at the table could have probably eaten a hotel pan full of the stuff.
We ordered three “small bite desserts” (3 for $10); the Carrot Cake with cream cheese frosting and bourbon sauce, the Bread Pudding “Traditional Style” with bourbon sauce and the Handcrafted Caramel and Sea Salt S’more. Each of these “small cupcake-sized” portions were enough for our party of four to each get a bite and each was delicious.
Wisteria sources many locally grown products. They also offer a Gluten Free Menu.
It’s clear why Wisteria has been around as long as it has. Its recipe is simple… great food and great service. Let’s hope it’s around for at least another “84 years”.
Wisteria is located at 471 North Highland Avenue and can be found on-line at wisteria-atlanta.com.
Art Huckabee is one of Yelp’s Elite Reviewers, as well as a pilot and food lover. Send feedback to TastingIntown@AtlantaINtownPaper.com.