September 26, 2012
First Bite: Olmsted Restaurant at 1180 Peachtree
Garden Views and Clean, Bright, Garden-to-Table Dishes
By Nancy Staab
The pristine, airy Olmstead restaurant (in the former Trois space) is primed for the lawyers-who-lunch crowd and the chic, weekend brunch bunch.
Olmsted restaurant is named after “the father of American landscape architecture” Frederick Law Olmsted—the green thumb responsible for New York’s Central Park, Boston’s “emerald necklace” of green parks, Biltmore Gardens in Asheville and several local green swards in Druid Hills and Inman Park. Likewise, Olmsted the restaurant may be situated in the heart of Midtown in the glossy, urban 1180 Peachtree high-rise (home to Tap gastro-pub and major law firms), however, the eatery also faces a beautifully manicured, rear-facing garden that would have delighted the noted landscape architect. And the eatery’s double-height space, with walls of floor-to-ceiling windows, lets the full impact of the green garden IN.
Flooded with natural light and decorated in a minimal-chic way with white and green tones, Olmsted is exactly how you would imagine the space’s former restaurant Trois ( which was owned by Concentrics) if slightly re-concepted, though not really re-designed, for a slightly less go-go economy. Take away the chi-chi French dishes and replace with more approachable, affordable, Southern-by-way-of-New England fare (with a nod to farm or, rather, garden-to–table trend) and voilá: you get Olmsted. This is not a knock by any means: rather an acknowledgement that this smart formula will probably work perfectly for this pristine space in this economic climate. Olmsted even kept Trois’s innovative easel stands, currently filled with the digitally manipulated photos of artist Ellen Jantzen, compliments of Alan Avery Art Company. You can most definitely wear jeans here but the crystalline space and purity of the dishes seem to beg for a bit more.
Olmsted restaurant seems primed to take advantage of a built-in lunch crowd pouring from the surrounding corporate towers, with few grown-up lunch options at your feet if you don’t want to drive and aren’t into burgers—albeit gastro-pub ones. Sure enough, the day that I lunched at Olmsted, the space was already filled with dozens of suits enjoying their power lunches. In fact, Olmsted boldly offers lunch-only service with no plans for evening dinner service, perhaps banking on this midday rush. Soon to come: a weekend brunch menu and lovely outdoor seating overlooking the small, but manicured green space. For evenings, the restaurant and its private, upper gallery lunch space can be rented for tony private functions. The restaurant is owned by David Marvin’s Legacy Restaurant Group, a division of Legacy Property Group (The Glen Hotel, Centennial Park South, Hilton Garden Inn , STATS, and Ventanas), so they are well-versed in producing flawless executive events.
And what are these legal eagles and ladies who lunch actually eating? Quality, American bistro fare sent out from the open kitchen by Chef Bernie McDonough, a CIA-trained chef who cut his teeth in Savannah, New England and Mexico. The chunky, New England-style B&B lobster roll with lemon mayo is already famous and I saw several substantive prime rib-stuffed French Dip sandwiches floating by in waiters’ hands. Other menu items: entrée salads like the crisply-breaded Veal Milanese atop a fresh arugula salad, the catch of the day, and for starters how about The Chairman’s Steak Tartare garnished with a quail egg or deviled eggs with candied homemade bacon (not tiny, diced garnish on top of the eggs, mind you, but full strips of candied bacon on the side). Roasted chicken, a NY Strip, an Angus burger on toasted brioche, daily soups and a few veggie options and sides round out the carefully edited menu with something for everyone. All tasty, nothing too challenging for the palette here-- other than a serious kick in both the deviled eggs and heavily peppadew pepper-flecked pimento cheese appetizer. A savory root vegetable salad, no doubt seasonal, sounds very promising with baby beets, carrots, harissa roasted pecans, bourbon macerated golden raisins and citrus vanilla vinaigrette. This is by far the fussiest item on this restrained menu. And for dessert: we sampled a divinely gooey triple fudge brownie (more like flourless chocolate cake) with vanilla ice cream, raspberries and candied pecans. Another dessert option to go back and try: spiced apple and bourbon caramel trifle (we’re guessing another seasonal menu entry). There’s also the tiniest of bar counters for single diners and wine and beer service only, no cocktails, for those who still practice a liquid lunch like it's 1989. For proper cocktails, tune back later for our report on Legacy’s second project in the works, just downstairs from Olmsted, a masculine, clubby bar/restaurant named Article 14.
With the recent closing of that other glass culinary temple in Midtown, Table 1280, let’s hope this gorgeous, grown-up glass pavilion with bright, clean flavors finds its proper following!
Olmsted serves lunch-only from 11AM-3PM Monday-Sunday, and will soon add a special weekend brunch menu. Complimentary 2-hour valet is available. Reservations can be made at 404.443.8431. Olmsted is located in the 1180 Peachtree building, just behind Tap Gastro-Pub, at 1180 Peachtree Street. For more info: olmstedatl.com