I usually hate restaurant reviews that spend the first 11 paragraphs talking about decor or service. Sure, tell me if the tables are all cubist shapes that make the food fall in your lap, or if the waiters kick you in the shins each time they bring out a plate. Mostly, though, I just want to know if the food is good.
This, however, is not a review of Home, the Atlanta restaurant featuring Richard Blais from Top Chef Season 4. I’m not qualified to do that, other than to say the food was terrific overall: fresh bursts of cilantro in the rich silken corn soup with lump crab relish; perfectly cooked shrimp over creamy, almost rice-puddingish grits (though I’m not sure I want to know what the “she-crab butter” is that presumably gives the grits their surprising sweetness); do-I-really-want-to-taste-it-okay-I’ll-eat-some-more ranch ice cream. The sour cream pecan cake was kind of dry, but the peaches, cream, and sweet tea ice cream that accompanied it matched the rest of the meal.
No, this is an appreciation of an underrated quality, in chefs as well as our culture at large: being nice.
In fact, Home just might be the nicest restaurant in America. (Ed. Note: I have, surprisingly, not been to every restaurant in America.)
I’ve been a huge Chipotle fan since the chain opened a restaurant in College Park in 2001 (for a time, it was the top-grossing location). When I moved to Florida in 2003, I had to wait a year and a half for another taste of cilantro-lime rice. It was torture.
I dig Chipotle’s emphasis on buying naturally raised meat (including gearing up to serve 100 percent Polyface Farm pork at its Charlottesville location) and organic beans. I’m not aware of any other fast-food chain whose Web site describes Concentrated Animal Feed Operations and suggests Omnivore’s Dilemma and Fast Food Nation for further reading (under the “manifesto” tab). Not only do I not mind that Chipotle
is was owned by McDonald’s, I like the fact that a big, bad corporation like McD’s is pioneering once supported (see comment below; after Chipotle went public, McD’s apparently sold its stake) a company pursuing positive industrial-scale practices (I like Wal-Mart, with obvious caveats, for similar reasons).
My one reservation about Chipotle was a seeming lack of transparency about its menu’s nutritional information. While the big fast-food chains like McDonald’s, Burger King, and Taco Bell have nutrition pages linked prominently on their home pages, for the longest time Chipotle seemed to be hiding that its fare isn’t as healthy as some think (not least because each burrito is 1.5 to 2 meals worth of food). I was all set to write a post about how Chipotle needs to put its nutritional info where its mouth is, but then I discovered that they have put the information on their Web site.
I wish it were more obviously placed — you have to click on the FAQ page to find the link — but it’s better than nothing. So good for them, but they should move it onto the home page — and then stop making us overdose on sodium every time we want a burrito.