May 11, 2011
Meet Buckhead’s firecracker new food crew
By Nancy Staab
- Photos by Jonathan Orozco
Exclusive: Meet The Ritz-Carlton Buckhead’s new fab four and feast on their inventive menu, including a gourmet twist on chicken and waffles (hint: truffles play a role); Yellow Fin tuna crudo with bourbon roasted pineapple and bourbon barrel-aged soy; a decadent foie gras with fried quail eggs; seasonal house-made cocktails and truly poetic wine pairings
Indeed, Esquire food critic John Mariani recently raved:
"The updating of the Ritz-Carlton's Cafe has done nothing to compromise its casual elegance. It has only been enhanced, and that certainly goes for the new menu by new chef Todd Richards, who is doing some of the city's finest modern cuisine with a distinctive Southern slant...sweet King crab that had been cooked in butter and served with tender asparagus, a crab bisque emulsion, and caviar, a sumptuous dish. Georgia trout took on woodsy notes from a hedgehog mushroom ragout, Anson Mills truffle grits, and muscadine cinder emulsion, perfectly paired with a lusty 1997 E. Guigal, Cote Rotie, 'Brune et Blonde.' Foie gras took well to a sweet-acidic huckleberry gastrique with black truffle French toast, radish, and bourbon-laced maple syrup, which Alarcon paired with a delectable but not too sweet 1998 Scubla, Verduzzo Friulano, "Graticcio" from Friuli...The Cafe...easily ranks among the very best in Atlanta."
Executive Chef Peter Zampaglione:
The Spanish Export
“Chef Z,” as he’s affectionately known at the Buckhead “Le Ritz,” is a globetrotting toque who can whip up dim sum or traditional Thai cuisine (he trained in Asia) as easily as he can perform feats of molecular gastronomy--mastered during his most recent tenure at The Mandarin Oriental in Barcelona (the current capital of culinary cutting edge). You won’t find these dishes played straight on the menu, but Chef Z’s worldly sophistication informs each of his taste-tripping plates. He’s also a huge fan of locally-sourced, Southern goodness such as Border Springs Virginia lamb, Enchanted Spring Georgia mountain trout, and local jams…just don’t call him “farm to table” !
Whatever is fresh that day, still warm from the sun or still alive from the sea.
Cooking with liquid nitrogen
Earliest food memory:
Walking into my grandmother’s garden and picking a warm tomato from the vine … my grandmother reaching in her pocket and grabbing a small salt shaker so I could season the tomato before I ate it like an apple.
Food trend you are so over:
The use of the phrase “farm to table.” Is there any other way to cook now?!! It is a catch way of saying that chefs are cooking with good wholesome product. That was our job from the beginning. I have been working with farmers for 13 years.
- Liquid Green Tomato, Organic Yogurt Sorbet, Cucumber Gelee
- Sautéed Scallops, Blood Pudding and Potato Terrine, Roasted Apple
- Braised Pork Ravioli, Smoked Pecans, Butternut Squash
Ferran Adria, Alan Ducasse, Pierre Gargnaire, Rene Redzepi, Paul Bocuse, Massimiliano Alajmo, and my mother-in-law Maria
Fave foodie TV show or celeb chef?
None. True chefs do not have time for this BS. None of the chefs that I mentioned as icons have TV shows because they are focusing on their product.
Dim Sum, my mother-in-law’s coquettes, chocolate chip cookies
Most experimental dish on the menu:
The foie gras dish with fried quail eggs, country hash, brioche and fig marmalade because it has the flavors of breakfast with the elegance of dinner
Chocolate with Sea Salt
Will never eat again:
What to order from the Ritz menu for a sexy date:
Choose “Menu Submit” and let the chef create the sex on the plate to inspire emotions
My most decadent dish:
Spiny Lobster with Foie Gras, Sun Chokes, White Truffles
What would you be if you weren’t a chef:
Mixologist Christa Sladky:
The Liquid Magician
Christa Sladky (formerly of Serpas True Food) is reinventing the cocktail hour with her handcrafted ingredients—she makes her own basil syrup, grenadine, berry purées and ginger beer for mixers—and an eye to seasonal ingredients and the bounty from local farmers markets. Sladky may be markedly young, but her cocktail sleight of hand is quite impressive, whether shaking, muddling or igniting a cocktail for dramatic effect. A rotating menu of her farm-to-cocktail beverages are available Wed.-Sat. evenings from 6PM at The Ritz-Carlton Buckhead’s The Wine Bar. Sip her Black Beauty crafted with muddled blackberries and Lillet Rogue or her Palomino Cobbler with Palomino Sherry and strawberry puree and become and instant convert. And, of course, we fell for her Luxe de Lune custom created for LuxeCrush. See the recipe below.
Whatever is fresh and looks good from the farmer's market. However, vermouth is something that never seems to be a bad idea.
Everyone likes fire, so flaming anything is usually a good show.
Cocktail trend I’m so over:
Overly sweet, syrupy, schnapps-filled drinks. Think Apple Martinis and flavored Mojitos.
Cocktail trend that intrigues me:
Unusual bases for cocktails rather than the standard spirits. I've gotten more interested in utilizing ports and sherrys for the bases of my cocktails lately.
My specialty pour:
Lately it's been a cocktail with spiced rum, vanilla bean tea clove syrup with coconut foam and a toasted sugar rim.
Sometimes a nice Highland Scotch with a few cubes of ice is exactly what you need. It's simple, it's flavorful, it's perfect.
Fave gadget or technique:
I have a new emulsifying wand that I'm excited to start using but really some of my favorite techniques are the ones that aren't exactly show-stopping. Flaming orange peels and layering liqueurs will always be fun to watch but correctly infused spirits, where the flavors pop and mix perfectly I think are much more interesting.
Favorite local spot:
Top Flr has good food and drinks in a relaxed atmosphere.
Earliest liquid memory:
My dad used to put a snifter of cognac out with the milk and cookies for Santa Claus. Santa clearly has good taste!
Always stocked at my bar:
Carpano Antica Formula Sweet Vermouth. It's got heavy vanilla notes with sun dried fruit finishes but it's not sticky sweet and it mixes perfectly with pretty much any bourbon, rye or scotch.
Best food/cocktail pairing from the menu:
Foie gras and quail egg with the Palomino Cobbler. The dry sherry, fresh strawberries and basil are bright and work well to cut the richness of the dish.
My cocktail philosophy:
Balance is something that I think every craft bartender tries to keep in mind when mixing. Ingredients can be complex or simple as long as they're mixed in a way that showcases flavor rather than muddling it. Personally, I like when the spirit is showcased rather than hidden.
Will never mix again:
Fresh Sage and peaty Scotch, it's really a terrible idea, avoid it at all costs.
Most rare/unusual liquor at my disposal:
Delamain "Le Voyage" Grand Champagne Cognac but there are more interesting spirits to come!
Café Chef Todd Richards:
The Mojo Maker
Chef Todd Richards’ resumé is stacked with diverse but iconic food palaces: that white-tablecloth bastion of Southern gourmet, the five-diamond The Oakroom at the Seelbach Hotel in Louisville, KY; and then, in Atlanta, the experimental and critically-lauded One Flew South at the Hartsfield International Airport and the gas-station-turned-delicious-BBQ-drive through, Rolling Bones on Edgewood Ave. When Richards put his stamp on the latter resto, dishes like a BBQ duck sandwich with fig jam suddenly elevated the standard pork-and-ribs menu. A musician in his spare time, Richards adds this same soulful mojo to The Ritz’s revamped menu: from playful pretzel-crusted sweetbreads to foie gras with fried quail eggs and country hash. The result is dishes that, well, jam.
All types of offal: chicken livers, hearts and gizzards are the best eating. I also go crazy for almost any raw protein like tuna sashimi or sea urchin. But my all-time love is seasonal vegetables. There is nothing better than a tomato in the summer off the vine, freshly cut with a little sea salt, basil and vinegar.
My “show off” technique has to be “pillows of joy.” It’s really simple purees folded over--allowing for this very airy, yet bold-flavor.
Food trend that intrigues me:
Chefs actually cooking in their kitchen. In Paris right now there is a strong movement of one chef, one restaurant and one seating each night. It has to be one of the most ballsy moves in the last five years.
José Andres, Michel Bras, Morimoto, Grant Achez, Sean Brock
Favorite food region:
My favorite food regions are all the places that grow and serve their cultural dishes. What would life be if you couldn’t go to New Orleans and get a Po’ Boy or Chicago and get a hot dog?
Fave foodie TV show and/or celeb chef:
[The Travel Channel’s] No Reservations! A show about a chef [Anthony Bourdain], talking about food, in a manner in which a chef can understand; Brilliant!
My favorite comfort food has to be jalapeno potato chips. I mean spicy, salty, crispy, what else is there to love?
Fave chef gadget:
My favorite gadget has to be a good spoon. They can do everything with a stroke of the hand.
Chinatown Mall, featuring all types of Chinese dishes, including tripe and crispy duck.
What to order on the new Ritz menu:
Foie gras, duck croquettes, Yellow Fin tuna crudo, and the veal breast with peppercorn crust, rutabaga, cranberry sauce and Brussels sprouts.
Favorite restaurant in the world:
Providence Restaurant, L.A.; Hakassan, London, Alinea, Chicago; Morimoto, Philadelphia; Michel Bras, Paris
Obsessed with right now:
Vegetables are pretty much my obsession. Pickled, fried, roasted, sautéed… Just about anyway you can cook them.
My most experimental dish on the menu:
Without a doubt, it has to be sweetbreads. They’re crusted in pretzel flour, seared crispy and served with hot mustard and mustard fruits.
Basil Hayden Bourbon served neat with two cubes of ice on the side.
My most decadent dish:
On the current menu, the dish to eat is the orange duck. The duck confit croquettes are crispy and served on top of creamy celery root puree. A fried duck egg completes the dish.
Favorite dessert from The Ritz menu:
Smoked banana puree.
New dish planned for the spring/summer menu:
Spring Lamb w/ spring peas, pickled ramps, rhubarb gelee.
My take on foodies:
All people are foodies. Just because a meal isn’t $100 per person, doesn’t mean people don’t know what they like and don’t like. I think it should be called “snobbie.”
What I would be if I weren’t a chef:
Most surely I would be a musician. Food and music are very similar in their artistic expression and in the gratitude of fans.
Sommelier Linda Torres Alarcón:
The Wine Whisperer
Linda Alarcón has long been a fixture on the sommelier scene, serving as a wine director at various Concentrics Hospitality establishments such as One.Midtown Kitchen and Trois, and prior to that, as a bartender at Buckhead Life Restaurant Group. Alarcón, who recently completed level two of the Court of Masters Sommelier Program, particularly prides herself on her ability to expertly pair wines with menu items, creating a subtle alchemy that elevates the dish and the pour in equal measure. Todd Richards' pretzel-crusted sweetbreads with mustard fruit, toasted grits, and trumpet mushroom jus were never so lushly decadent as when paired with one of Alarcón’s Barbarescos.
My show-off technique:
Double or triple decanting young heavy wines for guests. I refer to it as “beating the wine up.”
Wine trend I am so over:
Wine bottle aerators--I prefer a decanter.
Right now I love Bastianich Friulano and San Polo Sangiovese on our by-the-glass list
Favorite wine region:
I am on a huge Northern Rhone kick, in particular their reds. Syrah from this region is so interesting from the nose, to the taste, to the finish. This region’s terroir imparts great acid/mineral characteristics so the wines go with all kinds of food. Any wine that can actually taste/smell like tart cranberries, salt, pepper, and meat is a mind bender!
Earliest liquid memory:
Sunday Jazz at St. Chapelle Winery in Marsing, Idaho. My mom used to take my sister and me when we were younger. We would pack a huge picnic lunch with wine for my mother and sparkling cider for my sister and me. There was something magical about being on a vineyard on the Snake River that I did not fully understand until I began studying wine.
Fave Local spots:
One Midtown Kitchen, Miller Union, H. Harper Station, and Ecco
Always ready to pour at my house:
Bubbles, Vouvray, and Grenache
Most ambitious pour on The Ritz menu:
Bastianich, Friulano, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy 2008
Guilty pleasure sip:
Elio Perrone “Bigaro” Brachetto/Moscato d’Aqui, Italy
Most decadent Ritz pour:
Chateau Teyssier, St.Emilion Grand Cru, France, 2006 (By the Glass)
The food is ALWAYS the star. The wine must complement and never overpower the dish. When a plate is being consumed along with a glass of wine it should be seamless harmony for the customer’s palate.
Will never pour again:
Best food/wine pairing from The Ritz menu:
Sweetbreads with the Produttori del Barbaresco and Orange Duck with the Ponzi Pinot Noir
Most rare and/or unusual pour in your Ritz cellar:
Borges & Irmao Colheita, Porto, 1900 and the Quinta do Noval Nacional Vintage Port, 1970
*Please note that the menu at the Ritz-Carlton, Buckhead, is seasonal and always changing. Some wines, cocktails and dishes mentioned above may not still be on the menu.
Below: the custom cocktail Luxe de Lune that Christa Sladky created in honor of LuxeCrush.com. The cocktail is available at the Wine Bar at The Ritz-Carlton, Buckhead
LUXE DE LUNE
- 1 1/4 oz Campari (Italian aperitif made from 86 ingredients)
- 3/4 oz St. Germain Elderberry Liqueur (made from elderflower blossoms from the Alps)
- 6 dashes Fee Brothers Peach Bitters
- Bar spoon of freshly-squeezed lemon juice
- 1 1/2 oz Elio Perrone Bigaro Muscato Rose
- Orange peel twist for garnish