Let's be honest. Everything I know about food I learned from Top Chef. To say I'm an avid fan would be an understatement. I've seen every season multiple times. The depths of my online following of Chef Kevin Gillespie, my all time favorite contestant, might categorize me as a stalker, but I've accepted it. The first time I saw him at Woodfire Grill I thought I was standing a little too close to the open flame, but looking back I may have been having a crush-induced hot flash. He signed my menu, and it's one of my most prized possessions (like in my trophy cabinet). The first time I went to his new restaurant Gunshow, I was mentally prepared to see him. I psyched myself up all day, but when he walked up to the table I totally lost my nerve. My mom ended up blurting out, "she's a really big fan!"
Some wives long for jewelry or Swiss ski trips. Not me. The Food & Wine Classic in Aspen is my dream destination. I drop hints at least three times a week. My number one rational is that Tom Colicchio will be there, and he's "less than a god, but more than a man... you know like hercules or something." Jimmy's afraid I might embarrass myself fan-girling, so I'm not sure how well that argument is going.
Anyway, that was a very roundabout introduction ... the point I was trying to get across is that Top Chef has made me into a self-proclaimed foodie. As soon as a plate of food is placed in front of me, I channel my inner Gail Simmons and get to work. Is this too salty? Is the meat cooked to my liking? I'm very hard to please.
Now that we all agree that I'm fully qualified to review restaurants, I'll get to work on Cooks & Soldiers.
Wednesday night Jimmy and I were fortunate enough to slip out for a little dinner date, and I was anxious to hit the first stop on my "Best New Atlanta Restaurants" list, Cooks & Soldiers. We were impressed with the aesthetic as soon as we approached. The design is comfortable, modern and offers a touch of Spain.
Fred Castellucci, the Proprietor, is my friend from high school, and I was eager to see him in action. Of course I was ready to ignore my inner food critic and tell him everything was wonderful... BUT GUYS... IT WAS!! IT BLEW MY MIND. All throughout the meal I kept thinking, "is this really happening right now? Is this food really this good?" To put it in perspective for you, I am thisclose to losing the last of my baby weight and really watching what I eat. I am also gluten free 95% of the time. We ATE EVERYTHING. At one point I found myself scraping the last of the potatoes from the veal cheek dish and realized it was the third time I'd done it. The wait staff was asking us if they could clear the last of the french fries, and even though we were stuffed, we were like "no, leave them!" We ate every morsel of food on the table and could not have possibly eaten any more.
To put this in Top Chef terms for you, if Fred Castelleucci was acting as front of house during restaurant wars, he would have won the challenge. He moved throughout the dining room with the ease of someone who grew up in restaurants. He checked on us at the beginning of the meal and gave us the story. He told us that he and the Head Chef, Landon Thompson, went on a research trip to Spain for 8 months before opening. When we told him that we did not love seafood, he had excellent recommendations for us. We decided to order most of our items off of the PINTXOS ESPECIALES section of the menu so we could sample a lot. They offer a PINTXOS TRADICIONALES section, which refers to small offerings on top of bread that are prepared behind the bar (the duck we ordered was the special off this section). Additionally, they have an ASADOR selection, which is family style off the woodfire grill.
This is the bar where they prepare the PINTXOS TRADICIONALES as well as the drinks, obviously. Don't worry, we sampled those as well.
The drinks are served with big cubes of ice, which I assume are ice picked off this massive block. Awesome.
I'm a little bit in love with the tile on the floor of the bar!
This is the hallway to the main dining room. I love when restaurants display wine. I fell in love with that at Ocean Prime, but I think this is very effective. It makes me want wine for sure!
This is the main dining room with a large set of shelves in the middle holding serving pieces.
This is my favorite feature! Huge windows looking into the kitchen, which looked so clean and efficient. In true winning front of house style, Fred was back in the kitchen and moving around the dining room at basically the same time!
This is a view back to the bar. I love the red garage doors contrasting with the black subway tile.
Of course we started with the cocktails. These were both recommendations from our waitress, and she nailed it.
This is the duck special I mentioned. The roasted duck, blue cheese and vinegar combined in the most delicious way. We both tasted it and just looked at each other like, "uh oh... I think we are about to eat all this food."
The tomato "tartare" with a carrot "yoke" was one of the most inventive dishes I've ever had. I felt like I was on Top Chef! There was no beef, but it felt and tasted like you were eating tartare. The carrot yoke was so fun and added some nice earthiness to the dish. My favorite thing about the dish was that they roasted the bread, and as you lifted it up to take a bite you could smell smoke, which made you hungry before you even tasted it.
These are the aforementioned "french fries." If I'm being really real with you guys, I don't like people to mess with my ketchup... I'm pretty traditional about it, but this was fantastic! The waitress described how they made it. By that time the wine had taken hold and I can't really remember. I do know that the cheese fondue was warm and whipped into a froth. We had to stop ourselves from drinking it.
So basically, this is a grilled cheese on crack. Ham, cheese, black truffle. It tasted as good as it sounds.
Here is where you find me scraping the bottom of the bowl. Thrice.
It's a Spanish pig in a blanket! To be honest, I was pretty full by this time and wasn't sure I had room for these. 2 minutes later I was doing that thing where you lick your finger to pick up all the remaining croissant flakes.
The drinks got the same treatment.
In summation I'll just say, "Would go back. Often."