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First Look: F&B

Will the third time be a charm for Brown and Vergez' Buckhead bistro?

It's happy hour in Buckhead when I walk into F&B, the successor to Fabrice Vergez' and Cindy Brown's two previous bistros: Brasserie Le Coze, the restaurateurs' original Buckhead bistro at Lenox Square, closed in 2006 and shortly after they opened French American Brasserie (FAB) downtown, which shut its doors late last year. At this hour, F&B, which stands for "food and beverage," feels almost like "Cheers" — that is if Sam Malone served drinks on the ground floor of the Ritz-Carlton Residences. It's just the kind of atmosphere you expect to find at a neighborhood bistro. The bar is packed with patrons clinking cocktail glasses and roaring with conversation while other guests trickle through to tables in the dining room where exposed beams hang overhead adding rusticity to the laid-back environment.

Immediately after sitting down, I notice a man who looks oddly out of place standing outside the kitchen wearing a blue oxford shirt with the sleeves rolled up, suspenders that cross in the back, and a newsboy cap. When he walks to my table and recites the daily special, I realize all the servers are wearing these uniforms. I understand the purpose is to create a relaxed and comfortable setting using rural French elements, but the servers' uniforms take it a bit far. Despite F&B's best efforts to convey rustic French, you're still sitting in a Buckhead high-rise, looking out the window at Peachtree Road.

Although it's a new restaurant, the menu at F&B contains many of the same dishes that attracted loyal customers to Brasserie Le Coze and FAB. My dining companion and I order appetizers and munch on pistolets, small fist-size bread loaves with crispy crusts and soft textured insides, made by Patrick Jacquot and Pascal Mezzacqui at Croissant Bakery. The service is quick, and within minutes we're bearing down on a colorful presentation of beets and goat cheese. Alternating slices of deep red and bright yellow beets arrived stacked in the middle of the plate with white crumbles of goat cheese and candied pecans between the layers. The stack was topped with an assortment of baby greens and encircled with a balsamic reduction. The pecans brought out the flavor of the beets, but were scarce on the plate. Alone, the beets tasted anemic — a problem that could have easily been rectified with a dash of salt.

On the other hand, the steamed mussels were the highlight of the evening. Dark earthy-brown shells, yellow contents hidden inside, were piled in a deep mixing-bowl-size dish of creamy white wine broth and shallots. Hovering over the bowl to smell the sweet garlic and briny steam was almost as enjoyable as eating the actual dish, which is one I'll be back for.

Before I could find all the mussels swimming in broth in the bottom of the bowl, the server placed the roast skate wing on the table. It rested on a mound of spinach surrounded by halves of new potatoes, drenched in brown butter sauce, and dotted with Pantelleria capers. I forked a few bites mixing various proportions of each ingredient looking for a combination balanced enough to bring out the flavor of the skate wing, but rarely found it. The rich butter sauce and salty capers enhanced the skate's sweetness, which was underseasoned on its own. It was also a bit overcooked, imparting a texture not entirely different from the spinach. I really wanted to like the dish, but was disappointed that it didn't live up to the expectations of a menu item that's outlived both of F&B's predecessors.

I also tried the beer-braised chicken legs and preferred them to the skate wing. There were no surprises with the texture, and the rustic mashed potatoes, turnips, and mushrooms were all enjoyable on their own. When eaten together, the assertive flavor of the savory turnips balanced the sweetness of the dish's other ingredients. It's the kind of hearty dish that turns cold and cloudy days from miserable to cozy.

I bookended the meal with libations from the cocktail list. My first was the Kentucky Shooter: Maker's Mark, rosemary-infused simple syrup, peach bitters, and Pernod. It's a decidedly good drink that reminds me of an absinthe-laced mint julep. Of course it plays into Atlanta's love of all things Southern, but the Pernod delivers an aromatic shot of licorice that complemented the bourbon. After dinner, I gave the French 75 a try, but the Hayman's Gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, and cucumber reminded me too much of a Pimm's Cup. It's a refreshing cocktail, the kind better suited for brunch.

F&B opened a little more than a month ago and the service was fantastic, even if the servers' newsboy hats and suspenders are distracting. The menu does its job by offering loyal Brasserie Le Coze and FAB patrons the nostalgic dishes they love. There's something to be said for dishes that have endured as long as these and acquired such a following. I hope the skate wing is crispier next time, but given F&B's pedigree, I'll happily give it another try when I go back for the mussels. Whether you go to eat dinner or have a drink at the bar, F&B is a neighborhood gathering spot that's well worth a visit, and one where you could quickly become a regular.

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